Advice on Binder/Collection/Other and structuring for Compile?

The thriller is 99% written (just spotted a hole to back-fill) and now I want to reorganise the documents to support compilation, which I am only just starting to get to grips with.

The only way I could write it (structure the binder) was in chronological order, but for narrative purposes I want to start the story in media res and then leap around a bit.

I’d really appreciate some pro-tips on how best to use Scrivener features to facilitate the construction of a Narrative Order thing to compile in parallel with a Chronological Order thing that is most practical, least risk, etc. etc. etc.

I know some things, but I don’t have the answer; what follows is a summary of my early experience & crude thinking on the subject thus far.

Despite keeping n backups on close, separately backing up to two other places, I am terrified of screwing things up within the project so I would really, really like to keep “the binder” the way it is because: collections are linear lists and don’t have folder expand/collapse (I know I can view folders contents in collections by using outline mode, but that’s not the way I would like to work.)

What I’ve tried/considered (well, some of it)

  • Effectively duplicate everything by using <$include> and linking the tag to the source document? Con: unfortunately AFAICT there’s no way to see the included text in the target document… I’m sure it would appear in the compiled output but I will still need to edit the source and being able to see the source in the target context (if you catch my drift) is important to me. It would be tedious to set up but “aliases”/“clones” (manual sect. 10.1.5) would be the safest cleanest way to proceed for me.
  • Put everything into a Chronological order collection and then rework the structure in the binder for compilation - Con: no way to recreate the binder structure if I do screw up.
  • Put everything into a Narrative Order collection and reorder there? Con: the folders and documents are separate, so if I move a folder the documents it contains in the binder stay where they were, so I have to move folders and documents at the same time and that’s just a disaster waiting to happen for me, even with a loading dose of coffee before sitting down at the keyboard.

All thoughts and suggestions gratefully received.

…no way to recreate the binder structure if I do screw up.

You could “back up” the current binder order fairly simply:

  1. Select the Draft folder and use Edit ▸ Select ▸ Select with Subdocuments.
  2. Ctrl+click on Draft to remove it from the selection and use Edit ▸ Copy Special ▸ Copy Documents as Structured Link List.
  3. Paste that into a new empty document that will serve as your binder order back up. This will give you an indented list of linked titles.

Alternatively, what I do when I embark on a major structural shift is create a genuine backup via File ▸ Back Up ▸ Back Up To..., to save a zipped copy with a name that clearly states its purpose. That way you always have a copy of how things were that stays outside of the normal backup rotation.

If I need a reference of where things were it is a simple matter to extract a copy of the old project out of the backup and view it alongside the ongoing WIP, trashing it when I’m done and leaving only the .zip.

To turn to the main question though: undeniably the purpose of the Draft folder is to store the text in narrative order. The whole program is wrapped around that concept, and so while could defy that and use the draft as a kind of non-linear source by which a Collection defines the true narrative order—it’s never going to be as graceful working that way in my opinion.

So what I would so is, after forming the full-draft selection and running the copy command, above, is then move over to the Documents ▸ Add to Collection ▸ New Collection menu command and create your definitive chronological order list. To my mind anyway, a flat list is more conducive to that anyway, whereas a structured list is going to be better for, well the sort of document structure you’re likely to want (chapters, sections, etc.).

Now you are free to start getting the draft folder into narrative shape. If you need to reference chronological order, pop open a split, right-click on the header bar icon, and select your collection to view it there (rather than replacing the binder sidebar).

That’s how I would do it anyway.

Thanks @AmberV

Special Backup :white_check_mark: (1st thing I did on completing 1st draft :slight_smile: )

Viewed in Outline, a collection looks pretty good :white_check_mark:

Ah. That’s a big help. :white_check_mark:

That might give me enough reassurance to start reorganising the binder.

That said, I am still open to inspiration from other users.

The other way is to save current chronologic order project as new project ie Book A Variant and can reorder to your heart’s content and have other project open to compare to original order and even put both into ebook form to see which version works better. What you do in your Book variant project would leave current version untouched but keep all metadata , labels, status setting etc. Might be easier way to play with this. Could even do book variant B to try alternate arrangements with a simple File> save as function.

Nice suggestions; thanks.

I see this is an old post, but I add this as an additional layer.

I haven’t seen mention of using metadata as a tool to help sort your chronological draft to media res and/or check your revisions for consistency.

The date/ narrator/POV/location/event (and any other important feature) of your WIP can be assigned all manner of metadada that can be helpful when restructuring.

Custom metadata has a date option. This can be seen in outliner columns, and so offers a quick visual clue that every section maintains order. This would only work if you have specific dates (or years, months vs. just general beginning, middle, end chronology though.

If you find color coding helpful, changing “labels” in the inspector panel to the most important feature for YOU is my personal favorite because these colors can be set to show virtually everywhere - ie. binder background color, icons, corkboard, outliner.

Say POV is most important to you to see visually. You can change “labels” to “POV” and assign each color to a different narrator. You can then search, create collection, or view just one pov (formerly “label”) in isolation from the rest of your wip. Combined with date stamps or other metadata, you can also “see” holes/duplications/conflicts.

Tags are also color coded, and can be set to show on your corkboard as color chips along the edge of the cards, as well as in your outliner. They can be created for ANYTHING important to you - pov, location, event, arc, level of completion, revision status, etc.

There are many other metadata options including custom lists, check boxes, custom text etc, the options are endless.


New contributions are always welcome. Thanks. :blush:

I did use custom metadata extensively, even going so far as to record date and time (to the minute) for each scene. (actually, local time and time in GMT separately… it’s very complicated when the action spans widely separated time zones.)

For future reference, is there some way in which that information can be used directly to control compilation (so as to get a chronological vs narrative ordering, for example).

(In the end, I created a folder per day so I could see chronology in the binder, and rather than use the full date I used a day from a nominal start date as an index, it was then simple to select down through a list of docs and check in the inspector that the chronology was correct according to the custom date/time metadata)

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Can you create a Search collection based on date and time metadata and then compile that?

FWIW, for all computing purposes, I use YYYY-MM-DD as my date format, as that sorts better than UK date format.


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if you use custom metadata for date and time and view your manuscript in the outliner view, if the date column is visible you can click to sort in order/ or reverse order for a timeline.

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Ditto this! Especially when a computer sorts in text order, say when naming docs.

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@xiamenese , @GoalieDad

YYYY etc. + outline view… good ideas, and though I didn’t set up the date metadata with that in mind, one can always change the format… though I would hope & expect that outline sort on date/time actually sorted by the date/time value rather than its presentation. I’ll check it out some time.

(But I do also use the YYYY-MM-DD system as filename prefixes for misc. windows sorting needs, per @FamilyPuzzleSolver)

UPDATE… just went to try it and found I did not save “local time and time in GMT” but local time and time zone (because with two dates I would have had to maintain two things)

AND I kept time separate, which was a bit short-sighted of me, so no easy fix, but next time


In naming docs, and in an (Mac-only) app where I print all my receipts, invoices, etc. I even omit the hyphens. It’s an automatic habit now.


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Good question - I never (previously) tried to compile from my outline that was sorted by metadata, however I just tried with my “compile test” project and it worked. I can see some new uses for this myself - thanks for the inspiration! (btw, I did not write the content, it came from a style template lol)

I used Scrivener’s "Enumerated Outline" template > odt > compile (dropdown) [choose the newly created chrono collection]. I didn’t change any other defaults.

I’m on windows fwiw. I first had to create a chronological collection (details below)

I had to play with it a bit, so someone else may be able to streamline how I got to the finish line…

  • I opened my test project and selected the entire draft.
  • Search for the metadata > Search (click the magnifier) > tick “All” and [the name of your metadata field] and “Any word” (this selects every doc with a entry in your chosen metadata field. In the case of date/time this is especially useful, but for other metadata, options like exact or all words might be more appropriate)
  • Create a collection from the search results. At this point it will still be in binder order.
  • View collection in editor, choose outliner
  • Sort the outliner by the date field by clicking on the header of the column you want to sort. (it will rotate through A-Z, Z-A etc.)

(this is where I had to play a little, because the collection and a second editor window/scrivening were both initially in binder order and not in the chrono order like the outline. (TBH, I’m not sure exactly which steps I took finally worked)

  • After the collection was sorted in chrono order the way I wanted it, I named the sorted collection. This makes it easier to choose when you get to compile.

The end result/layout is below. The sorted outline in the right editor window was both locked in place and locked to the editor. The left editor was in scrivening mode in chrono order, and the collection was also chrono order.

When I click over to the binder view from collection view, it still shows the original binder in its original order with the search results highlighted.


Collection, scrivening and outliner are all in chrono order.

Notice binder is still in its original order

Compile Overview


Late to this party, but I cannot believe that not one person mentioned that there is actually a word for this!

You are NOT alone - you are a “pantster” - as in “flying by the seat of your pants,” without a plot, outline or other pre-planning (the opposite of a “planner”).

I am also a pantster, although I write non-fiction. A lot of my writing is quite structured and formal, and needs planning. But… my favorite parts to write are the narratives which can go most anywhere, depending upon the audience for that particular piece. I started with lists of topics and ideas I wanted to write about.

It’s common for me to start off writing in one direction, but the story compels me to go in a completely different arc. I let the story lead the way. (and re-file the parts I left out back into the idea file for later consideration)

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