Need organisational advice

OK, here’s the thing. I don’t know what I’m doing.

I’ve made a couple of small dry runs, but I’m not sure that I’m doing this right.

On various bits of real paper I have little bits of stuff that I’ve jotted down (things that happen, character traits/backstories, snatches of dialogue - whatever).

Do these little bits of stuff go into the Synopsis part? Or do they go into the Document View? Or the Corkboard?

After sticking some of the stuff into the Document View, I’m thinking that they should’ve gone into the Synopsis Area (because they’re not sentences that’ll be used, rather they’re just ideas etc). Would that be a reasonable assumption? Would it be one synopsis thingy for one idea?

This is the same part that I’ve come unstuck with Word. I just put everything into one document and then move stuff around, but of course, in Word, it’s all just one honking big slab of text. Ugliness ensues.

Oh, and assuming I put everything in the synopsis, is there a way to make it display more (and less of General & Keywords etc)?

Should I be having this much fun? I love this proggy now and I don’t know what I’m doing. How much am I going to like it when I do?

Scrivener is, if anything, a flexible program. You can adapt it to many different ways of working. Based on what you’ve said, I would suggest you use the Notes area of a document. You may not have noticed this area, since you did not mention it. At the bottom of the Inspector (where the Synopsis is located at the top), you’ll see a toggle. Click on that and select “Supporting Materials”). The top part in this section of the Inspector is a Notes field where you can type rich text, and as much as you like, at that. The bottom part is where you can stash links. Links can be references to other documents in Scrivener, files on the system, or URLs.

The Synopsis is a special area which is intended to be used for precisely what it is labelled as: A short description of the document or media (note, you can have Synopses and Notes for anything in Scrivener, be it a short film, a PDF, or a picture). Where this intended usage becomes most useful is in the Corkboard. Select a group with several documents in it, switch on the Corkboard, and you’ll be looking at all of their Synopses and titles. The same goes for Outliner. Edit the Synopsis there, and the change will be reflected in the document when you open it again.

If you are a brainstorming type, this can come in quite useful. Lay out your outline in a bunch of index cards, and when you go to write those sections, you’ll have a handy short description of what should be going on in the scene.

That is why the Synopsis is as small as it is. It really is not meant to hold a great deal. If you like to keep longer excerpts, I suggest using the Notes field for that.

And you are right in not wanting to put supporting material in the main document area. That is where your book/article/whatever goes. The one exception to this rule is annotations, which are useful when you want to attach a note to a specific location in your text.

Hopefully that all gave you some ideas. :slight_smile:

As for your last question: Yes, it gets a lot more fun! Once all of the individual tools supplied to you “click” together, you’ll never go back to that huge ugy slab of text.

Aha! Thanks AmberV. Note huh? Interesting. You’re right, that looks more like my kinda info.

At the moment, I’m more of a braindrizzle than storm. But, even with the false starts, this program is helping me get some framework together for my NaNoWriMo effort. I don’t write in a linear manner, so I think Scrivener is going to be my friend.

As AmberV says, Scrivener is a flexible program - and my slowly emerging organizational system is quite different from hers. I’m a comparative noob here, so please take what I say with a bag of salt.

First, you should know where I’m coming from: I’m a Playwright/Director/Dramaturg who loves complexity. Though I’m just getting my toes wet with Scrivener (and anxiously awaiting Beta 3!) I have been toying with a couple of approaches. I have a shitload of notes.

For a complex project, Scrivener’s note field is useful up to a point: as a way of annotating specific chunks of draft text it serves simply and effectively. But as a tool for organizing our “little bits of stuffâ€

Eiron, you have some good ideas there. The way I use Scrivener is actually a bit different than the hints I provided above. They could be considered the most “simple” interpretation of Scrivener’s features.

I suppose because of old habits dying hard, or just preference, I’ve always been one to prefer most of my notes to be embedded right into the narrative, which is where inline annotations shine. In the past, my precise usage of them has mutated according to whatever software I was using. Ulysses (not counting the latest beta) had a constraint where comments could only be in their own paragraph. It also had a single-colour highlighter. So I would use that highlighter to provide context for notes which had to, by necessity, be located away from their context.

Scrivener brings two new abilities to comments. Of course, being able to place them anywhere I like, and secondly, the ability to create links to other documents. So my usage has been mutating yet again, and I have yet to finalise where it will end up. If I do end up doing Nano, that will be the first big project that I use Scrivener for, and no doubt I will have a more concrete idea of how the application and I get along.

After a lot of thought, I decided to abandon my current usage of labels to define types of documents. With Scrivener, that is largely obsolete usage. I can simply create a Group called “Characters,” and fill it up with documents about characters. Ulysses has no such grouping available to it, so it was important to label documents for what they were. Just the other day, I went through and completely changed my project. Labels are now Plot Threads, which is working out exceptionally well. The book I am currently working on has nine primary plots all woven together. This is not an unusual situation for a novelist to be in. You have two things to keep very close track of: Continuity amongst plot threads, and how well those threads (even though disparate from one another, at times) feel together as you read the woven narrative. It makes your job so much easier to read your book in two different ways. Clones are one way to solve that, but I actually prefer Scrivener’s fluidity on this count.

Labels are perfect for this. If I want to review the continuity of a plot thread, I can simply search by Label, select all, and Edit Scrivenings. Save the search and this view is one double-click and a few quick keystrokes away. Keywords would be just as simple, but I rather like the colour based identification. I can glance at a chapter in Outliner (or Corkboard if I have pins turned on) and see which plots are represented, and in what order. I cannot do that with keywords.

But, this ability creates an information system which is very, very near to ideal in my own opinion. It combines a static hierarchy with a fluid “lens” or “scope” of viewing, with the ability for these lenses to be semi-crystallised via saved searches. With clever usage, this combination of tools can get around 99% of the situations which require clones.

Your point about using Notes for important top-level information is true. Though the ability to have the Inspector open in all modes does help a bit in accessibility, that information still requires a degree of scanning to retrieve. Using the keyboard to fly through a list of documents in Outliner, you can get down to your Notes really quickly. Note the Inspector also updates to reflect your current position in an Edit Scrivenings session, too.

There are five forms of meta-data that can be used for top-level data. Document Type, Synopsis, Label, Status, and Title. The last depends on your usage of the title. I use it for meta-data and define my titles in the narrative itself. If you use it as a literal title, its extra-curricular uses diminish. Given this knowledge, you can probably get everything you need somewhere in the top-level of visibility. Out of that list, Synopsis is the least visible, and Document Type, and Title are the most visible. It is for precisely this reason that I use the Title field for more than just the Title. It is a universal.

Least accessible are Annotations, Highlights, Notes, References, and Keywords. Each of these require access to the document to view; and access to the Inspector for the last three.

I am definitely still evolving my usage of Scrivener, and Beta 3 is going to bring along some new abilities that change this yet again. Highlights are getting a huge boost, and Annotations will become searchable on a selective basis.

Hmm, interesting. I hadn’t really got into “edit Scrivenings” yet.

This is all very useful stuff though, many thanks Eiron.

I keep going to the tutorial and playing about with it. I nearly scared myself silly(er) when I thought I’d deleted all the text, but I was in Outliner mode :open_mouth:

Outliner mode is indicated by a change in the toolbar as of beta 3, along with some other minor behaviour changes (which can be reverted via Preferences) that should make things more intuitive.

You should definitely check out “Edit Scrivenings”, as I believe it is one Scrivener’s most powerful features - you can combine text on the fly.

Eiron - I don’t see how having the selection of a folder automatically starting an Edit Scrivenings session would make any sense at all, given that you can edit the text of a folder. Also, it makes more sense for the inspector to display info for the text you are editing, so that you can look at the notes for that chunk of text while you are editing it. That’s my reasoning. :slight_smile:

All the best,

Yes, I’ve just had a squiz at “edit Scrivenings” and that looks very useful. And now that I realise about the notes, I’m having a good play around before bullet biting.

Keith, this software is amazing. And JUST what I needed.

I guess what I’m saying is that I would be willing to do without a folder’s text field entirely (I really wish Devonthink worked that way.) The notes field and synopsis would be enough at the folder level.

I see your point- that would probably be a more serious loss just for such a small convenience. It’s not like pressing “Edit Scrivenings” is brain surgery.



It is for precisely the limitation of Notes immediacy in Edit Scrivenings that I really like the text field in Groups. In fact, I rarely use the Notes field on my containers. I put everything in the text area, and then when in Edit Scrivenings, my section related notes are right there. Using a distinct font helps set them apart from the narrative.

The other reason that scrivening notes are displayed rather than folder notes, of course, is that an Edit Scrivenings session can be started with a random selection of documents, in which case there is no enclosing folder with notes to display… Otherwise, from a technical standpoint, it would have been easier just to display the notes for the enclosing folder.

AmberV, as usual your post is smart, to the point and a pleasure to read. I wish I could still write prose that easily, but somewhere along the line my brain got so used to presenting the competing voices of dialogue that I completely lost the ability to write prose in a single straightforward voice. Most everything I write these days seems somehow multivocal, contingent, ironic.

I like your point about using labels for plotlines, but since I track a wider range of threads (including some pretty minor “motifs”) I’’m afraid I’ll end up with way more labels than I can handle. Perhaps keywords would be better suited to my purpose; but then I’d lose some access and visibility (given that labels show up in the outliner and Search/Binder).

I know it’s not terribly fashionable to say so (least of all in America) but story just doesn’t hold a pre-eminent position for me, so plotlines have no more importance than characters and themes. Moreover, writing and directing for the theatre means my tools include not just words, but images, costumes, gestures, vocal pitches, FX, projections, performances, shafts of light, silences… The “draftâ€

On a more specific and, I hope, briefer note.

I’ve divided up my labels into TASK, DRAFT, TOOL (these can be anything from a rhetorical trick to a sound effect) THREAD (subdivided into Themes, Plotlines, Characters and Motifs) SOURCE (Quotes, Articles, Plays etc) BIT (Any single moment/note in a draft or thread).

The Keywords are named for all my THREADS: equivalents of say, Claudius, Hamlet&Gertrude, Disease, Ghosts, Players, Mirrors, LaertesSeeksRevenge, WhatIsAMan?, TravelMetaphors, ActorsRestTime etc. (Just thought i’d give Will a bit of a chuckle- He had no trouble tracking all this crap)

I’m begining to suspect this is not terribly useful. :confused:


No, I disagree. It is useful.

I too have a shitload of notes. But this thread is giving me some ideas on how I can think about putting them in some semblance of order (I wish) that will suit me. It’s so interesting to see how everyone works and that people can use the same tool in different ways.

The author Hilary Mantel really summed up the way I tend to work in an essay in a book of essays by writers writing about their writing processes called “The Agony and the Ego”. It pretty much sums up the way Scrivener was built to work. I quoted the relevant paragraphs in my blog here: … art-2.html

It’s really just the “non-linear grow your novel” approach which does indeed build up lots of notes and ideas before you are ready to really get going…

Oh, now that is so darned interesting!

Now that’s an idea that appeals to me.

Very interesting indeed, Keith and I suppose I’ve always “grown” my work in this way; nothing is done sequentially. The problem is that I can go for years collecting such notes on a subject/topic/play while at the same time constantly adding “tools” to my dramaturgic toolbox from directing/writing/seeing other plays.
Eventually the sheer scale of the notes becomes too much to handle: I need more order before I can produce a stageable draft.
Having just returned from a two year stint in Paris spent mostly working on other people’s plays, I find myself faced with a huge mound spread over too many files and formats. I would kill for a pinboard and a stack of cards; used to love that in my academic days.

But it’s too late for that: too many trees would have to die.

I place my hopes in Beta 3 8)


I should stress at this juncture that beta 3 is really full of refinements with a few minor new features; it is nothing radically different from beta 2. If beta 2 doesn’t work for your workflow, neither will beta 3, I’m afraid. On the other hand, if beta 2 works for you on the whole but you find it has a few minor quirks, then hopefully beta 3 will address a number of them. The core of Scrivener is already there in the current betas.

All the best,

Don’t worry. The core is already there and very promising. I don’t expect radical changes; merely enough refinements that I can commit to a way to use Scrivener. The ability to apply Keywords to multiple notes, for instance, will make categorization of so many notes much easier. Also some way to view single notes in corkboard mode may be a tweak to you, but it’s a major conceptual change to me.


This is something that was dropped, actually. There are refinements to navigation, but this wasn’t possible without major conceptual issues.