Outlining Strategies?

Posting here rather than the tech support forum because I wanted to get some input from other users, and because it’s an agnostic question (not specifically Windows or Mac version).

I’m new to Scrivener and before I get started importing the stuff I have from various Word docs that contain my outline, character summaries, novel, etc I wanted to learn more about what the best way to outline is, hoping to do it right the first time as much as possible.

I saw one tutorial on youtube where the top level of binder was the manuscript/novel name, then after that the next level down was the chapters, and within those were scenes. I liked the way that looked because the scenes inside the chapter were separated with the faded horizontal line and that seemed to be how it was designed to work. But another tutorial on outlining showed the ms name at the top level then the next level was the three Acts of the novel, then under that chapters, and under them scenes. That seemed better since I do want to incorporate acts, but seemed to compromise somewhat because now the chapters were separated by the fading horizontal line the way scenes were before.

How do some of you do the outlining and can you point me to a youtube that shows your method? Maybe I’ll go with the first approach and use color-coded metadata for the acts, or just forget that and use a general note or something to keep in mind what chapters are in which acts?

Thanks in advance for any help.

What approach works for you?

Part of the point of Scrivener is that the organization that works best for you while you’re creating the work doesn’t have to match the structure that you will ultimately use for the published work. Chapters and scenes, three acts, hero’s journey, no outline at all… Entirely your call.

The fading horizontal line appears between sub-documents in Scrivener’s “Scrivenings” multi-document view. So it will reflect whatever structure you choose. (It can also be turned off completely, if you prefer.)

Personally, I only outline when forced to by a client, so I’m the wrong person to ask about specific approaches.


Check out this site: http://www.writersterritory.com/category/scrivener/. It has a lot of tips on using Scrivener.

Or look here: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/my-writing-process-pt-1-of-2-how-i-use-scrivener-to-outline-my-novels/. K.M. Weiland has a very good outlining method (might also like her books), although she does not make full use of all Scrivener features (meta data and keywords).

If you want some ideas on how to use keywords to its maximum look here: http://armadawars.blogspot.de/2015/09/use-scriveners-keywords-to-manage-your.html.

Hope you’ll find some useful tips there.

  1. I would not let the little horizontal line dictate anything about how you structure your work in a Scrivener project. It is there only as a visual cue when you are working in Scrivenings mode and is not a part of your compiled output.

Think of yourself has setting up your working/writing environment. Not laying out how your finished work is going to look. (As a general rule: let your writing environment be about writing – and apply your typesetter’s scruples when you compile your output text. With Scrivener you have the luxury of distinguishing these two.)

  1. As for folders for Acts, etc. You can include as much or as little story development structuring in your Binder structure as you want, because none of those structuring containers need end up in your compiled output. So, if those things will help you, have them! Those things can just live in the Binder of your project and help you think of things in plot-dynamical groups – just as intended.

And since you can just move stuff around in the Binder, adding a layer of folders for Acts and distributing the relevant docs into them would be easy enough. Or vice versa. So, you can always take the other option later, if you decide that is what is right for you.


Katherine is right, Scrivener imposes no limitations on you are all in terms of how you want to work. That’s indeed part of its strength (but perhaps a weakness if you are a beginner looking for something rigid to follow).

There’s a lot of good structural methodologies for fiction writing:

  • Classic three act structure (as old as Greek tragedy)
  • Cambell’s monomyth and its hundreds of derivatives
  • The Snowflake method
  • Scene/Sequel
  • Anchor scenes

Even following one of these methodologies, I’ve seen people expressing them differently in Scrivener as they adapt them to suit their own needs.

Search the forum for templates that people have shared for some inspiration. Otherwise, pick a methodology you like, hack it and start playing with the Binder/Outliner

For myself I mostly use the Snowflake method with Scene/Sequel but I continue to structure my project into chapters and scene and use metadata to keep track of the acts and character story arcs. This suits me because I’m very linear and I like to see my work structured in the manner the reader will see. YMMV

Experiment and have fun!