Scriv3: Compile to unwanted page size and other strange effects

I’ve arrived at a point with my current project where I thought I would give the compiler a go. I’ve always avoided it in the past because it seemed to require too much up front effort. I gave it a go and selected the ‘Modern’ format and compiled to rtf and odt outputs.

The first thing I noticed was the rtf file was 32023 KB as compared with the odt file’s 15919 KB. Then I noticed that all the bold text had disappeared and out of 273 images and their file names, all nicely center aligned in Scrivener, only 6 retained their place in the odt and rtf outputs. All the rest became left aligned. Similarly, no italics survived the compile.

Both output files surprised me with their page styles. Each had a default + 41 converted page styles all of which were A4 whereas my project was Letter. Generally, any book I write has maybe 3 or 4 page styles, maximum so it was a new discovery to see how Scrivener could create so many in one text.

The worst problem which made the outputs unusable for me was the garbage resulting from the compiling of lists. My lists were mostly unnested because I never did find a fool proof way of producing a nested list in Scrivener whether ordered or unordered. I know there are several threads on the forum where people have problems with lists.

The worst of the list corruptions was where a bullet point was longer than a line. The compile process turned some of these long lines into one proper line (albeit minus the bullet) and then the rest was typed into a vertical column in the right hand margin with the column being only 3 characters wide. So in some cases, the spillage from the first line occupied a page or more of output.

Not all lists were like that. Some had the bullets in the left hand margin. Some lost the bullets completely. Some had the bullet + 1 character in the right hand margin.

I redid the two compiles without changing any settings and got substantially the same results except for the worst case of those pages of 3 character columns. The second try was ok from that point of view and gave output documents which were around 9 pages shorter. The other problems with the lists remained as did all those page styles and the loss of bold, centre and italics.

I supposed there must be some over-riding of project settings in the built-in Modern format which caused me to get an A4 output but there didn’t appear to be any obvious listing of the parameters of these built-in formats. The only way I could check was to duplicate and edit the Modern format and my suspicions were correct - at least on page size.

That’s a LOT to unpack in one go. Each issue would need a lot more detail to diagnose. Screenshots of exported lists, for instance.

I’ll pick just one thing (page size) and give it a try.

Did you open the Compile format and set a page size in Page Settings?

Yes - it was a whole “Sack o’ woe”. I didn’t know at first go that there existed any settings in compile to change page size. Those settings are only available if you edit the format. I only had the built-in formats and their parameters are not visible unless you copy and edit them. I know that now. I should probably have RTFM before hand - but who does?

As for the loss of the manually applied formatting ( center, bold, italic), I didn’t see any settings to get the compile to respect those choices. I tried the ‘default’ format and the Modern format with rtf and odt outputs. I recompiled several times. Nothing kept the applied formats alive. I began to wonder why Scrivener includes bold, center and italic as options to a writer.

I expected the lists to crash because I’ve seen lots of threads about that. But the way they went wrong varied from compile to compile even when no settings were changed.

I’ve also found that external links (mailto and website) survived the compile in working order but internal links within the project don’t work in the odt files. However, that’s easily rectified in the word processor.

I wanted to try the compile. I have done so. I’ve taken one of the odt outputs which I’m now reformating in LibreOffice - importing one of my templates. I may come back to learn more about compiling in Scrivenor later but for now, it’s going to be quicker to use the tool(s) I know better - especially when both paper and epub versions are concerned.

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I never RTFM myself, actually. It’s over 900 pages and densely packed with info.

I suggest we do a Zoom session. Message me at or PM me here. Message is faster, or rather, I’ll see it a lot faster.

During a couple of days’ away, I had a bit of time to explore possible reasons for my first efforts at compiling resulting in the “Sack o’ Woe” described above. And I found a cause for much of the corrupted lists, all the loss of formatting using the Bold, Italics, Center and the corruption of the internal document links made in Scrivener.

The cause was my use of two styles which I created myself (a ‘text body’ style and a ‘links’ style) in order to tighten the display somewhat and, of course, using the tools described within Scrivener. These are basically ‘create new style from selection’, ‘add new style from selection’ and ‘redefine style from selection’.

Througout my project, I systematically used my two styles and when necassary, I used either the Bold, Center, Italics buttons on the toolbar or their keyboard shortcuts. For some reason, Scrivener did not like my ad-hoc changes to format and either discarded them or produced a corrupted output during many compile attempts.

Once I eliminated my styles and replaced them with Scrivener’s own ‘no style’, all returned in the latest compile the way I expected it. It even made the Scrivener internal document links work (not properly, though).

When making the Scrivener links, I used Edit > link to document > and selected the chapter from the drop-down list. These worked ok in Scrivener but during compile, the target shifted from the chapter intended and slipped to the end of the previous chapter. Strange, but easily corrected in the word processor.

This experience using my own styles raises, for me, the question of whether this is a bug in Scrivener or whether there was something I neglected when creating those two styles. After all, it seems strange that Scrivener should envisage and supply the possibility of creating a new style and then not permit ad-hoc formatting changes like bold, italics, center, to survive a compile process.

Has anyone had a similar experience?

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I tested a bit in the Mac version and found that a character style (a style that applies italics, underline, or bold, etc.) or character + paragraph style overrides ad hoc character formatting in the same material. That makes sense to me. If you create a character style for italics, it seems to me you’d only apply it when you want italics, and there’d be no conflict between the result and what you intended. Regular is a character style just as surely as Italics, Bold, or Underline are, after all. The style overrides regular … and it overrides other font faces as well.

Perhaps I don’t understand your use case. If I did, I could suggest a solution.

This is configurable as part of the Style definition, both in the Editor and through the Compile command. Without more information, it’s impossible to say whether you’ve encountered a bug or whether you inadvertently gave Scrivener ill-advised instructions.

Section 24.5 discusses the interaction between Styles and the Compile command in more detail.


Thank you for the guidance. I have just read 24.5 of the manual which discusses the ‘Text Layout’ element of the Compile Format editor. Unfortunately, I found nothing there that would appear to apply to my case.

Once I determined that my page size had been changed from Letter to A4 because my of my choice of the built-in Modern format which in its default state over-rides the project settings, I decided to take the ‘help’ advice which was that the Default format might be sufficient. So I took the precaution of checking this Default format to make sure that my project setting of Letter would be respected and I changed nothing else in that format before trying a compile.

In any case, when I look at the Text Layout element in the Compile Format editor, there are no options available for the file types ODT (or DOC, DOCX) – so nothing to get wrong.

The two styles I made and used in my project were paragraph styles (not character styles) and my use of Bold, Italics and Center were occasional to achieve something like this :

Example 10.2: … a sentence or two …or three … or the name of a book referenced like this “The good Book”

When I inserted an image (and there were 270 ) I clicked the center button to get it centered. The compile to ODT using the Default format (and Modern) removed all bolds, italics, centers. When I manually edited my complete project to remove my two paragraph styles, replacing them with ‘no style’, the compile kept these format changes.

I have not been able to find anything to specify additional steps to be taken when applying ad-hoc format changes to a home brewed style. If you can specify what additional information would be useful, I’m willing to try and get it.


I’m not sure I fully understand your meaning. The two styles I created were paragraph styles, not character styles. My use of the format toolbar was just to change the odd couple of words according to requirements. Or to center align an image or a single line paragraph.

Are you saying that the use of the tools on the format bar is over-ruled by the paragraph style definition? That I should have used Scriv’s style “Centered Text” instead of clicking the Center button on the format bar to make an ad-hoc change to my paragraph style?

I see nothing in the manual to support that premise …but is that what you’ve tried on the Mac? That would mean that any given styled paragraph would either be 100% bold or 100% not bold and only the ‘no-style’ paragraphs can accept the odd couple of words in bold.

We’re having trouble making ourselves clear. We can do a Zoom session to straighten it out if you like.

We’re having trouble making ourselves clear. We can do a Zoom session to straighten it out if you like.
I’ve just made a short Scriv project to test how the Bold, Italic and center format changes survive compile and the results were not very encouraging.

An ad-hoc center on an H1 heading doesn’t survive a compile, nor does a partial unbolding in H2. On the other hand, a couple of bolded words in a block quote paragraph does survive. I’ll try playing around some more later.

If I can work out how to message on FB, I’ll get in touch. I guess my time is 7 hours ahead of you. (Europe v Texas)

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I’ve just made a short Scriv project to test how the Bold, Italic and center format changes survive compile and the results were not very encouraging.

An ad-hoc center on an H1 heading doesn’t survive a compile, nor does a partial unbolding in H2. On the other hand, a couple of bolded words in a block quote paragraph does survive. I’ll try playing around some more later.

If I can work out how to message on FB, I’ll get in touch. I guess my time is 7 hours ahead of you. (Europe v Texas)
All of it survives at my machine, so I’d have to see what’s different there.

Just to clarify:

It says Mac at the left, but it works on both Windows and Mac at my machine.

  1. Yes, the paragraph style overrides centering in the H1 paragraph. I’m not surprised. The purpose of a paragraph style is to impose paragraph formatting.

  2. The H2 style (with bold in the style) overrides non-bolding ad hoc, because it’s a paragraph and character style. You can make it one or the other, but it is both. (So is H1.) The purpose of such a style is to override paragraph and character styling.

  3. Text body is both as well, and its character style is Regular. That overrides your ad hoc bolding.

  4. Centered text is a paragraph style only, so it doesn’t override character styling.

  5. Block quote, ditto. Paragraph only, so it doesn’t override the ad hoc bold.

  6. Text body is both, so it overrides both.

Everything worked as expected.

If you don’t want that to happen, decide what you want to override and act accordingly.

In the Mac Scrivener manual, Section 24.5 discusses Styles, and that’s what I had in mind. I’m sorry for the confusion.


Do Word styles operate in the same way?

Word styles and Scrivener styles are different, as I assume you know.

The Scrivener → Word conversion should behave the same way for both Mac and Windows Scrivener.


Well, well. That is not at all how I expected it to work. In all the word processors I have used (first on CP/M and later on DOS, Windows and Linux) styles could be modified by the ad-hoc application of formatting such as bold, italics, center, right-align, nested lists, etc on top of the styles. I have no experience with Apple products so maybe they work differently.

I quite understand that Scrivener is not a word processor and that the design choice was to act for writers who create bulk text with no or little formatting and that the compile process will later produce the formats they need. But seeing the format bar as a basic element of the GUI did lead me to believe that the format elements on that bar would be useful to me.

Writing non-fiction stuff, I feel more comfortable using some limited formatting to raise the level of information availability to the reader. At present, I do not feel able to leave that part of the creative process until later. Perhaps, in the fulness of time, I shall understand how to retain the formatting I want by improved use of the compile process in Scrivener.

In the meantime, thank you all for the responses and I am happy to have made an output from Scrivener which I can now format in my word processor. A happy side effect of Scrivener’s lack of format when creating is that I found my output to be 260 pages prior to setting my desired page layout. What I took to be one book will have to be split into at least two books.

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You can retain the formatting you want, if you understand how it works. I’ve never had any problem with it, because I use “no style” for all but exceptions such as headings and block quotes — where I’ve never needed to bold some words but not others, or italicize some but not all.

Here’s an example of the power Scrivener’s styles can bring to the process.

I’m writing sciFi (never to be completed, but still) in which a significant part of the dialog travels across a much more powerful world wide web between people (or artificial intelligences) using brain modems. I don’t want to say every time: “this was a Babel-connect transmission”, so I want a way to make it obvious. Quotation marks do that for spoken communication, and I don’t want to reuse them for this. I experimented with using «» instead of “” to enclose this kind of dialog, but what if I change my mind later? What if I want to put that dialog between em-dashes or exclamation marks?

As an experiment, I just now created a character style called “babel” and applied it to a few examples.

Three lines of it display with «the old method» vs the new method (red letters) in the Editor (first screenshot). The second screenshot shows the same text after Compile, in a PDF. The style is nothing but “red letters” in the Editor, but I redefine the style in Compile to make it black letters and add the «brackets». If I decide to, for instance, reverse the brackets as in »new method«, I can make the change in Compile in seconds.

The “babel” character style doesn’t prevent me using a paragraph style in the same paragraphs, by the way. I can highlight the text and use ⌘⌥8 to apply the character style, then ⌘⌥7 to apply the paragraph style.