Scrivener & Chapter Headings

This is a complete and total newbie question, but…

I’ve primarily started using (and reviewing) Scrivener for novel writing. Normally, novels are divided into chapters. Does this structure still make sense given the flexibility of Scrivener’s text documents and manipulation? Or should chapter headings only come in after the draft is complete, a solidly written and thoroughly edited piece of work? How do you use Scrivener for novel writing?

Thanks in advance.

Entirely up to you.

Although it does seem to me that the question raises a bigger issue than simply chapter headings. Are you more a “whack-the-first-draft-down-as-rapidly-as-possible-then-sculpt-it-afterwards-because-writing-is-rewriting-er”? Or “write-carefully-edit-as-you-go-along-so-the-first-draft-is-almost-the-last-er”? Because if you’re the first, you’re not going to be thinking much about chapter breaks, let alone headings in the early drafts. But if you’re the latter, you may want to get your chapter breaks and headings straight as you progress (although in much fiction nowadays, actual chapter titles don’t of course exist and Scrivener’s placement tokens can be left to deal with chapter numbering).

These are matters of personal preference and writing style, it seems to me. Neither way is better intrinsically. I know of successful novelists who strongly believe one or other – or a combination of the two – is the only way. Scrivener easily accommodates all.

But what I do personally believe is that the process of writing a novel is so demanding that a major requirement is that whatever process you use has momentum. You have to keep going. In order to keep going, being concerned about chapter breaks and headings shouldn’t perhaps be high on your list of priorities for a first draft.

I second the core message of what Hugh has to say here. Scrivener was initially designed to work well with the “inside-out” way of writing, where things really have no structure or skeleton, and that can all come together as you write. But this same degree of flexibility also works great for writers who approach a project with a fairly rigid outline, with the intent of fleshing it out as they work. There are many techniques and tools in Scrivener which allow you to draft now and fiddle later. You can easily split and merge documents, convert files to folders and vice versa, store files in files even, use Scrivenings to view lots of fragments as a single scene or chapter, and many more that you’ll probably come across as you familiarise yourself with the program.

The main thing to realise in all of this is that there is no penalty for working the way your mind works, and that’s a new concept for many authors to come to grips with, as they migrate from environments that are very rigid or just have design constraints that don’t allow them to work they way they work best. Finding your own rhythm might very well be something you don’t even know yet, and won’t until you get more comfortable with this fluid way of working.

Secondary to this is the realisation that what you see in Scrivener doesn’t have to be what you publish. The compiler is capable of changing all of the formatting down to a very fine level of detail. It can take a huge mess of varying fonts and styles and homogenise it into a neat RTF file that looks like you spent hours on. This philosophy extends to the structural level as well. Because you can assign automatic titles to things based on their type (and their depth in the outline, if using 2.0 for the Mac), this means you can build outline structure that just doesn’t even exist in the book at all. You could break things down way further than any sane publisher would do, if need be. This gives you ultimate fine-level control over every detail of your book, and by and large there is no programmed constraint or even design constraint that makes that difficult to work with in Scrivener. You can just as easily view a paragraph in a chapter, or the entire chapter at once.

For those that don’t like breaking things down, there is the new text bookmark feature. Plant little markers in your chapters to denote sections, and use the header bar icon menu to jump to places in longer files, like a miniature table of contents.

Best of all, this flexibility really means you can get down to work much quicker than in many programs. Because you can go back and fix things as you learn new stuff, or develop new working habits, there is no compelling reason to sit down and ponder the strategic aspects of Scrivener too heavily. That can happen as you work, and your project can adapt and evolve as your workflow evolves with it. For most people, that is probably something that will take years to happen. I’m still evolving in the way I work with Scrivener. To an extent each project develops its own protocol variations on the central theme of “how I write”, but this is never a cumbersome problem; mainly because the program has been designed to be flexible, so working in a flexible way just comes naturally to it.

Ahem. You sure about that?

That’s hardly fair. He is still trying to find the tutorial for version 1.1.