Scrivener for novelists

I’m surprised that no one has yet posted a topic about using Scrivener for outlining and writing novels. Or have a I missed this somewhere? I only downloaded Scrivener Beta a couple of days ago, but am VERY VERY EXCITED about its potential use in fiction writing, though I also plan to use it in my nonfiction writing. I write for a living, but have not had any book-length fiction published yet.

My current situation: My agent had submitted my novel for young people to a particular publisher, where the associate editor liked it enough to pass up to the head of the imprint. Before they can offer me a contract, they said they’d like some changes, if I’m willing. The associate editor worked with me in e-mail re: revision ideas, and I had just started to outline the revised version – I realize now that if I had done a properly detailed outline in the BEGINNING, it would have been much easier to revise; I had already tried SuperNoteCard and was going to use Mori when I heard about Scrivener.

So far, Scrivener seems to be EXACTLY what I’m looking for. I’d be highly interested in hearing from anyone out there who has been using Scrivener for novel-writing, especially in their process re: using keywords and other features unique to Scrivener.

I suspect nobody has specifically posted about writing novels in scrivener because that’s just sort of assumed - and it’s turning out to be useful for all sorts of other writing, too, so people describe the variations.

Ah ok, makes sense.

But I’d still love to see any “working examples” online, if there are any. I can already tell there are so many different ways of using Scrivener for novel-writing and am curious about other people’s processes.

I’ll post mine once I’ve settled on one. :slight_smile:


I am using Scrivener to write the fifth draft of a novel, having used both MS Word and CopyWrite for earlier drafts, and finding both lacking. This application is my new all time fave, however I have found the options somewhat daunting, and even after going through the tutorial twice still don’t use it anywhere near its potential. For instance, organization, my bugbear: do I just have a list of chapters in the binder? Well, no, because sometimes I want to keep the pre-revised chapter 2, say, as well as the chapter 2 that my editor made notes on, and my revision of his notes. So now I have all these folders and subfolders, the main folder being called “draft 5” and then its subfolders are each chapter, and within those I have the different versions. Plus, I’ll sometimes take snapshots of a particular chapter before I mess around with it, although I rarely bother to go back (who can remember which version was better? It’s all relative and one expects to be improving, not “unimproving” each time one rewrites…).

If anyone has some really neat ideas about organizing novels, or other tips and tricks, we’d love to read about them. Now back to the real writing…

There are so many ways to keep track of your work in Scrivener – the only best method is the one that works for you. That said, some opinions: I would keep entire versions of chapters in an entirely different place; not in the draft at all. This keeps the draft clean and focussed on the current version. Yes, you can choose to toggle export off and this comes in handy, but I only like to keep such ancillary documents in the draft if they are directly involved with the current version. Archived older versions go into the archive, as do any obsolete ancillary documents. This keeps the Binder in the present tense, while still retaining all of that old stuff if I ever want it.

Regard snapshots, where I find that most useful is when I am seriously snipping content. Minor improvements to prose and such, you are right why would you ever go back? But what if you felt that deleting a scene was important, and five months later realised that scene was more important than you thought. That is where snapshots shine.

Ok, I sent off my revised novel and am crossing my fingers very hard. I’m grateful to Scrivener for the help with revisions!

Now I’m starting a new novel for young people from scratch. I’m keeping tons of notes about characters, world-building and background info in the Research section, and doing lots of internal linking.

In the Drafts section, I’ve started outlining the plot using the Corkboard…first putting in major important events via folder synopses but then filling in details via notecards. Each notecard is colour coded with a Label indicating points of view: there are two points of view throughout the novel.

I’m also using Keywords this time, listing characters and coding each card with the appropriate Keywords. I figure that way I can more easily follow the actions of a particular character throughout the novel later on.

I find it EXTREMELY HANDY to be able to build up the novel outline this way, focusing first on adding the important events and then filling in the gaps. Next week, I’m going to actually start writing the novel, and I plan to do this in Scrivener for the first time.

I’m paranoid about crashes (for no particular reason, really, since Scrivener has never crashed on me) so am doing at least one Backup a day. I also plan to use Snapshots frequently once I start writing.

Thanks for posting this, Debbie. Please keep us apprised of your experiences with Scrivener as the novel progresses. It’s rare to get a look inside the process like this.

And you may be interested in Tim’s experience of bringing a book through to publication. He’s diarised the processes, hurdles, giddy heights and plummeting depths here: [url]]

Roy :slight_smile:

I have a novel that wasn’t quite right when an agent took an interest, and Scrivener has gotten me charged up about revamping it. Here’s some things that have helped me:

I use the outline function as a (surprise!) outliner. By editing the different columns, I keep track of my pacing. Is that chapter too long, and why? Is that chapter too short, and what can be added? I put the creation and edited dates in the binder off to the right so I have to slide the scroller to see it. But when I do, I see if something has been neglected for a while and might be out of synch.

Use the colored tabs and labels to keep track of stuff you have trouble keeping track of. If you get into one character and neglect others, use the colors to indicate who is the focus of certain parts. (Gee, I didn’t realize I’d been charging away at Whosie’s story, I’d better move some What’s-their-name into the flow or readers will forget about him.) Do you lose track of what sections have been gone over many times and others are still too drafty? For instance, I like to use colors of increasing intensity, so that pale pastels indicate stuff I’m throwing against the wall, and deep colors for things I’m happy with. Labels can be plot oriented if that’s your toe-stubber (Suspense for needs more suspense, Character for needs more character development, and so forth.) Labels can remind you of style indicators (Action, Reveal, Backstory) that lets you get into those parts you are in the mood for and also see how the story is unfolding.

Speaking of in the mood for, I looooooove the different highlighting. We all have times when we want to polish a perfect paragraph, and other times when we want to charge into some heavy plot fixing. Using the highlighters to mark spots that clump into your various moods will maximize your time with Scrivener.

Don’t fall into the trap of using these tools to organize what you already have organized in your head. They aren’t to tell you what you already know! Use them to keep track of whatever your weaknesses are. It’s not going to be graded on how tidily you have it arranged with the labels and types and highlights. These are tools you can and should customize.

I’m not afraid to fragment. If you aren’t daunted by a lot of fiddly bits, get in the habit of breaking down your work into scenario chunks which can be easily moved around in first draft as you figure out what needs to be known when. By creating bunches of subchapters and moving them in the binder, I’ve found I can get a flow of the story going quickly, and then concentrate on making them hook together properly. You can see the whole thing with Edit Scrivenings… use it! You can click on any level and then see all the sublevels running together like a real chapter, but you can move something to another chapter right in the binder, instead of cutting and pasting, or move it out entirely into Research so it’s out of your way. Move your scenes around, like in a movie, and click on Edit Scrivenings again to see the new flow.

Use document notes for all sorts of brainstorming. As each idea is either used, moved to a better document for it, or discarded, you get a sense of how things are flowing and don’t lose an idea. You can also jot down an idea even if you are in a chapter that doesn’t use that particular idea, just so you don’t get off track. You’ll run across it sooner or later, or use Search to track it down.

It’s all about the Flow!

I’m a working novelist who got recommended Scrivener by another working novelist, and I’m well into it now. One thing I do is save ‘scratch’ notes in the binder on the right under hte ‘scratch pad’ heading if I need to make notes towards a future draft. I also have lots of annotations specific to chapters or paragraphs in the actual manuscript, although I’d really like a way to put the annotations to the side of the text when in fullscreen mode rather than in the middle of it. But it’s still pretty good for all that.

For what it’s worth, I don’t, however, use Scrivener in isolation: I always have the free Mac version of Writer’s Cafe’s ‘Storyline’ software open, with a detailed timeline that I refer to back and forth so I know when and where everything happens. i’d love to see something like that in Scrivener, although I understand the developer’s need to avoid ‘bloatware’.

Hi garygibsonsfwriter,

Try doing search on ‘timeline’ and this is a good link to check out. … t=timeline


Cheers for mentioning this. Tried it, like it. :slight_smile:

Does anyone know if Storylines is okay to use with Leopard? I understand they’re coming out with an updated version but no idea when that will happen.

I actually have a jotted some ideas down for implementing a timeline - I came up with ideas on how it would work (from a coding point of view) some time ago, but the real problem would be how it would fit into Scrivener. It would be very difficult to get it to play nicely with the outliner and corkboard. So, it may one day make it into Scrivener, but not for some time (it may be a 2.0 thing). I do very much like the way it’s done in StoryLines.


Excellent idea! I just finished a rough draft that is autobiographical in nature (for NaNoWriMo) and I am really going to need to do a lot of rearranging. Since WriMo is so time-sensitive I just wrote as I remembered things. So Paragraph 5 from Day 10 might have actually occurred after Paragraph 10 on Day 7. Subchapters would really help when I go back and edit this into some semblance of a timeline.

I am using scrivener for fiction and find the links between index cards and outliner especially useful. Don’t see the need for separate timelines (but I might at some point) as I can just annotate the index cards if I need to. Given the importance of good structure I think its greatest strength is in that area, it is really helping me - the ability to see these things in a range of different ways means I pick up on all sorts of things I might otherwise miss until printing out a draft. I also use corkboard just to have some useful images up to help the grey matter. I find it great as you just open the thing and you are in your writing environment. I think I would find it of less use for this on a smaller screen, though.