Scrivener needs (!) user-sided formatting in its tree

I’m not a Scrivener user, but please allow a remark on it, and its integration with what’s now called “timelineapp” (“Aeon”): It seems that’s, at first sight, an “ideal combination” indeed, but then, it seems that Scrivener always comes with no user-assignable tree element formatting (bolding, italicising, underlining; in combination with (text, or even background) coloring; let alone then filtering by these attributes (“tree formats”), and much of what then “Aeon” (quite brilliantly) does, just serves to “fill in” Scrivener’s voids.

The problem in this being that - as being shown by forum contributions of writers using Scrivener and “Aeon” in combination - this causes lots of procrastination, of “fiddling around” (with all that import-export, color attributions which then are not also replicated within the Scrivener tree, etc.) which doesn’t make much sense, whilst at the end of the day, dedicated (horizontal) timelines are for presentation purposes, and the writer’s core app (here: Scrivener) should be able to present, for navigational and analytical purposes, a “better”, i.e. an individually formatted, ideally even filter-ready, tree, than Scrivener currently offers to them: a tree that will also be its own (then verticall: so what?) “timeline”… and the writer (f/m/d) would stay in their “original working environment”, and without feeling the urge to sidestep - again and again, while writing! - to some other application which, at the end of the day, just presents the same information (in this case, plus some coloring = attributing which will not be persistent, back in Scrivener (sic!) -, just horizontally, in lieu of vertically: This is not efficient, but gives way to lots of procrastination, and, by the way, to lots of technical problems, back in Scrivener, in order to integrate any “new insight” the writer might have got from their (very time demanding) excursion.

Here again, the old (whilst not originally) Mac paradigm “less is more” (Copyright: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, but that was about furniture and, by extension, about GUIs in general, not navigational element trees) applies, and by “aesthetical”, “visual uniformity” considerations, the apps - most Mac writing apps currently do it the same or in a very similar way Scrivener does - prevent the user - here: literary, technical or whatever “writer” - not only from fast and easy navigation, but also from “viewing the whole picture”, within their prime application.

At the end of the day, much better writers than are, nowadays, have succeeded in creating mastery works that have outlived many centuries, even millennia, just by using paper sheets and, perhaps, file cards (which were probably of the same paper quality as their writing sheets, i.e. not really “cards”, but possibly cropped to some “manageable”, “see the whole picture”, “chalk / cork board distribution” format - what do we know?) - whilst we other writers now are PC- or Mac-backed-up, and then, though, some Early-Mac (bad, pseudo-) “philosophy” then prevents us from benefiting fully from the incredible power that “information technology” provides us, beyond the arduous physical means of our “ancestors”, predecessors-in-our-trade.

Most - all? - subjects have been treated already… just not in every imaginable way, but it’s obvious that writers in the 21th Century are somewhat “handicapped” by “what already exists”. So, I pledge for optimization of our technical stuff at least, since, very obviously, all the technical prerequisites are there; leaving “goodies” out, and then accepting those misses, from the user-side, corresponds to further, and deliberate, “maso”, self-handicapping: I am, personally, quite happy with my combination of some Windows two-pane outliner (as Scrivener is), in combination with thousands of external macro code lines, but I seriously think Scrivener should introduce user-sided tree elements’ formats (and, ideally, filtering by those then, including filter combinations for display / export) ASAP, both in its Mac and Windows versions; and people who systematically chime in to pretend, “this software is good enough as it is”, should be called saboteurs of what we all strive at: add something, to be, very benevolently, considered valid, to what already exists.

Not sure I get what you mean by “tree element”, but otherwise Scrivener has all of that.


Since you are not a Scrivener user, you may not be aware of the abundant metadata that can be assigned to (and then searched for) Scrivener’s Binder items. I would recommend having a look at our trial version, which you can download here: Download Scrivener | Literature & Latte

Once you’ve spent some time with it, maybe worked through the Tutorial, we would welcome your feedback on ways in which it might more effectively serve your needs.

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Could you provide screenshots, please?

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As I said, the best way to determine whether Scrivener will meet your needs is to explore the software yourself. Metadata specifically is discussed in the Inspector section of the Tutorial. Tools for making metadata visible in the interface can be found in the View menu.

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Everything I displayed here is searchable, filterable, aside for the icons.
(I went for the extreme ; it doesn’t look that crazy-colorful and visually all over the place in a normally constituted project.)

That’s all I’ll post.
@kewms advice is pretty much the only valid one.


Thank you for advice and partial screenshot; unfortunately, my “Binder” doesn’t comprise any “Draft” by default. Sorry for mentioning a “tree”, this term is used in the “Binder” chapter, so I thought it was acceptable.

I choose “Novel Format”, “with Parts/Chapters”, so I got “Manuscript”, with “Part”, with “Chapter”, with “Scene”, then renamed those “Scenes”, and even “Add[ed] new text”, in order to get non-default tree elements (oops, I said it again!); I then found no way to format any of them (but lots of fiddles, like flags, icons, “Use label color in Binder”, and so on; ^b, ^i, ^u not working, ditto by “Format” sub-menu (greyed-out); I didn’t find a way to (text or background) color either; there is one single, middle-grey, background format, called “Show as binder separator”; this single format would then correspond, in a way, to the single “material/research/or whatever they call it” user-available tree element formatting in the other writing app for which some “Aeon” integration is available (as also is for Scrivener).

Needless to say there is no mention of formats of tree in the “Binder” pdf section, but from the screenshot, it becomes obvious that Scrivener isn’t a 2-, but a 3-pane outliner, and then very probably, formattings (which are obviously possible within the subordinate outline, probably are replicated into the “Binder” tree, whilst the distinction between the two doesn’t seem that precise, since when I “Add[ed] new text” to a default “Scene” (context menu), this did not create a child item of that “Scene”, but a sibling element to it, so the tree paradigm doesn’t seem to be followed very strictly, within that “Binder”; it’s true that then (only), indenting the new “text” element was possible by control-arrow.

Thus, I technically stand corrected (screenshot), whilst I continue to be unable to apply any format to “Binder elements” (correct wording now?), except for applying (possible sometimes, not always, depends on the element in question) the one “Separator” format.

My original idea - met by quite some applications indeed - had been that technology should ease the writing process though, not complicate it to the point of making any writing virtually impossible for anyone not willing to thoroughly read, and remember / constantly consult almost 800 pdf pages, in which the necessary information is spread all over the place.

Ideally, I would have expected Binder entry formatting to be accessible by control-b/i/u, and (for colors) by control-1…0 and the like (cf. what I wrote on that subject in the Scapple area of your forum), but of course, I would be willing to dig deeper, then write the necessary external macros to get “immediate” access to those.

But I unfortunately don’t have the time to memorize 760 pages of instructions, just in order to continue to write; I might have overlooked a quite easy way to access that functionality I continue to miss, while accepting it’s there, though. All the bells-n-whistles are there, obviously, but it seems even those that should be available intuitively, are very well hidden, and yes, the Windows’ version’s Binder tree, as it presents itself to me, even after my adaptive efforts, clearly is “Mac” design, just replicated to Windows, and that’s scarcely an “accident” but “by design”, as they say, and whilst I can’t say I’m too happy with that, I would really be, and continue to be, interested in knowing how to apply title text formattings to Binder entries (understood that that may not be possible for any sort of those elements).

You don’t mention you went through the Tutorial … if not, perhaps that now could be your next step. It will also help you with the nomenclature used in Scrivener to assist in your possible future brief questions here.


To be clear, the Binder does not support bold/italic/etc. formatting. It is fundamentally plain text. It does allow you to expose metadata either by assigning custom icons or label colors. The Outline view replicates whatever portion of the Binder you like, and is capable of exposing all metadata, including keywords, status fields, custom fields, etc.

Your stated goal is “a filter-ready tree,” and I would argue that assigning metadata that tells you what it is meets that goal more effectively than using generic formatting commands. (Is it better to assign a green label called “Mark” to Mark’s scenes, or to format their titles in green?)

The structure of the Binder is whatever you want it to be. You can create as many levels of hierarchy as you like and name them whatever you want.

Again, the Tutorial project explains the relationship between the Binder and the other views in detail. I don’t think anyone (other than Ioa and maybe Keith) has memorized the entire manual, but the Tutorial is kind of essential to even ask questions in a way that others will be able to understand what you’re doing.

You might also find that people are able to offer more useful suggestions if you describe what you actually want to accomplish, rather than opining about Scrivener’s design philosophy.

(Dramatis Personae for people new to the forum. Ioa aka AmberV is the author of the manual. Keith is the creator of Scrivener.)