Setting out story arcs and character arcs in Scrivener

I’ve just started using Scrivener to help me write my book for Nanowrimo. I’m getting the feel for the program but am having difficulty working out the best way/place to set out my notes on Story and Character Arcs in terms of outlining. Is there an easy way to do both of these? Apologies for the newbie question but thanks in advasnce for any help offered!

As usual with Scrivener, there’s more than one way to do something like this: Things you could experiment with…

You can use Project Notes (Project > Project Notes) to keep your general notes on the Story and Character Arcs, so that they will always be handy. You can have more than one Project Note if you want. There’s a setting in Tools > Options > General to keep the Project Notes window permanently visible, which means you have access to them while you’re working in the Corkboard or Outliner.

Think about using Labels, Keywords and other meta-data to track POV, themes and so on. You can show these as additional columns in the Outliner, and / or you can search on them to create Collections (basically saved smart dynamic searches).

Eg: if you create a keyword for each of your main characters and assign them to the relevant scenes, then you can do a search for keyword: Fred Bloggs and create a collection containing only the scenes with Fred Blogs in it. Or only the scenes with Sub-plot B in…

If you want to track the level of tension / jeopardy for the main character, you could use a label for low / medium / high so you can see at a glance in the outliner / cork board / binder the ebb and flow of the tension. Or, as each document can only have one label and you might want to use them for something else (first draft, second draft etc), you could create a custom meta-data field for tension. This can also be seen in the Inspector and the Outliner (if you add the column) and you can search on it to create collections.

Those are a few ideas to experiment with. If you haven’t already done so, do have a look at the Interactive Tutorial – it will only take you an hour or two at the most and it will not only show you some of these suggestions in practice, it will give you a good handle on the most effective way to use Scrivener.

This screenshot illustrates some of the ideas if that helps.

Good luck next month…

Hello Brookter, thanks very much for your detailed reply. I’ve come from a mind-mapping way of organising things, so I was hoping to find a way of stringing granular arc points together in a visual way. I like the ideas you’ve explained though - I’ll start with project notes then look into digging down further into labels, keywords and metadata to organise and track data. Your notes about tracking levels of tension were great too- thank you for that!

Lots for me to test out. Thank you for your pointers and also for taking the time to set out the various ways to do things - much appreciated!

Have you taken a look at Scrivener’s companion app Scapple? It’s not that sophisticated as mind-mapping (actually concept-mapping) software goes, but it integrates nicely with Scrivener.

Hi Liz,

No I hadn’t - had no idea about the companion app at all, but it’s the kind of thing I’ve been looking for! Something to help me create connections and flows so I can build up the various strands and themes of my novel. It looks just the ticket, but I’m aware that I won’t have the time to learn two programmes in a few short days.

After some thought, I think for the moment I’ll probably just use the mindmapping tool I currently own, as it’s going to take all my time to learn Scrivener for the 1st November. I’ll take my existing arcs from iThoughts and export mindmaps as pictures into Scrivener, then use them as skeletons to work arc data in as Brookter described. Then, when November is over, I’ll have a proper look at Scapple when the pressure is off. It’s good to know it’s there though - I now have a roadmap to work to, knowledge that the kind of things I want to do can be done using Scapple, so thank you Liz for bringing it to my attention. The integration into Scrivener will be a major plus too.

You’ll probably find Scapple much easier to use than traditional mind mapping software. I find it essential for brainstorming.

I’d definitely recommend looking at the corkboard. I’m not sure if the Windows version can do it yet, but the Mac version supports both a freeform corkboard (not tied to a grid) and printing to physical card stock.


The current version of Scrivener for Windows does not have a freeform Corkboard.

When it comes to pov and individual story threads, I use Keywords. You can label a document or a scene with more than one keyword. Once input, it is possible to search by keywords and bring up the specific scenes containing those elements.

I find the project notes thing also invaluable and suits my way of working - although I access it via Project on the main menu, because it is easier to work in full screen. I record all my notes there for later revisions, things that need to be clarified in subsequent drafts etc.

Personally, I prefer the blank template, which is equipped with draft, research and trash folders. I create a document that I place above the draft folder, (note, it won’t compile from there) and which I use for my story thread/story beats, striking out the text of completed sections as I progress.

The great thing about Scrivener is that it is very adaptable. You should find what works for you in short order.

I’d definitely recommend looking at the corkboard. I’m not sure if the Windows version can do it yet, but the Mac version supports both a freeform corkboard (not tied to a grid) and printing to physical card stock.

Alas, no freeform in Windows yet.

Thank you for all the helpful hints. Much appreciated!

There’s another approach in this thread about multi-column outlining you might find helpful.

Corkboard and synopsis is what I use. And Scapple.

But then I also use iThoughts (mindmapping) and Cardflow on the iPad. Scrivner can import .opml files so almost any kind of mindmapping software will work, if you already use that.