Using Scrivener for three levels of detail.

Hello, everyone. I’m struggling a bit to bend Scrivener to my will, and I’m wondering if anyone works the way I’d like to, and could guide me through.

I’m writing a novel, and I work in a pretty formal way. I’m a big fan of top-down organization, and I like to work by developing on three levels;

  • Synopsis – each scene and chapter described in about 50 words.
  • Treatment – a more detailed set of notes on each scene.
  • Manuscript – the actual novel.

Since I’m plotting at the moment, I want to spend all my time in those first two parts, developing the plot before writing the text. I’m wondering if you go about things this way, and how you work in Scrivener.

Some ideas I’ve had so far;

  • scrivener has fields for each of these – synopsis, document notes, and the main text – but I’m not quite sure how to work scrivener right. If you want to outline for a couple of months, and you need to do almost all your editing on this ‘treatment’ level, then it’s actually nowhere near as nice working in the ‘Document Notes’ field as it is working on normal text documents – no scrivenings mode, for instance, and as you make the Inspector much wider, the Document Notes field gets smaller and smaller in the UI.

  • I could do a multi-level structure in the document, like

Folder - Chapter Text - Scene Synopsis Text - Treatment Text - Manuscript

Best bit is that I get to use scrivenings mode to edit all three types, and then use compile options to generate the different documents. But the extra levels of structure suggest I’ve missed something in the product – Like I’ve misused it.

  • Do the normal novel structure but put all the treatment stuff as inline annotations. But then you can’t compile a treatment of just the annotations.

Anyone else got any ideas? Anyone else work like this?

If you are always, and I really mean ALWAYS, going to be that highly structured, then I would recommend that, indeed, you do all your outlining in the binder (where, as you noticed, you get to use Scrivenings). Then add the next level of the hierarchy and write the associated prose. Then to produce the book, just make sure you have either (a) unchecked the “Include in Compile” box on all of the “Scene Synopsis” and “Treatment” documents, or (b) (I think this will work) do not check any boxes in the corresponding levels of the “Formatting” pane in the Compile dialog – levels 2 and 3, I think. Either way should remove those unwanted notes and musings from the output document.

Actually you can do that, it’s just not a feature of the compiler. To export all annotations by themselves (optionally with the title of the document they came from), use File/Export/Export Annotations...

My recommendation would be to give the ‘normal’ 3 tier structure a try…

  • Corkboard synopsis for your synopsis
  • Document Notes in the Inspector Pane for your treatment
  • The Editor for your manuscript
    The advantages are that you can’t lose the links between the three tiers of the same document, and moving things around and visualising in the corkboard, etc remains as clean as possible.
    Plus you can compile any combination of Title > Synopsis > Notes > Manuscript that you like.

This is how I worked when pulling together the Novel In A Day exercise a few of us did last year and - for me - it worked really well.

I do hear what you are saying about not wanting to live in the Notes pane though. You just could use the Editor for the Treatment and give the document an appropriate label (eg “treatment”). When you move out of the planning phase and into the drafting phase, just copy your treatment into the Document Notes where you can still easily compile and review it.

You could also write your treatment in the the main editor, and then snapshot your treatment when you’re ready to move on to the 3rd level of detail. With the split editor, you can drag the snapshot to the title of one of the editors, and then in the other “live” editor, you just wipe out the text, and begin developing your 3rd level (actual manuscript).

To distinguish between the treatment text in subsequent documents and the actual text of your manuscript in the current document, you might consider using Revision colors for level 2, and no revision color for level 3.

Part of this might come down to what you want readily at hand and how you’d like to view it when you’re working on different sections. For a lengthy treatment, I’d go with having its own document in the binder, as the size is a little more flexible (though you can always choose to collapse the top two sections in the inspector and widen the whole thing so you get a good size space to write in the notes) and it allows for annotations (because no matter what it is, I will want to make side comments on it, if only as an outlet for the snarky side of my brain that likes to insert unwanted opinions while I’m writing)–although most other formatting options are available in the notes, so if you don’t care about annotations/footnotes specifically, that’s not a reason to choose separate document over notes.

My main reason would be that I typically use the notes area for shorter notes on what needs to make it into the scene, revision notes general to the document (vs. something specific that would go in an annotation), and notes with links to other documents. (Scrivener links can just go in the reference pane, of course, which I also use, but occasionally I like to type up a sentence or so with a c.f. this-document so that I know specifically why I referenced another section of the project.) These notes aren’t ever anything worthy of a full document, I don’t need to view them in Scrivenings, etc. so keeping them tucked into the document notes works best for me–the only time I ever need to see them is when I’m writing that particular document. Compare this to a treatment, which even if it originated as prep work to the initial full draft could easily be tweaked into a full plot synopsis to pass off to an editor/agent–something like that I’d find useful to have in its own document where I could snapshot it, edit it, etc. Scrivenings also seems desirable for this to give you a complete overview of your full draft (just as you could use the outliner to get a complete overview of your shorter synopses), and unlike compiling the document notes, Scrivenings would allow you to edit the treatments in context.

Using labels or a status to mark your treatments would also allow you to easily put together a saved search collection for these documents, to make viewing them together faster and simpler; you can also compile collections, so it’d be easy to print off the whole shebang if you wanted.

Having your initial 50-word synopsis for both the manuscript document and the treatment might also be handy, so if I were going the separate document route, I’d probably just use Documents > Duplicate to make a copy of each scene and its synopsis, then turn one of them into the treatment. The documents aren’t linked, of course, nor are their synopses, so if you edit the synopsis in one place it won’t affect the other document’s synopsis–that could be a point in favor of keeping everything tied to a single document and using notes–but anyway it’d at least start you out with your synopsis notes conveniently at hand when working on the treatment.

Anyway, just my late-night babbling. I think though one of the main points to stress is that it’s quite difficult to “misuse” Scrivener–the program is incredibly flexible to allow for all different methods of writing, and as you use it you’ll start to find things that work well for you and others that you can do without. And don’t be afraid of levels in the binder! Levels bespeak organization and a clear and thoughtful mind! :slight_smile: At least, that’s what I tell myself…