How to use writing program Scrivener (The Basics)

I have been asked a few times about the program I use for writing my novels.  So I thought I would take a break from the World Builder series to go through the basics of Scrivener.

Title Image: How to use the writing program Scrivener (The Basics). Image: Scrivener Logo

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Back at the beginning of time, I used Microsoft Works.  That changed to Microsoft Word (sometimes Open Office if I was writing on my partner’s Linux laptop).

While I do like Word I have had some issues with it, so I thought to give Scrivener a go when I heard about it.  And… I hated it and stopped using it almost immediately.

About two years later I got the whim to try it again.  This time I actually went into it with more purpose and focus.  I found it did exactly what I needed it to especially with how I work and loved it!  It is now what I use for all my novels.

What is Scrivener?

Scrivener is a word processing software program designed for writers, whether they are fiction, non-fiction or even scriptwriters.  It includes templates, corkboard outlining system, notes and metadata.

So let me show you what Scrivener looks like, what it can do and why I love it so much.

Note: My Scrivener is for Windows and is version 1.9.8.0.  Different versions may look a little different and have slightly different features as will the Mac version.

Creating a new Project

Once you’ve downloaded Scrivener you can start by creating a new Project.  This is the dialogue box that appears and shows several Project templates.

Screenshot of New Project window in Scrivener

In the fiction section you have three options, Novel, Novel with Parts & Short Story

Novel – this template includes front matter, character & setting templates, designed for creating self-publised paperbacks or exporting as an ebook.  Set up includes chapter folders and scene documents.

Novel with Parts – this template also includes front matter, character & setting templates, designed for creating standard a novel for submission.  Set up includes chapter folders and scene documents.  It also includes “part” folders for those novels that are broken down by parts as well as chapters.

Short Story – this template includes a first page header and settings for producing a standard manuscript for short story submissions. Character & setting templates included.

Screenshot - New Project Novel in Scrivener

If you write non-fiction there are three templates available.

Non-fiction with Subheads – this template includes a title page for your document and settings for creating a non-fiction manuscript with in-chapter subheads

Research Proposal – this template is designed to produce a standard 15-page research or thesis proposal.

Undergraduate Humanities Essay – this template has a project structure and settings suitable for creating an undergraduate humanities essay.  Please note the format is based on one used at several UK universities.

Screenshot of New Project window of Non-Fiction in Scrivener

There are six templates for Scriptwriting.

BBC Radio scene Style – this template is design as a BBC radio format

BBC Taped Drama – this template is designed as a BBC taped drama format

Comic Script – this template is provided by the graphic novel and comic writer Antony Johnston

Screenplay this template is set up for writing Hollywood screenplays ready for printing directly or exporting to Final Draft

Stage Play (UK) – this template includes a title page, settings and structure for creating UK stage play manuscripts

Stage Play (US) – this template includes a title page, settings and structure for creating US stage play manuscripts

Screenshot New Project Scriptwriting In Scrivener

Finally, there is a Miscellaneous section that has two simple templates.

Persuasive Lecture – this template is an outline for a motivational lecture

Recipe Collections – this template includes a cookbook-style binder to organize your digital recipes and cooking resources that includes a rating system, cook time labels and colour coded prep

Screenshot of Misc New Project in Scrivener

I originally got Scrivener for writing novels, but I am now tempted to use some of the other templates in here for additional projects.

View options in Scrivener

Once you select an option, the New Project opens up.  Here have I selected Novel with Parts as a number of my WIPs are broken down into 3-5 parts.

Document View

The first thing you see is this main document view and it includes details about the template you chose.  There is good information here so it’s recommended to have a read through.

You will see at the top centre of this image, just under my creative test title “Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady” are three buttons and one is highlighted.  These are the View options.

Screenshot Document view in Scrivener

Corkboard View

The second view option, now highlighted, is the Corkboard.  This is where your “scene cards” appear as you create them and they can be dragged around into a different order.  It is great for planning.

Screenshot corkboard view in scrivener

Here is a view of the corkboard with cards shown.  Each card is given a title and then a mini description of the scene can be included.  Drag and drop allows them to be moved around.

Screenshot cards on corkboard view in Scrivener

Outline View

Finally, there is the Outline view that lists the details of your scenes as they are created.

Screenshot outline view in Scrivener

The fields shown above are the default ones in Outline view, but you can select more.  Simply go to the small down arrow on the right-hand side (see below) and a drop down will appear with additional fields you can select.

Screenshot outline view field selection in Scrivener

Side Panel (left)

Screenshot Binder panel in ScrivenerOn the left-hand side is the Binder Panel, this is where your layout is arranged.

The top option “Novel Format” is where the template notes, mentioned above, are stored for your reference.

Manuscript, as you can see from this screenshot, is broken down into Part folders, Chapter folders and then Scene documents.

You can amend these to fit your own requirement.  Maybe you just want a folder for chapters and a single scene document under each.

Or maybe you don’t want the chapter folders at all and just want the scene documents which will be your individual chapters.

There’s a section for Front Matter that includes title page,copyright and Ddedication pages.  As well as ebook section that gives a sample book cover and a dedication page as well.

Research actually has a cover sheet and manuscript template within the Sample Output folder.

Finally, there are Template Sheets for Characters and Setting Sketch.

You may have noticed that in the middle of the Binder panel are Characters and Places icons.  These actually open up to two separate corkboards where you can have your characters/places pinned.

They can be connected from your templates (which I discuss below).  So if you fill out a template, you can add it to the character Corkboard and have a full gallery of your characters and places.

Screenshot character profile on Character Corkboard in Scrivener

Templates

Scrivener gives two basic templates, Characters and Settings.  Now while most writers have their own, more detailed profiles, I do find these useful for keeping quickly needed information handy.

Character Sketch template

This is the character sketch template that includes several fields you can complete.  These can be removed or added to as they are not locked.  So you can make this template more consistent with your requirements.

Screenshot Character Profile in Scrivener.  Character Sketch

You can also add photos to the Character templates.  Simply place your cursor on the document, right-click and select insert image.

Screenshot Character Sketch and adding images in Scrivener

The photo will appear in the document and you can simply shrink or stretch to fit.

Screenshot of Character sketch with added photo in Scrivener

Setting Sketch template

This is the setting template, again these fields can be deleted, added to etc to fit with your needs.

Screenshot of Setting Sketch template in Scrivener

Side Panel (right)

There is a panel you can add to the right of the screen known as the Inspector.  To bring this up, go to View in the menu, then Layout and select Inspector.  You will see Binder is already ticked.  If you wanted to hide both, simply untick them.

Screenshot View menu to activate Inspector in Scrivener

The Inspector panel defaults to show the Synopsis tab.  This is where you can add details that will show up on your Corkboard cards (or vice versa).  Beneath that is the General Meta-data where labels, statuses etc are shown along with tick boxes to indicate page breaks, compile inclusion.

Screenshot Inspector panel Synopsis in Scrivener

Along the top of the Inspector panel is the menu.  These buttons mostly change the bottom half of the panel.

Screenshot of inspector panel toolbar in Scrivener

First icon (notepad): Document Notes as seen above

Second icon (books): Document Reference

Third icon (key): Keywords

Fourth icon (tag): Custom Meta-Data

Fifth icon (camera): Snapshots

Sixth icon (speech bubble): Comments and footnotes

Setting up your Scrivener document

First I recommend going through your Binder Panel and setting up the system you want.  Whether that is chapter folders, multiple scene documents, single documents per chapter etc.

Hide and delete anything you wont use in the panel so it’s less distracting.

To add new folders or scenes, simply right-click on the panel and select Add.  This is also where you rename a folder/scene, or move it to trash.

Screenshot Add new documents in Scrivener

Front & Back Matter

Part of my set up for arranging the binder is sorting the Friont and Back matter.

What is Front Matter

Screenshot Front Matter options in Binder panel in ScrivenerFront matter is the pages you get at the start of the book.

The title page, copyright information that includes a place for your ISBN number etc and if you choose, a dedication page.

You can see in this screenshot what is added as default.  I like to include an acknowledgements page as I prefer them to be at the front.  You can add a map page, intro, forewords etc.  Whatever you want.

What is Back Matter

Screenshot back matter folders in ScrivenerBack matter is not included in the template so I add it myself.

These are things I want at the back of my book and include pages such as Keep Reading, this would be where I add either bonus scenes or perhaps the first chapter to my next book as a teaser.

I also want a Connect with the Author page, where I would include social media details and finally a small area for a mini bio.

This is just what I prefer my set up to be.

Document Format

Next what I like to do is set up my document format.  Scrivener defaults to Courier New font (awful!) with single spacing.

To change this go to Tools in the menu, then Options

Screenshot Tools Toolbar menu in Scrivener to set up page

This will open the Options dialogue box.  Click on Editor.  Here you can change the spacing.  I always go for double spacing.   You can also change the indentation here too.  To change the font and size click on the blue ‘A’ just above the ruler.

Screenshot of Options window in Scrivener

A new window will allow you to select the font, style and size.  I always go for font Arial, style normal and size 11.

Screenshot of Select Font window in Scrivener

When you return to the Document view, you should see your amended choices showing.  If not, close and reopen Scrivener to activate them.

Screenshot of Main document image in Scrivener with page setup completed

I also prefer having a ruler visible on my document, to add this go to Format in the menu, then tick Ruler.

Screenshot of Format toolbar menu in Scrivener

Labels, Status & Icons

Labels

Screenshot Label in menu in ScrivenerYou can also colour-code your folders/scenes for easy organisation.

Just right click on the relevant scene and select Label.

This will bring up a list of colours with pre-assigned label names.  You can amend these using the Edit option.

Colour-coding can be done to mark different chapters, scenes, different POV, sections, locations – whatever works for you.

Status

Screenshot Status option in menu in ScrivenerYou can also mark each document with a status.

This can include To Do, First Draft, Final Draft etc.

By selecting one of these, a watermark will appear on the corkboard card.  As you can see in the screenshot opposite.

I personally never use the status, as I decided to use Icons instead.

Icons

Screenshot Change Icon option in Scrivener You can add icons to each of your scenes.  As a visual person, I found icons worked better for me than colour-coding (strangely).

I used the lightbulb icon to denote ideas.

The blue triangle was for queries (scenes that had issues).

The flags I use to mark a completed draft scene.

Th magnifying glass for scenes that needed additional research.

I use different flag colours to denote different draft versions.

Red is my first draft, orange is my second draft, yellow is my third draft and green my fourth draft.

I do a minimum of 4 drafts personally before I consider my manuscript ready to outside viewing such as CPs or BRs.

Setting Projects

One of the features I love in Scrivener is the Project Target.  You can set yourself a writing goal such as a certain word count to reach overall, as well as a session goal.

Do to this, go to Projects in the menu, then Project Targets

Screenshot PRoject Toolbar in Scrivener

A mini dialogue box appears that allows you to select your target word count.  Here I’ve put in 85,000 words which is a typical novel size.  I personally prefer to go over that, but I want my novels to be at LEAST 85K.

The tick box below it states “documents included in compile only”.  This allows you to mark your scenes as “include in compile” and make sure other things such as templates are not included, otherwise it could give you a skewed version of your word count.

Screenshot Project Target window In ScrivenerThere is then a section for typing in your preferred word count per session.  So every time you open the document, you have a target to write this many words.

I just put in 300 as the bare minimum I would have to complete.

The reason it is weirdly showing as -1786 is due to me accidentally clicking paste and dumping in unrelated text and then deleting it.  Scrivener has now counted it! lol

Screenshot Project Target completed in ScrivenerWhen you type, Scrivener’s project target changes colour to show how you are progressing.

Here you see I hit my session target so it is green, but my manuscript target is still showing red as I’m a long way off finishing.

Which it would be because it’s a fake WIP I created and I just added text to show you how it looks 🙂

Writing in Composition Mode

Another of my fave features on Scrivener is the Composition Mode.

So, you’ve set up your Binder layout, sorted the document format, added a project target and are ready to type!

You can just type in the Document view or change to Composition Mode.  This opens the document fully, hiding everything including your desktop’s taskbar.

I love this view because it removes all distractions and allows you to just focus on the writing.  That transparent bar at the bottom allows you to widen or narrow the writing area, change magnification and even make the background more transparent.

I prefer it as shown here.  Large writing surface with a solid black background.

That bar at the bottom vanishes after a few seconds, unless you keep your cursor on it.

SCreenshot Composition Mode view and vanishing bar in Scrivener

To open Composition Mode, select the full screen icon, see below (black square with two diagonal arrows).  To exit this mode, simply click escape and it returns you to the Document view.

Screenshot Toolbar icons Composition Mode in Scrivener

Saving your work

Scrivener has a great save system, as a default, if you stop typing for 2 seconds it saves your work.  Now having lost so much work through crashes in Word and the so-called “auto-recover” failing 9 times out of 10.  I have to say, I’ve never lost anything with Scrivener.

When you close the document, it automatically runs a backup.  I believe Scrivener keeps 5 copies of your project every time you close down and a backup is run.

So, nice and safe 🙂

Screenshot project backup image in Scrivener

Name Generator

Another great tool, that I had actually failed to realise existed until a fellow user pointed it out, was the Name Generator tool.  This can be located by going to Tools in the menu, Writing Tools then Name Generator.

Screenshot Tools toolbar showing Writing Tools to get to Name Generator in Scrivener

From this dialogue box, you can select options such as origins, names that start with a specific letter etc.  So far I haven’t used this as I don’t often have issues coming up with names, but it’s a great tool to have access too right in the program..

Screenshot Name Generator window in Scrivener

Exporting

If you haven’t finished your work and just want to view it in another format, or even pass it on to someone digitally, you can export the document into a Word or PDF etc.

Select File in the menu, then Export then Files. 

Screen shot how to Export Scrivener document into Word or PDF

Here you can select where you want the new copy to be saved, rename it and then choose the relevant text format.  It defaults to Rich Text Format but there are numerous choices.

Screenshot Export Files window in Scrivener

When you’ve finished the manuscript

Once you have completed your manuscript, you can compile it.  This is where it exports the whole document (those pages that have been ticked “include in compile”).   To do this go to File in the menu, then Compile to see this dialogue box.

Screenshot Compile window in Scrivener

In the Format-As option, there are several choices such as ebook, paperback novel, general non-fiction etc.

Screenshot Compile format options in Scrivener

In the Compile-for option, this allows you to choose the type of file.

Screenshot Compile for options in Scrivener

My thoughts

As I said, originally I wasn’t a fan, but that was because I didn’t give it a fair try.  When I started using it in a more structured and focused way, I found it really was perfect for my needs.

When I used Word I would end up with novels spread over several documents as I liked things to be separated outby scenes as well as chapters.

The features in Scrivener are perfect for my method of working, shifting scenes around (which I do a lot is easier in Scrivener) working on a screen without distractions, keeping everything in one location… if you haven’t tried it, I’d highly recommend it.

Buy Scrivener

Scrivener costs around $45 for the regular licence, which I do believe is very reasonably priced for what this software does.

Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)

Buy Scrivener 3 for macOS (Regular Licence)

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Thanks to everyone who read all the way through.  I hope you found it useful especially if you have been thinking about using Scrivener.  I tried to cover all the basics I use when starting a new project.

I hope you all have a great weekend and I’ll be back on Monday with a new Marketing post.  Leave me your thoughts in the comments below and if you want to see something specific on this blog, drop me a message.

Happy writing

Ari

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31 thoughts on “How to use writing program Scrivener (The Basics)

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    • Thanks for reading 🙂 Tell me about it, took a good few hours to create especially sorting all the screenshots but I’m hoping it helps anyone who wants to try it.

      I think if I’d have seen something that went through the basics clearly the first time I’d have stuck with it from the start. 🙂

      • I was just gonna say, it must have taken you a good long time to get this one set up. But it’s super helpful and rich in information. You did a great job with it. Thanks. 🙂

    • Thanks Pearl, I appreciate your kind words. It took so many hours getting that post written and all those screenshots. I am glad I did as I think it is a good overview for anyone looking to try Scrivener. 🙂

  5. Thank you very much for this very great software review. I had not heared about Scrivener before, but this seems to be one of the best software for writers. Simple desktop with a lot of features. Michael

    • Thanks so much for reading and reblogging Rebecca. I am really glad you found this article useful and I hope it helps you with Scrivener.

      If you have any questions feel free to drop me a message and I’ll help any way I can.
      ~Ari

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