How I Currently Use Scrivener: More Than Just a Word Processor

Scrivener is an awesome writer’s tool. Whether you’re putting together a novel or a research paper, Scrivener offers more features at your disposal than a folder with Word (or TeX, or LaTeX, or Lyx, or LibreOffice/OpenOffice Writer) documents. Only for Scrivener do I give up vim bindings. I do not even give up vim bindings for Emacs.

Given that Scrivener’s features are flexible enough to put into multiple workflows, here’s what I’m currently using.

Corkboard View

Index Cards

Some attributes are visible through the corkboard, which may look like merely a facsimile of index cards against a virtual wanna-be board, but remember: index cards are powerful, whether in real life or part of a flashcard program on your smart phone of choice. For Scrivener, index cards can be rearranged in free format these days, but I currently prefer the row-by-row configuration.

I use the main index card body to summarize the most important beats of a scene (yes! I finally know what beats are!). But as you can see, there are several other visual indicators that index cards give you.

The Status Attribute

I’m currently following the same methodology as Scott Westerfield (of Leviathan fame) by using Pace Charting, which I’m finding to be easier than trying to use the intensity 1-10 scale from James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure. There’s only three settings, and you can read more about the Pace Chart methodology here.

Status shows up as stamps on your index cards if you go to View->Corkboard Options->Show Stamps. This makes pace charting very visible.

The Label Attribute

I use labels as indicators of point-of-view.

Labels show up as colored pins on your corkboard when you choose View->Corkboard Options->Show Pins. I also use View->Use Label Color In->Icons to get corresponding colors in the sidebar document tree. From a corkboard perspective, your POV balance is also very visible.

Keywords

You can add keywords to documents. Keywords are powerful, and can be used for any number of story details, such as delineating which story arcs a card covers. Plus, every keyword has a color that you can decide upon.

Up to five colors can be shown on the side of an index card. Here, I’m using black to indicate the arc in Seal Tales that deals with the problem of pissing off Raven.

The Outline View

This view is far more informative than corkboard view, and for some of us is where the most powerful organizational features of Scrivener lie. Clicky to embiggen.

You can pick from a number of columns to show in outline view. Most importantly, you can also pick from meta-data columns you create through Project->Meta-Data Settings->Custom Meta-Data.

Title/Synopsis, Status, Label (in the form of the icon color) and Keywords have been discussed, but here are additional fields I’m showing/using.

Total Words

The actual number of words written in the sub-document that corresponds to the card (for me, every scene is an individual sub-document). This is important for finding out whether your scenes are always short or always long, or always follow a predictable pattern. In a way, this is also another aspect of pacing that can be charted through the Outline view.

Meta-Data: Type

This stands for scene type, as covered in Plot & Structure. I’ve been learning through indexing real books that scenes often compose multiple types. There are some scenes that are pure action, but others that fall under the ACTION! pace but consist of both action and reaction beats. Very often reaction scenes will also feature setup and/or deepening.

For me, this is still useful to charge, even if it’s sometimes harder to figure out.

Meta-Data: Hook, Intensity, Prompt

I try to make sure every scene has these three “HIP” elements (also from Plot & Structure). I use Hook to indicate what I think encourages a reader to start reading the scene instead of stopping, Intensity to indicate what I think is providing the interest in a scene, and Prompt to indicate what I think will encourage a reader to continue reading.

A sidenote: from what I’ve been learning via indexing, Hook isn’t always necessary if the previous Prompt was good enough. Intensity is always necessary, even if a scene rates a “nothing” on the pace chart, because otherwise nothing (not even conversation, hell, not even thought) is happening in the scene. Prompt isn’t always necessary if the Intensity is high-stakes enough, but Prompt is always needed in the ending scene of a chapter (also called the Kick).

Meta-Data: Time

Damn, timelines are hard to keep track of, but they are necessary, even if all you’re doing is assigning arbitrary dates to make sure someone hasn’t been just placed in the hospital for less than a day to have multiple complex operations.

Draft #

Maybe other writers don’t have to keep track of how many times they’ve rewritten a particular scene. I don’t know if I even have to. I don’t know how useful it is, but I’m on my first revision ((Damn it, before finishing, but I’ve forgotten the story, so as long as I’m back there, I might as well do something useful for my future self.)) streak and I don’t always remember what I’ve looked over and what I haven’t.

Target

I don’t use this. It’s always 0. But it’s a good way to get Scrivener to organize the Outline view in actual document order mode rather than by field content.

Document Notes

On the right side of a document view, you see this bar.

On the top, you’ll always see the index card, label, status, and some compile-specific options (which we won’t cover here, but which you can read more about in the Scrivener manual). But the bottom part is the interesting one. It can have different views, which you switch between by using the buttons alllll the way at the bottom.

Document notes is the most important part here for me. This is where, when I scan a scene, I add little yellings to myself to fix this, add that, what the hell does this mean, when did this happen, why is the character doing this, and all the other embarrassing writer stuff. It’s been highly useful in my revision process thus far.

(You currently can’t see anything in this bar, because SPOILERS and also I’ve taken care of all my concerns for this scene in revision. Until I come up with more concerns when I read further on.)

You can also view keywords, meta-data (I really like that part, it’s in many ways easier to edit than in outline view), snapshots, footnotes, etc.

In Summary

I totally wrote this document to avoid revision. It’s actually fun right now, but I am sort of scared to keep walking this path and thus run into scenes that I know must exist but don’t, scenes that should be tossed off into the Discarded folder, and… difficult places where I will bang my head against the desk.

Now I’m going to go read my RSS feeds. And then I’ll do laundry. And there might be some screaming because I’m not pushing away the bad thoughts far enough, because believe me January 1st is a fucking minefield ((Or mindfield.)) for my PTSD to trigger upon.

Maybe I’ll even write new stuff… anyways, bye / ciao / ᓴᐃᒧ / さよなら for now!

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3 thoughts on “How I Currently Use Scrivener: More Than Just a Word Processor

  1. Are you assigned a pace to both scenes and chapters? Seems like this would be most useful at the chapter level for use in Scrivener’s corkboard view, but I find that my chapters have scenes with varying pace (nothing then tension then ACTION! the tension, etc.). Trying to take the average for the chapter level pace has been trying and not altogether useful.

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