✎ Scrivener: Outline. Edit. Storyboard. Write.

The age old debate: plotters vs. pantsers. For a long time, especially when I started off writing on fanfiction.net, I was a religious pantser. If a plot bunny landed in my lap, I’d just run with it. I’d have some scenes planned in my head, but getting from point A to point B was pure instinct and luck. It was thrilling. I loved it. Just maybe not so much when I realised ten chapters down the track, that I’d parked myself in with bad decisions I’d made in earlier chapters.

If only I’d thought ahead, I mentally berated myself. I do that now. I’ve gradually become more of a plotter, though I still leave room for my innate pantser to roam. There are pros and cons to the two styles – or both – but that’s not the discussion here.

People outline in different ways. Some swear by pen and paper. Others like it digital, like me. I used Microsoft OneNote when I first started outlining. It was simple and worked wonders. Then, as I developed more layers in my story, I found I needed something more advanced and flexible. I wanted to keep all my research, ideas and profiles in one place. Last year, I hopped on a popular bandwagon and it’s been a smooth ride since. That’s right. I had discovered…



What is it?

Scrivener is a word processing and outlining tool in one. You can plan your story with it, or use it to write your entire manuscript. A famous feature of Scrivener is the corkboard view (see above) which gives you a fresh look on your content. It’s great for storyboarding, to arrange and rearrange the sequence of events you’ve planned out, or even written. As you can see, I like to cast my characters using a variety of images I found online and it looks pretty good on corkboard.

Scrivener is quite user-friendly, which ultimately made me choose it over Liquid Story Binder XE. Start up a new page and type away. Jot down scenes and notes. Compile all related writing in one place. If you choose to write your story on Scrivener, you can actually file it scene by scene, or chapters, for easy access and editing. Label your pages with tags. Colour code. Mark something Finished, To Do, First Draft, etc. Create folders and subpages. Format. Brainstorm. Insert media. Deleted something and want it back afterwards? Look in the Trash; it’ll be there waiting for you. There’s even a name generator filtered by culture, gender and first and last names!

It’s hard to describe exactly what Scrivener can do. You simply have to try it out (30 day trial). Above all, Scrivener is flexible with a straightforward purpose: to help you write. I reckon it does a pretty good job!

How is this useful?

This one is a no-brainer, being a writing software and all. Instead of sounding redundant, I thought I’d use this section to briefly go over how I use Scrivener to help me plan my WIP series.

To me, the most useful Scrivener feature is the most simple: the pages. Planning is no doubt a messy process. You’ll think of something, scribble it down somewhere and promptly forget about it as you hurry on with your busy lives. I have many folders to keep my notes categorised. With a good filing system, I always know where to find what I’m looking for. These are the sections in my file:

  • Manuscript: Usually you would write your story here. I write my chapters on Word and copy them here for safekeeping. Some other random things go in here (I don’t really have an organised criteria for these things).
  • Brainstorm notes: Self explanatory. I pop notes related to general storyline in here. It’s a great place for character arcs.
  • Characters: This section is my baby. I love creating characters. They are the lifeline of my stories. Each character gets their own page, a reference picture if I can find a good one, and profile notes. I edit this section the most, and I swear more plotting goes on in here than in brainstorm notes.
  • Groups: This section is for profiling organisations, groups or civilisations. I created this to look at the ‘group’ as a whole rather than on an individual character level. To be honest, I don’t use it much, although it’s a good place for random notes.
  • World: Notes on the story universe. I don’t use it for planning, rather for keeping random facts. It’s a good reference, though collecting a little dust.
  • Scenes: I have a knack of imagining scenes very vividly even when I’m nowhere near writing them. I write a whole novel just so I can use these scenes, so they deserve a special place. Here, I record specific scenes that come to me. Rough drafts and reminders. Half the time I don’t know what the scene is really about, only that I absolutely adore it. Baby #2, right here.
  • Research: aka, everything else. Soundtrack lists, possible names, pages that don’t belong anywhere else. This is by far my messiest section.

I label most of my pages; the character ones are a must. Labels typically include character name, home country/state, status and affiliated organisations. It makes it easy for me to find everyone related to one thing. For example, I type in ‘Brink’ and I will have anyone related to my favourite anti-demon division at my fingertips.

When I open Scrivener, I can outline to the point of obsessive. On days where I can’t get any creative juices flowing, I compensate by working on the project in Scrivener. The result is ridiculously detailed characters that will probably be squashed back into 2D when I write them, because I couldn’t stop giving them onion skins of backstory. It’s actually really fun!

Tips when using Scrivener

  • Scrivener has sponsored NaNoWriMo many years in a row. Winners are usually able to redeem a winner’s code to get 50% off Scrivener. I took that path and thought it was a great bargain. It’s something to look out for.
  • There is an option to backup your work to a chosen location. Direct this to your Dropbox folder if you have one, and give yourself a little piece of mind.
  • You may notice the program slowing a little bit if you store a lot of media in your file. You’ll usually notice when it takes longer than usual to save. While it doesn’t affect its usage much, it’s not a bad idea to migrate to a fresh file if you feel the lag is becoming a significant problem.
  • There is no need to hoard your information because of the special Trash bin. If you’ve since edited something and no longer need the old info yet would like to have it on hand just in case, delete it to Scrivener’s Trash. It won’t usually be emptied without your approval. Of course, this only applies for items you actually moved to the bin. Backspaced content isn’t going to show up there. You could try copying sections you no longer need into a new page, and moving that page to trash. It helps keep your workplace uncluttered.
  • Take the time to go through the beginning tutorial. There are many features in Scrivener, some you may never use, but trust me: you’ll want to know your way around.

Everyone has their own favourites. There are many writing programs out there and I will probably post about them as I learn more. So far, Scrivener is the one for me. I hope everyone finds their special niche, no matter what your writing style. Write like you know nothing else!

Next Symbiotic Saturday, I’ll be recommending a writing reference book. Keep an eye out!

munchkinwrites, signing out.


15 thoughts on “✎ Scrivener: Outline. Edit. Storyboard. Write.

  1. My husband just bought me this. I think it was self defense. I published one novel and started another (a series actually). His desk next to mine is so clean, neat, and tidy. Mine is covered in scrap papers, various notebooks, notes, and printed pages pulled from the internet. We are hoping to make my life, and his, easier. Thanks for the useful and informative article. Tomorrow the tutorial.

  2. Thanks for the great review — I’ve been toying with the idea of getting Scrivener for over a year now and am that much closer thanks to you. :)

    One question — I’m already 300 pages in to a first draft of my novel. How would starting the trial or purchasing the program help me at this point? Is it possible to transfer everything over and continue on with the project? I’m hoping/thinking Scrivener might be helpful with my revision.

    Thanks, too, for stopping by my blog. Cheers!

    • I’m glad it’s useful!

      I personally don’t write my stories in Scrivener and I recommend using whichever processor/app you’re comfortable with. If you try Scrivener and end up liking it, that’s what you should use :) It is possible to import Word files straight into Scrivener. This would be particularly good if you store your manuscript in chapters, so they are already sectioned off in Scrivener. What I like most about Scrivener that I think would help greatly with your revision process is its ability to easily rearrange scenes and chapters. For example, you can have a section for each chapter and if you’re playing with sequencing, you can move each scene into a page on its own. From there, rearranging, deleting and adding scenes is only a click and drag away. You can then use the Compile function to gather all the pages together into one flowing manuscript in many different layouts. A lot of people use this function to create ebooks.

      It also helps to have all your chapters in one place. For example, you could do a Find and Replace for every instance of a word/name in your entire novel rather than individually checking your files. It’s good for me because I’m forever changing names in my stuff!

      Outside of writing your novel, I do like using Scrivener to organise my research. I get ideas at any moment and they’re scattered all over the place – my ipod, notepads, napkins! Every now and then I slap them all into Scrivener to keep it all in one place.

      All up, I think you would find Scrivener more useful for revision if you’ve already gotten this far in your novel (congrats about that!). The trial is a nifty thing that can last months if you ration it well. I recommend giving it a spin when you’re ready. The learning curve isn’t steep so a quick glance through the accompanying tutorial will get you started. And if you’re into that sort of thing, you can usually get a 50% off Scrivener coupon if you hash out 50,000 words in NaNoWriMo ;)

      Hope this helps somewhat! All the best!

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  6. Does Scrivener offer editorial and/or critique groups, like CritiqueCircle and Figment do? And if so, do a lot of writers participate in those groups?

    I almost never follow a blog, because so many people just post useless info about their daily ponderings; however I believe I will honor you with a follow, as you do have some very helpful stuff here for writers.

    • Hi there! Thanks for checking out my blog. I’m doubly honoured that you decided to follow. I try to post a balance of writing resources, music and general blogs. I’m committed to posting a resource for writers at least once a week, plus some random writing prompts. I hope you’ll find more things of use to you :)

      As for your question, Scrivener does have a forum but it is simply a user support board. I’m not aware of any critique groups run by them, as their primary focus is on software. I know of a casual writing forum called LegendFire that places some focus on critiquing each other’s works and general discussions, if that’s something you’re interested in. An even more casual forum that I’m sure you’ve heard of is NaNoWriMo’s boards, which I’ve found helpful for brainstorming and research, rather than editing. Other than that, I’m afraid I can’t offer you much else. Apologies if I’m completely off base. I’m not particularly active in forums or groups but I’m sure there are a variety of choices out there. I hope you find something that suits you!

      Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

    • You’re most welcome, kindred name spirit! It’s well worth the money, in my opinion. You might also like to check out their other project Scapple, if you have a Mac (which I sadly don’t!) Cheers!

    • My pleasure. I try to post a writing resource every week and Scrivener was at the top of my list. It’s definitely handy, depending on how you like to write/plan. Good luck with your muse!

  7. Thanks for the write-up. I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Scrivener, but one major drawback has kept me from using it: its hefty price. I heard professional writers say that it’s well worth the investment, especially if you’re working on a big project such as a novel. I would like to try it out someday, but for now I’ll stick with iA Writer (for quick notes and nonfiction) and OmmWriter (for longer sessions of creative writing). For project management, I’m using Evernote. I’ll seriously consider switching to Scrivener once I begin working on a novel, though. :)

    • Hi Daniel! I agree with both points; Scrivener is a great tool but it isn’t something you would buy lightly. Have you tried the trial version? I love their trial system, because instead of giving you 30 days they give you 30 uses of the software – e.g. if you only use Scrivener one day out of 3, you still have 29 trials left. I lasted almost half a year just on the trial (I downloaded one each on my desktop and laptop). That lasted me long enough until NaNoWriMo came around, and winning that got me a 50% voucher. $20 is a lot more affordable :)

      It’s great that you have your own preferred programs. Thanks for sharing them! I might check them out someday :)

      Thanks for reading, and all the best with your writing!

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