Starting out with Scrivener Writing Software
So, you’ve just purchased a new writing software called Scrivener, and you can’t wait to use it! Before you get too excited, let me suggest that you take the time to completely work through the tutorial that comes along with the software. Yes, it’s not as much fun as simply jumping in the deep end with both feet, but believe me, you will benefit from it in the end! It took me about 2 and a half hours to work through it, but I’m also a quick reader so it may take you longer. To find the tutorial, click on the Scrivener icon on your desktop. Then select “Interactive Tutorial” from the Startup menu. Note: you can set the options in Scrivener to show this Startup menu each time you open Scrivener, or to just return to the last project you had open. You can find these settings in the Tools>Options tab.
To start a new project, you can select a blank project, or one for Fiction, Non-Fiction, Screenwriting, even Miscellaneous. Even when I’m writing a non-fiction project, I use the Fiction setting. This will allow you to insert Front Matter into the project, as well as giving you a place for character and place setting sketches, and research. Clicking on Fiction will give you the option of pre-loaded templates. In the screenshot below, the templates that are circled are the default options; the other two are my personal templates. Please note, these screenshots are done using my own personal settings and the background colors may not be the same as yours; Scrivener starts you out in default, and I think the main colors are white.
Once you select your template, you will see a screen that may look very odd if you’re used to word processors like Microsoft Word, Open Office, or Libre Office. For the purpose of this instruction, I will start out with the Novel template.
I’ll start you off on the extreme left hand side of the screen. This is called the Binder. If you can’t see the binder, just click on the icon on the top left that looks like a blue spiral notebook. Imagine the Binder just like a looseleaf binder, something you can hold all of the “sheets” of your project. One thing to note here, pages are meaningless in Scrivener. Because you can compile for both print and e-book from Scrivener, don’t even start to think of these as pages. If you do, you might end up confusing yourself! Once you get to adding new things to your binder, you’ll see a small arrow on the left side of some of your elements. This simply means that there are more “child” documents that “belong” underneath that document. To be able to see what’s nestled inside, just click the arrow which will expand and show you the documents under it.
So, the first thing you see in your binder is Novel Format, which is of course the template you chose when you started a new project. Next, you’ll see Manuscript, which you can rename to the name of your novel, as I do, or just leave as is. To rename it, click on Manuscript, right click, then select Rename. Type in your chosen novel name and hit enter. Now, you may have noticed that when you clicked on Manuscript, the white empty space in the center of your screen has turned to what looks like corkboard. And, in fact, that’s what it’s called. But don’t panic! At the very top of the window (Change Editor View), in the middle, are three boxes, one that looks like three pieces of paper stacked on top of one another, one that looks like an actual corkboard with white note cards attached to it, and the third looks like a little outline. Just click on the left hand box, the one with the stacked sheets of paper, and your center will turn back to white again.
So, you’ve now named your project. Underneath your project title you’ll see a blue folder that says Chapter, and under that a white sheet that says Scene. These two sections will be indented away from the left side of the binder. You can see the red arrows I’ve added in the screenshot to show you. This means that the white sheet belongs inside the blue folder, and the blue folder belongs inside the Manuscript. This is how I begin the setup for each of my projects. I think of each blue folder as chapters, and each white or “text” sheets as scenes within the chapter. Sometimes, I’ll have several scenes to a chapter. Here’s a screenshot showing what I’ve just talked about.
Now, let’s talk about the inspector, which is the section you’ll see in the right hand side of my screenshot. Your screen won’t show that just yet, so go to the top right side of your window and find the blue button with the white letter I in the middle. Click that, and you’ll see the inspector open up. This is a handy place for you to store notes, and will come in handy later on. The top half of this window looks like an index card, and is useful for notes dealing with each particular document in the binder. Keep in mind that each blue folder and each white text sheet is its own “document” in Scrivener. So if you want a note for all of chapter one, click that chapter first so it’s highlighted, then add your notes on the index card. Do the same for any scenes in the chapter, if you have a specific thing you’d like to have happen in that scene. Notes you add here will be used in making an outline, if you choose to do so later on.
The bottom half of your inspector has two functions. You can save specific notes dealing with that particular document, OR you can save notes about the project as a whole. Notes made here will not be used in the outline, as notes on the index cards will be. To keep notes for the whole project, click the up and down arrow in the gray bar just above the notes space, and select Project Notes (General). This way, notes here will be visible to you no matter what document you’re in. For example, I leave Lacey’s badge number here so I can find it quickly.
Let’s move on to the editor. This may be the section you’re most familiar with, as it looks just like any other word processor. This is where you will type your book. You’ll see some of the familiar formatting symbols at the top, such as your font, font size, line spacing, and so on. If you’re clicked on the “Manuscript” or the “Chapter” documents in your Binder (it will be highlighted), you may see a blank white page with some black dotted lines going across it. These dotted lines represent places where your documents connect. Imagine taping together two sheets, one that says “Chapter” and one that says “Scene”.
If you’re in one of the documents themselves, you won’t see the dotted lines at all, because your split will then be represented by the top and bottom of your editor.
So, that’s the basic setup for chapters and scenes in your book. Now let’s look at the other stuff that you’ll find in your binder. Underneath Scene, you’ll notice a tab for Characters. Notice this tab is NOT indented; it’s all the way to the left as far as it will go. This is how Scrivener knows what to compile and what not to compile into your finished work. Anything above this point compiles, anything below this point does not. To create a character sketch, click on Characters in your Binder (so that it’s highlighted—you MUST highlight anything in the binder that you want to work on), and then click the down arrow on the green button with the plus sign at the top of the editor window. Then, select New From Template>Character Sketch. This is a document where you can fill in important information about your character, such as role in the story, occupation, habits, and physical characteristics. You can have as many character sketches as you need, and you can even put character sketches inside (or indented) others, like for a spouse or children of that character. Check out the screenshot from my current WIP, Souls of the Reaper for an example. Notice I have several different icons used on the character sketches, but that’s just another way to help me remember things, and I’ll get into how to do that later on.
Next, we’ll look at the Place sketches, which you can add in the same way you did for your character sheets. Click on Places in your binder to highlight it, then click the down arrow on the green Add Document button, New from Template, and select Setting Sketch (or you can click on Project>New from Template>Setting Sketch). This is a place to keep notes as far as locations in your story. You can have as many of these as you like, and there’s a way to change the icons for these too, and I’ll go into that later on.
After Places, you’ll see a section called Front Matter, and it will have a down arrow to the left of it. Clicking this arrow allows you to expand the section, and you’ll see inside Front Matter a section for Manuscript, Paperback Novel, and E-Book. These sections will also have down arrows, and clicking those arrows will expand them further. I don’t use the manuscript section, so I usually just click on it in the Binder, right click, and select “Move to Trash”. Under “Paperback Novel” you’ll see Title Page, Copyright Page, and Dedication. Under E-Book, you’ll notice Cover and Dedication. I always add title and copyright pages to my e-books, but you can do this after you fill in the same sections in the Paperback Novel section, as it’s easy to duplicate them later on.
Once you’ve filled in these sections in Paperback Novel, you can click on Title Page (to highlight it), right click, and hit Duplicate. This will give you a document directly under Title Page called Title Page-1. Hit enter. Then left-click on this document and drag it into place under E-Book. If it doesn’t line up with an indent under E-Book, click on it (to highlight it) and then hit Ctrl+< or > (arrow keys) to line it up. This shortcut also works with the up and down arrows to move documents in the binder up and down in the list. In the next screenshot, you’ll notice that I’ve crossed out some things in black. These are just documents that I needed to have close at hand (such as my bio and all my book links, which I refer to often during the day when I’m marketing), or that I may eventually be including in the book, but that I don’t want to count as some of my current word count. So I’ve moved these things here out of the way for now. But you’ll still be able to see the Front Matter and how it’s set up. Anything in the Front Matter section will be automatically compiled into your finished product from the Compile settings, which we’ll talk about later on. Notice the document I have titled Xiong. This is a short explanation of my main character’s name and its meaning in Chinese.
So, now you’ve gotten a good start on how to setup a novel format in Scrivener. Now you can add new chapters, by clicking on your previous chapter in the Binder (to highlight it) and clicking the arrow on the green Add button, and selecting a new blue folder. You can add new white text scenes to chapters by clicking on the chapter in the Binder (to highlight it) and clicking the down arrow on the green Add button, and selecting the white text sheet. You can also do this by selecting the element you want to add to in the Binder (to highlight it), and clicking Project and selecting either New Text Sheet or New Folder.
This short tutorial and screenshots should get you started on writing your book in Scrivener. Next time, we’ll talk about other features of Scrivener and how to get started on compiling your finished work. I’ll leave you with one last screenshot, one taken of my fully expanded Binder for my current WIP. You’ll be able to see each individual white text sheets under my chapters, so you can see how I have the book set up.
If this article has helped you, please feel free to join up with my Facebook group, Book Writing and Formatting, as we discuss many ways to help improve your book writing and formatting skills. Don’t have Scrivener yet? Hop over to Literature and Latte and learn more about it! It was the best $40 investment I’ve ever made!