Damian: On Writing - Working With Scrivener PART 1: Creating a file and understanding the User Interface


Disclaimer - I'll mostly be refering to the PC and IOS (ipad app) versions of Scrivener.  Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

I've been working with Scrivener (https://www.literatureandlatte.com/) for a couple of years now and I'm going to start this discussion by reiterating a sentiment you'll probably read whenever writers talk about working with Scrivener; I don't know how I ever managed without it. What follows is not a review. You want my review? I love Scrivener for so many reasons and hopefully you'll come to understand most of those reasons over the next however many pages it takes for me to outline my workflow process.

First Impressions / User Interface

Scrivener is, at first, daunting. If you've grown up with MS Word or similar word processors, Scrivener's user interface is somewhat alien. On the PC, the first thing you'll encounter is this:

In itself, this graphical interface is user friendly enough. The choice you make here does have quite a large impact on the template set up which you're presented with upon file creation. If you choose a "Fiction" template, you're presented with three sub-categories: "Novel", "Novel (with Parts)" and "Short Story". The descriptions of the templates are worth paying attention to.
"Novel" - "Provides front matter and compile settings for creating a manuscript using standard submission format, for creating a self-published paperback novel, or for exporting as an e-book. Character and location sketch sheets are also included."

"Novel (with Parts)" - "Provides a title page and compile settings for creating a manuscript using the standard format for novel submissions. Character and location sketch sheets are also included. This template is designed for novels that are broken into parts as well as chapters."

"Short Story" - "Provides a first page header and compile settings for producing a standard manuscript suitable for short story submissions. Character and location sketch sheets are also included."

It's not something I paid a huge amount of attention to when I first started working with Scrivener; I opted for the "Novel (With Parts)" and hammered my head against any brick walls I encountered until I understood how to make that particular template work for me. Suffice to say, I should have (for my first novel at least) used the slightly more straight forward "Novel" template.

So you've created a file

Once you've selected your template and given the file a name (you have to name the file before creation), you should see something like this:

Scrivener initial file created.jpg

There is a lot to take in at first glance and understanding what you're looking at here will take you a good part of the way toward understanding the basics. Firstly - on the left side of the screen, there is the "Binder"


The binder is essentially where everything to do with your project is stored. Up to a point, the order in which items appear in the binder is important, for example in the image above, everything ABOVE the "Characters" icon and folder would form the structure of the book, so in this example the novel would be two parts, with one chapter per part.

Folders (Blue folder icons) are used for "parts" or "Chapters" but understand that these titles are arbitrary and you can rename "part" or "chapter" anything you want by double clicking the text beside the icons.

DOCUMENTS are placed within (technically under) the folders they belong to.

OK, let's look at a real world example. 
When I started working on my first book, Pyre of Dreams I didn't have chapter titles, but I did write scene names as I went along. 

Pyre of Dreams binder screenshot.jpg

In the above image, in the "binder" at the left of the image, you can see that the first "folder" (blue icon) has been titled "Capitalist Reform", the second folder, "Charlene", the third folder, "Question". Beneath each folder are the scenes which appear in each chapter, so chapter one "Capitalist Reform" consists of three scenes, "David and Spiff wait for Tiernan's Speech", "Assassin prepiars (typo - I work tired) to take the shot" and "Tiernan's first address - assassination" 

IMMEDIATELY TO THE RIGHT OF THE BINDER is the editor window - whichever file, or combination of files is selected (hold down the ctrl key while selecting for multiples) in the binder, will show in the editor window.  In the image above, the file "David and Spiff..." is selected in the binder and that scene appears in the editor window. Simple enough? 
If I selected two or three files from the binder, then they would flow together (top to bottom) in the editor window (a line appears between each document)  This ability to select multiple documents makes it very easy to look at one character's arc and how their scenes run together.

Below, I've selected the first few scenes which focus on the character, David Beach and I've also shown how the three top & centre icons change the editor view between "Scrivenings", "Corkboard" and "Outliner".

On WritingDamian Huntley