I love Scrivener. If any of you have read my little comparison review of Scrivener, Storyist and Storymill, you already know this. I adore this little piece of software. Sometimes I spend time browsin’ the web, looking for other people who love Scrivener.
This is sad.
However, it’s allowed me to come to one shocking conclusion; nobody uses Scrivener the same way! There are tons of options and ways to use this program, and it can be a bit daunting to try and discover your own way of working with the thing when you first open it. So I’ve decided to write a little tutorial on how I, personally, use Scrivener to manage my writing.
Now a proper example would have consisted of my 09 NaNoNovel, but since it’s un-edited, un-published and generally kept a damn secret from everyone including my own mother, you’ll get screencaps containing fanfiction. Because I also use Scrivener to write fanfiction (shock! horror!).
So there. No nagging please.
On to the method!
Snowflake, and why it is your friend.
When I first started getting seriously (well, somewhat seriously… Only dabbling, really.) into writing and looking for apps to help manage all the post-its and loose-leaf binders I had lying around, I came upon a template for StoryMill called The Snowflake Method. This is actually a method commonly used for creative writing, which involves breaking down the –rather daunting– task of writing a novel into short, bite-sized chunks which are much easier to manage (they also seem a little less daunting that way).
Snowflake goes thus: before you ever get down to typing a single word of your manuscript, you should spend some time, preferably a lot of it, planning out your basic synopsis, your characters and their motivations, and your outline. If you do this right, it’s then a breeze (relatively speaking) to expand on everything you’ve just done and pound out the story.
The steps are broken down into 9 basic tasks, which we’ll get into later. What’s important here is to note that Scrivener also has template support. Once you’ve built your own snowflake template, you can then use it as a base for all your future creative writing/novel projects.
According to the ancient laws of procrastination though, that’s no guarantee you’ll actually follow the snowflake steps (I rarely do… They’re not rules, more like guidelines, really).
How it works out in Scrivener
Your first step is to create your Snowflake template in Scrivener. I have a handy .scriv file here that you can use to adapt your own. The important thing to remember is that the template creation step will help you get used to Scrivener’s structure and options.
Time for a little refresher course. The Binder is the main folder structure of your manuscript and it also contains, outside of the Draft folder, any notes, research documents, character sheets and other miscellaneous info you want to cram in there.
The main window can be divided into two editor panes using the icon at the top-right of any editor. You can change the orientation of the editor split by going into View -> Layout. I choose a horizontal split, because I keep the Inspector (at the far right) and the Binder always open for quick glances at document properties. You can choose, via the Scrivener -> Preferences -> Navigation pane, which browsing/navigation method you like best, either Outliner or Corkboard. This affects all default editor panes but can be overridden as needed. I prefer Outliner mode, because it gives me more info on the status of every document.
You have several options for viewing your files/chapters/scenes. Clicking an item in the Binder will open it in the default editor (I usually set mine to Top Editor, because I like to have my text below that, in the alternate editor). Similarly, you can click the “arrows” icon at the bottom of your default editor to force documents to open in the alternate editor. This needs some explaining, but once it’s setup properly, it’s a breeze to navigate your stuff. The short of it, once it’s set as explained above: Binder selections will always open in Top Editor, Top Editor selections will always open in Bottom Editor.
This isn’t the only configuration you can have, it’s simply one way to navigate your document; experiment as needed and find the one that works best for you.
You can create as many Binder folders as your need. In the screenshot, you can see my snowflake template already has folder examples for Chapters and Scenes, as well as for Characters, Locations and Tasks. Each folder, when selected in the Binder, will open up in your editor pane and display info such as status (To Do, First Draft, Revised Draft, Final Draft), label (Chapter, Scene). You can also add items such as word count, created date, modified date, progress, etc. Statuses and labels are customizable and you can add your own as needed.
The Snowflake Method is spelled out in the Tasks folder. You can edit these documents directly as you complete the steps. You can also change the status of every step to “Done” once the task is complete. Following these steps, you’ll eventually create character sheets for everyone in your story, populate the binder with your chapters and scenes and slowly fill them up, first with synopses, then with prose.
As you follow (or not…) the snowflake steps, you’ll add to every character sheet and eventually you’ll end up with a very detailed description of every major plot point relating to every one of your characters. Combine that with detailed synopses of every chapter and scene, and you’re almost done.
If you want more info on the Snowflake Method and how you can use/bastardize it, this site has some good startup info.
Snowflake in practice
Once you’re done with the planning, outlining and other tedious concerns, you can start pouding out the story. Or you can cheat, as I usually do, and get right to it form the very start, making it up as you go along.
The two editor panes always work in conjunction to display your content. Here, we can see that the top editor selection, Chapter Memories, opens up a list of all scenes in the bottom editor. You can also expand any folder/chapter by clicking the arrow next to it. Clicking on a document that isn’t a folder will open up the actual manuscript in the bottom editor. You can see how it’s useful to have all the info up on a single page; status, labels and snyopses work together to help manage your content.
Once you’ve got your documents selected in the top editor, you can go straight to writing. You can edit your manuscript scene by scene as you go, or select several scenes in the Binder or Top Editor and click the Edit Scrivenings button (Scrivenings is what the program calls any document that contains prose). When you’re editing several scenes, you’ll get a very subtle background color change to indicate when you’re moving from one scene to another. Every document can also have Notes, as shown in the Inspector at the bottom right. In addition to the synopsis, you can jot down anything you don’t wish to forget into the notes. You can also include pictures, which is useful when you’re doing character sheets.
Alternatively, if you just want to dump stuff into your Research folder, Scrivener supports several file types and you can simply drag and drop files into the Binder for later use.
Finally, there’s Full Screen
Once you’re used to navigating your way around Scrivener, you’ll want to really get down to the dirty work of writing your story/article. My favorite way of doing that is, by far, the Full Screen mode. First, you need to select the documents you want to edit in full screen. Start by clicking the Binder, then the Chapter you want, then click Edit Scrivenings. This should open up all Scenes in the bottom editor for writing/editing. Then, just hit the Full Screen button and off you go.
Full Screen presents you with a simple no-frills editor on a black background. Everything else disappears, but you still have the option to display the Inspector next to your writing, so that you can keep an eye on any notes or synopses that you may want nearby. You can also change display options by hovering your mouse near the bottom of the screen, which pops the options dock up.
You can then change the width and position of your “paper”, zoom in on the text a bit to make it easier on the eyes and change the background opacity, should you like your desktop wallpaper to peek through. You can also click the Keywords or Inspector icons to bring them up into your Full Screen window. The Inspector contains your Document notes (Any notes attached to a scene, for example) synopsis and keywords. To leave Full Screen, just press Escape, or click the icon at the bottom right of the options dock. Keep in mind however, that if you’ve set up active corners on your Mac, these will still be active even in Full Screen.
This is just a brief walkthrough of how I use Scrivener. There are many awesome ways to use this piece of software, and I’m well aware that I don’t use every feature set available, but this is what works for me. I’m constantly discovering nifty little new shortcuts, and I strongly suggest following @ScrivenerApp on Twitter if you have an account; they post a new Tip-of-the-day every day and it’s a useful way of getting notices and update announcements.
If you have tips of your own, feel free to share them!