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A Beginner's Guide to Scrivener

Updated on June 29, 2014
Scrivener Logo
Scrivener Logo | Source

What is Scrivener?

Scrivener is writing software taken to the next level. It is an outliner, text editor, and editing tool all in one. About the only thing it doesn't do for you is come up with your ideas or actually do the writing for you (although if you read my review of Write or Die, you'd learn that writing isn't all that hard).

So you've downloaded the 30-day free trial of Scrivener, have opened it up, and have no clue where to go from here. I'll say it now, Scrivener looks overwhelming to people new to it. But there's no need to be overwhelmed, it's just a matter of learning how it works and then you'll be wondering how you ever put up with MS Word in the first place.

5 stars for Scrivener Software

Thinking in Scenes

The key to how Scrivener works is scenes - dividing your work up into smaller, re-arrangeable chunks called 'scenes', instead of working with larger chunks like chapters or even sections (don't worry, we'll get to that later). Thinking in scenes may seem a little alien to those used to dividing up their work into chapters at the smallest level, but think of it this way - when you 'compile' your novel (another Scrivener term we'll get to later), the compiler puts a '#' between each new scene. This should help you conceptualize how your novel will be broken up.

Thinking in scenes is the key to using Scrivener effectively; it'll let you divide up your work, rearrange your work as you see fit, and make the writing process flow a lot better.

If you selected novel with chapters when you started up Scrivener, you'll be faced with a blank scene - feel free to type something in there now, even if it's just a test line.

Chapters, Sections, and More

The folder you can see in the inspector (the bar down the left-hand side) is an example chapter - you can arrange scenes into chapters, your chapters into sections, and even more organisation if you wish, by dragging and dropping items in the inspector. You can also move them around using the corkboard, which we'll get to later.

You can name your chapters anything you like, as Scrivener automatically numbers them when you hit 'compile'. If you want, you can even name them something descriptive only for you and then remove the chapter titles in the compile window (but, like I said, we'll get onto compiling later).

You also have a few other folders outside of your novel; Settings and Characters. These are designed for you to drag information into, such as pictures, PDFs, and Scrivener text documents. You can have as many folders outside of your novel as you like; if you want to include them in your novel, then simply drag them so they appear under the 'manuscript' tag.

Rearranging using the Corkboard

You can get to the corkboard by clicking on any chapter folder. This will show you your current scenes as 'cards', which you can rename (Scrivener always ignores scene names) and add a description to (which Scrivener also ignores). This lets you see your novel at a glance and get an idea of the conceptional view of your novel.

The real power of the corkboard is that it lets you drag and drop these cards to rearrange your scenes, automatically updating their order in the inspector. This lets you conceptually rearrange your novel, see what it looks like, before reading through the rearranged scenes - far easier than trying to rearrange your writing in a simple text editor!

Vertical and Horizontal Split

You can also open scenes using the split-screen modes (available from the top right of the 'scene' title bar). I prefer horizontal split, but you can also vertical split the screen to allow you to view two scenes at once.

This is really good when it comes to editing, as it allows you to see how your novel's continuity plays out across scenes and how your writing style may differ from chapter to chapter. It can also help in the writing process, when you're trying to remember what happened in a previous scene!

Compiling your Novel

If you hit File > Compile, a dialogue box will appear with all kinds of options in. This is where you control how your novel will look in its final output - including font, scene and page dividers, chapter titles, and so on. Play around with all of these options, to see what will suit your novel best, and remember that you can change these options at any time from this menu.

You can also select which kind of output form you want your novel in, from standard PDF for proofreading and editing to EPUB and Kindle formats ready for publishing.

Good luck, and remember, the best way to learn new software is to explore it!

Do you use Scrivener?

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    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

      I use scrivener for most of my writing endeavors. I plan to go back through all of my hubs and paste the text into a Scrivener file. I don't use even a fraction of it's capability for my needs. Powerful software.