Editing with Scrivener

Scrivener is one of the best writing programs I have ever had the pleasure of using. It can be a little tricky to learn, however. These screenshots were created as I was working on editing a manuscript.

For our first screenshot, this is a view of my manuscript at the topmost level. This shows the chapters I'm working with in my manuscript.

Scrivener Walkthrough - Corkboard 1

The corkboard is an interesting function. You can switch the order things appear just by left-clicking, holding the mouse button down, and dragging it to its new position. I use this feature frequently. You access it by clicking the folder or top level manuscript depending on how you're organizing things. All of the files within can be controlled in that fashion.

This screen shot shows the fundamentals of the moving feature in action. In this case, I'm dragging the Title Page to be inserted between Chapters Four and Five.

Scrivener Walkthrough - Corkboard 2

In my original version of this post, I was using a folder-divided system. I'm updating the post with new screenshots of a more up-to-date scrivener. As such, the way I've organized things has changed.

There are many ways to edit in Scrivener, but one thing I find very useful is the tracking tool for files, which is demonstrated in the below screenshot.

Scrivener Walkthrough - Corkboard 3

One really cool part of Scrivener is the ability to go through the menus and create labels and statuses for each section. You can also write notes on the note card of the clipboard. These notes are not compiled into the final version of the story, which makes it a great way to keep track of what is done.

I've been lazy (and busy) so I haven't kept all of my notes in Storm Surge up to date.

To take this a step further, I'm going to go into one of the cooler features of scrivener, something many authors may find really useful: In Scene Notes. I don't use them, since I prefer to keep manual story bibles in writing journals, but there are times where I need to take a quick note inside of a file while I'm working. This is a great tool, especially since it can be as in your face as you need.

Scrivener Walkthrough - In Scene - 1

The yellow section to the right-hand side of the screen is where you can take notes. The synopsis is what you see in the Scrivener's corkboard view.

The in-scene view also allows you to modify the label and stasis, which is once again a great tool for while you're editing.

Those of you who have read my books will recognize the formatting from my ebooks. I use Scrivener to compile for ebooks, and I write in the format I want the book to appear in, which makes the final steps of preparing for publication a breeze.

Once upon a time, I used to format during the editorial phase, but now I do it during the drafting phase.

Since I've mentioned folders and folder manipulation above, I'm going to take a quick detour to show the folders in action. This is from Storm Without End, which is being reformatted within Scrivener to match my other novels. Storm Without End was the last novel I used folders in, as I found it made formatting later more difficult than necessary. (Plus, I don't really need the scene by scene movement like I used to–but this screenshot really captures how you can break novels down in Scrivener.)

Scrivener Walkthrough - Folders - 1

Once I'm done condensing all of the scenes into the chapter layout I like, I will dump the chapters directly into the manuscript and remove the Chapter folders. This is a pretty good example of how easy it is to manipulate files in scrivener, though.

If I wanted, I could actually just compile and copy-paste the scenes into singular chapter files, but I'm also doing some clean up edits as I go. I've improved since releasing Storm Without End, so the novel is getting a bit more polish as I'm condensing things.

Now, to talk about the ways you can use Scrivener to edit. Since I've changed my methods (and don't currently have a file I can screen cap for you,) I'm going to talk about the methodology I use–whether or not I actually get around to making the notes in Scrivener.

Sometimes I don't. I'm lazy. Sometimes, I write these notes on paper with a pen or on my dry-erase board. I know a lot of people who prefer working directly within Scrivener, though–so here goes!

The concept is as I described above. as I'm going through each file, I change the name to make a little more sense, add a to-do list for edits I need to do for that chapter, and include a basic synopsis of the events in that chapter–usually, a few word blip about the content of each scene within. When I do my initial note-taking, I am skimming the scenes for a quick read, not doing an intensive read. In the early phases of editorial, I'm planning on doing a lot of fixing, so I just want general to-do list items for each scene. I will be repeating this phase often as I get a better idea of the edits that I need to make.

My edit notes are often vague because I don't tend to do massive line-items unless really necessary–or my editor tells me I need to. Some chapters will have scene goals as list items if they aren't written yet.

In short, use the document notes, status fields, label fields, and synopsis fields to track what you need for each chapter or scene. It's really, really useful–and easy.

So, in order to do editing with Scrivener, it's necessary to consider the writing functionality of the program. It is very similar to word. I use windows, so the dictionary really, really STINKS. But, I use Microsoft Word for final spell-check edits–and my editor. She's awesome, and I love her to pieces. I know some people are going to groan at me, but I like Microsoft Word's interface for final polishing edits. I also read text differently between scrivener and word, so this allows me to see the text in a different fashion.

Scrivener Walkthrough - In Scene - 2

One thing I do like about scrivener is the simplicity of the word processing once you get to the phase you're writing. I like that I can make notes quickly in the document notes, and I like how easy it is to make new scenes, chapters, and folders.

Now, here's something you might find interesting: while Scrivener does have import tools, you may want to import your novel manually. There are a lot of copy-paste options in Scrivener, and each one changes how your text ultimately appears. So, be careful with this. “Paste and Match Style,” for example, will remove your special fonts, italics, bolds, and things of that nature.

Back to editing–or more important, layout and structure within Scrivener.

Find your own way of organizing your work. This is important. If you don't find a way to organize that works with you, you've wasted your time. (And potentially your money!)

I do not use the Characters folder. However, it is the same concept as with the scenes. You will make a file for your characters, include all of the data necessary for them, and so on. You can reference your notes by putting them in the Research section. I created a folder called Discards. This folder is where I'm keeping scenes that I'm getting rid of but need to reference as I work on this edit run. (Right now there are four scenes in there.)

I don't have to do this right now, but this is something I'm going to show you because it is a very, very, very important feature. Just how do you swap scenes from folder to folder?

Scrivener Walkthrough - Moving Scenes between folders - 1Click and drag, just like I showed you before. But, I'll let screenshots speak louder than words. (Just click and drag, dump into the folder of your choice. Click the folder and sort in the corkboard. You can also do it on the sidemenu but scrivener is a little touchy about it so the corkboard is often faster.)

I had to hack together this little bit. The screenshot refused to capture the hovering text. The Meeting with the… is a mock of what the floating text looks like, except it has the more bluish background and outline. If you click and dump on a file, like is currently selected, your file will become slave to the scene. You will get a little arrow to expand the scene. You can click and drag to move over the folder if you like.

The ability to have scenes be parents/masters is very convenient if your layout requires sub-scenes or sub-arcs.


These are the basics of Scrivener. Now, for our last trick: compiles.

Compiles are important. This is how you get your precious novel out of scrivener to a format that other program (and people) can read. Right now, your novel is trapped! Trapped in proprietary software mobojumbovoodomagic. Let's fix that right now.

Click File -> Compile as shown below.

Scrivener Walkthrough - Compile 1

Next, you will want to select the format you want your file in. I have custom settings. For example, I do not have scrivener replace italics with _underscore_. I will show you where you can change this preference after you have done the first compile.

Scrivener Walkthrough - Compile 2

After you select the type of file (noted as Compile For in the screenshot above), it will guide you through saving the file, just like any other program. Save it where you want and let it compile.

Done. You can open it in whatever program you want and take a look at your file. If you want to change the settings for compile, you will click that blue arrow above the Compile for: Section in the screenshot above. It will take you to the screen shown below. You will want to likely change things in the Transformations category, which is where the controls for italics, em-dashes and ellipses are shown.

And that is the very basics of Scrivener. It can do a lot, lot more, but this should (hopefully) be enough to get you started with using it if you want. You can buy Scrivener here if you don't have it already.

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Editing with Scrivener – On Writing, Life, and Everything | Everything Scrivener says January 8, 2013

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Hendrik Boom says January 27, 2013

I’m wondering — Just how much screen space do you need to use all those small windows effectively? I suspect my netbook-sized laptop won’t cut it.

    RJBlain says January 27, 2013

    My netbook runs scrivener with its screens just fine, assuming your eyesight is standard. 🙂 You can collapse the windows and adjust their sizes on the fly, so you can make the ones you’re working with larger if you need to.

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