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Scrivener is one of those apps where no matter how much you’ve used it, you’re constantly learning a new tip or trick on how to use it better. This is a list of my favorite tricks, most of which I use every day, while others are obscure and I have to remember how I did it before.
>Note: All menu references below are for Scrivener 3 on Mac OS. Scrivener on Windows or older versions may look different from what I describe.
Organizing with Color
Color Wheel – Saving Colors
Okay, here’s one I didn’t know because I’ve only used a Mac for five years. You can actually save colors on the color wheel!!
Because I’m used to working with hex codes for colors on my website, I typically remember and enter the hex code when I need to reuse a color (e.g., #000000 is black). But there’s a way to save your frequently used colors.
- Open the Colors panel (by double-clicking a color to change) and find the color you wish to save.
- Then click on the Color Wheel icon in the top left of the Colors window.
- Click the color square left of the eyedropper on the bottom and drag it to the right.
The next time you want to use that same color, just click the appropriate box on the bottom. (No need to find the hex number again!)
Use Label Color
I’m a visual person. Organizing my data is much easier for me when I can use symbols and colors to group and tag information in my project. One of the more prominent ways Scrivener lets you use color in with the Label.
For the Binder and in your Documents, you can assign a Label to your documents and folders, then use the setting under View > Use Label Color In > … You can show the label color in the binder (as small dots of color), in icons, in the index cards, outliner rows, Scrivenings titles, and as the background color for the titles listed in the binder.
In the Corkboard, you can show the label color along the edge of your notecards. (I don’t need this one, because I usually have the index card colored by the label color.)
Working in the Editor
The Typewriter Scrolling feature moves the line you are working on to the middle of the page. I love this feature because it really bugs me when I’m constantly typing at the bottom of my screen. I’d like it to be at eye level and this setting does that for me.
To activate it, navigate to View > Text Editing > Typewriter Scrolling.
To further customize it, go to Scrivener > Settings > Editing > Options. In the top section, you can set where the typewriter scroll is (top, middle, bottom) and whether the editor always jumps to the scroll line.
I often work in split screen mode, with two editor windows opened. Usually, it’s the scene I’m working in and another document I need to reference, such as a character/setting sketch or previous scene I’m referring to. When you have two documents open like this, if you click on another document in the binder, the editor you are currently working in will change to that document. It’s very frustrating to suddenly lose your place.
The Lock Editor feature (Opt+Cmd+L) allows you to lock the active editor window, so if you click elsewhere, the new document will open in the other editor, rather than losing your place in the active window. Very handy.
Show Sub-document Counts in Binder
There’s a cool feature for the Binder that shows the number of sub-documents contained within a folder or document. This is handy for knowing how many scenes are in your chapters without having to expand the chapter and count the scenes.
To turn this on, go to View > Outline (below Zoom) > Show Sub-document Counts in Binder.
Convert to a Document or Folder
Everyone has their own way of organizing their binder structure. Some people feel comfortable with file groups that contain documents and sub-documents, while others prefer using folders to organize. Scrivener treats them the same way on the back end. (In other words, on your hard drive, both a “file group” and a “folder” look like a folder to your computer.)
However, the Scrivener app may format them differently when you compile. Depending on your project settings, a folder may compile differently than a file group. Another reason to choose one over the other is how they show up in different views. (Outline view will show folder titles in bold, but not file group titles.)
Whatever your preference, Scrivener has a way to switch rapidly from one to another. You can change a document to a folder (or a folder to a document) by clicking Documents > Convert > to File / Folder.
And to quickly see whether you’re working with a folder or a document, right-click on the item in the binder, then look for the Convert to menu item. If it says “Convert to File,” you’re working in a folder. If it says “Convert to Folder,” you’re working in a File.
Reveal in Binder
While working in a Collection of scenes, I might need to see where a specific scene is in my story. To hop back into my binder effortlessly, I use the Reveal in Binder feature (Opt+Cmd+R), which opens up the binder and shows where this scene falls on the list.
Collapse to Current Level
I usually set up my books with an Act structure with story beats. Each story beat contains chapters, and each chapter contains scenes. I have the Collapse All (Cmd+0) and Expand All (Cmd+9) icons in my Toolbar at the top and use them frequently to open up and hide different levels of my story.
However, having everything expanded can get overwhelming if you just want to look at one act, story beat, or chapter. Or if you just want to see your story beats and no chapters or scenes.
The Collapse to Current Level (Ctrl+Cmd+0) feature lets you collapse the entire outline to the highlighted items’ level. For example, if you’ve expanded everything in your binder or outline and you only wanted to see the story beats, you would select any story beat and hit Ctrl+Cmd+0. All chapters and scenes beneath this level would be hidden.
Searching in Scrivener
I love being able to set up custom metadata that suits my story. (I’m pretty sure I go overboard on this one.)
But five custom metadata fields I create for every book are:
- DateTime – This can be text or a date field… whatever works for you to let you know when the scene happens in the story.
- Location/Setting – Tells where the scene occurs.
- POV – Tells who’s point of view the scene is from.
- Onstage Characters – Lists who’s actually present in the scene, either physically or on a phone call or video chat.
- Offstage Characters – Lists who’s mentioned by name, but not actually in the scene.
The DateTime, Location, and POV are to help keep your timeline and viewpoint straight.
The On- and Off-stage character fields are a way to track who was doing what in particular scenes. And, since you can search metadata fields, it gives you a way to analyze how balanced your character appearances are in the story.
Tip: You must be consistent with your character names. Don’t use “Finley” in one scene and “Fin” in another scene. The search uses exact matches, so searching for “Finley” would omit any scenes where you listed him as “Fin.”
I don’t use keywords that much, but they’re pretty handy to have and I know other authors who use them extensively, so they’re worth mentioning.
Keywords are like tags for your scenes. Set up a keyword for anything you think you’ll need to search for in the future.
As an example, I’ve tagged scenes with the keyword “timeline” before when in early writing stages where I’ve mentioned something time-related that may need to change if I fuss with the timeline later in editing. So, if my character mentions something that happened on Tuesday or is thinking about an event last week, I’ll need to update them if I change up my timeline. With that keyword attached, I can easily find any scenes that need updating.
Tip: You must remember to attach the keyword!
So those are some of my favorite tips for using Scrivener. Mostly, it’s all about making both the writing and editing process easier by being able to locate things quickly in my story.
If you want to dig deeper on these features, check out past articles I’ve written on using Scrivener:
- Organizing with Scrivener: The Basics
- Analyze Your Novel’s Scenes with Scrivener Metadata
- Using Regular Expressions in Your Scrivener Editing Process
Was this helpful? Do you have some cool tricks and tips you like to use when working in Scrivener? Share your favorites in the comments.
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