Organizing with Scrivener: The Basics

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screenshot of Scrivener corkboard view

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Two things happened in the last couple of years that were the catalyst for me finding Scrivener.

First, Microsoft stopped developing OneNote and moved to the “online version” (meaning eliminating and reducing some of its robust features). I loved OneNote and how it let me organize my work into notebooks, tabs and pages. It had tagging, math, integration with MS Outlook, etc. In other words, many features that I used daily. And then they disappeared.

The second thing that happened is that I switched to a Mac. Going from a lifelong Windows user to a Mac is quite the challenge, especially when you are so dependent upon shortcut keys and have to learn new ones.

And of course, none of the MS Office products are as robust on the Mac as they are on Windows, so I needed options for documentation, note-taking and general organization. And I found it with Scrivener. I have loved this product since I first started using it.

But Scrivener is complicated. It offers so many options that no one person is going to organize their files, notes, or data in the same way. I have spent some time researching how to best to set up my story in Scrivener and have tried different things that work for me. I thought I would share what I’ve learned.

I’m not covering the Manuscript because that structure will be unique to the work you are creating. Novels will look very different from blogs. Book series will look different from standalone books. In this article, I thought I would stick to the extra stuff.

Note: Everything I talk about here is referring to Scrivener 3 for macOS. There is a Windows version and an iOS version of Scrivener. I’ve never worked in either of these, so they may look and behave differently than what I describe.

Status

The Status tag lets you assign a status to your document or folder. It provides a nice way to keep track of where you are, what you’ve finished and what still needs work. Many writers use these for the basic To Do, First Draft, Revised Draft, Final Draft, and Done.

Statuses are configured for each project and you can add and/or change them as needed under Project > Project Settings… > Status List. For my Blog project, I have added an Archived and Published status to help track my blog articles. 

screenshot Scrivener status list

One nice feature with Statuses is that you can configure the View on the Corkboard to show the Status as a stamp on your index cards, allowing you to see your progress at a glance.

screenshot of Scrivener corkboard view

Labels

Labels are another way of tagging a document or folder in Scrivener. Like Statuses, Labels are also set up per Project so each of your projects may have different labels. The coolest thing about Labels is that you can color code them.

The screenshot below shows how my Blog project is set up. I have three different blogs that I maintain, all of which I keep in the same project binder. You can see how I separate each blog by folder in the Binder and I also use Labels with colors to differentiate which blog the article belongs to.

(Note: My Label settings, via View > Use Label Color In, for this project are set to show in the Binder, the Icon, Index cards and Outliner rows.)

screenshot Scrivener binder with label colors

Now if we open up the Label settings (Project > Project Settings… > Label List), we can see how I have my Labels set up.

screenshot Scrivener label list

If you research on the Internet, you will find that people use Labels in different ways. In the novel I am writing, I use Labels to track the point of view so I know who is the primary character in each scene. I have seen others replicate their Status descriptions so that they can further visualize where they are in the process.

One thing to think about… the Label coloring shows up in your Outliner and Corkboard so you want to be careful to use this wisely and not get so many colors happening that everything gets too busy and confusing. Too many labels would make this cluttered with a lot of different lines. If that’s what you need, then it works, but it is something you should consider before going label crazy.

screenshot Scrivener labels in corkboard view

Metadata

The customizable Metadata is one of my favorites. For my blog project, I have created fields for the Published Date, the Knowledge Area and the Author (since some of my blogs are under a user name and some are under my actual name).

screenshot Scrivener metadata

In my novel, I have set up fields to track the Scene type (Scene / Sequel), the DateTime, whose Point of View, the Goal/Reaction, Conflict/Dilemma, and the Disaster/Decision for each scene.

screenshot Scrivener metadata example

Now I change my Outliner to include those custom Metadata fields and I can see my scene synopsis and outline in one glance. When you add a new Metadata field, you can change the color of the text so that it pops. (Note: Add the Metadata fields to the Outliner under View > Outliner Options.)

screenshot Scrivener outliner view

Also note that the settings for Label color in the view above (View > Use Label Color In >) are set to show in the Binder, Icons, Index cards and Outliner rows.

Keywords

Keywords are tags you attach to a document or folder. You can use them for settings, locations, characters, subject matter… whatever applies to your story.

One of the more brilliant uses I’ve seen is where someone has used keywords to differentiate between when a character is present in the scene or if they are just being mentioned in the scene.

For example, you might have both Joe_present and Joe_mentioned as keywords. This allows you to search for scenes where Joe is discussed, but not present (and vice versa). Note: You must use the underscore for the search to work properly.

Another writer uses keywords to describe what’s happening in the scene: Joe_grows, Magic_used, etc.

One thing that I do in my novels is to create keywords for my main characters and then create a child keyword for my minor characters that are tied to that character. For example, all of my heroine’s family would go under her name. And you can use color-coding in your keywords as well. In my novel, if the main character is colored blue, then all the minor characters associated with her are a lighter shade of blue. That way, you know who belongs to whom.

screenshot Scrivener keywords

A good rule of thumb for creating keywords is to think about all possible searches you might do during the writing process (drafting, reviewing, editing, etc.) and create those keywords. And most importantly, don’t forget to use them!

Search

Now comes the cool part. Why should you use these organizational tools? Because it makes finding things and/or jumping around the different parts of your story so much easier.

Say you are working later in the book and need to reference something that happened earlier. You may not remember the exact scene it occurred in, but you do remember that they were talking about Joe. Now you can easily do a project search for the keyword “Joe_mentioned”. This will list the three scenes where Joe was mentioned and you can quickly find what you need.

The Project Search lets you search everything or limit your search to Titles, Text, Notes, Synopsis, Keywords, Label, Status or Section Type. You can also limit the search to the Metadata fields that you have set up.

And you can save your search as a Collection.

Collections

A Collection is a very cool tool that lets you organize even further. There are two types of Collections:

  1. Standard Collection – set up manually by creating a new collection and dragging items into it
  2. Saved Search Collection – based on a search that you have done

The way Collections work is similar to an alias or shortcut. They do NOT create a duplicate of your document. They simply create a pointer to it. So if you click on a document in your collection, you see it as if you had selected it in the binder. And when you edit a document shown in the Collection, you are actually editing the document in the Binder.

So how exactly would you use a Collection? Well, let’s say that you want to make sure you have continuity among the scenes that take place in Joe’s kitchen. You could do a search for the keyword you set up that indicates the setting is in Joe’s kitchen (something like “Joe_kitchen”) and create a Collection for it. Now you have a short list of all the scenes that took place in Joe’s kitchen and can check them for any issues.

Have you changed your mind about a character or a setting? Create a Collection based on your keywords, metadata or labels to narrow down those scenes that you need to review.

Do you have to create a Collection to do this kind of review? No, you can just work from the Search results. However, if it is a search that you find yourself repeating, why not have a Collection? It dynamically updates as your story grows.

And if you find that you no longer need the Collection, you can delete it. Deleting the Collection does not delete the files that are in it. It’s like clearing your Search results.

I hope these tips have given you some ideas on how to organize your story.

For more tips on organizing in Scrivener, see Using Regular Expressions explaining how to use regular expressions during your editing process.


Happy Writing!

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