Using Word Count Targets in Scrivener Part 2: Document Targets

Screenshot by Lancy McCall

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In part one of this series on Scrivener Targets, we talked about Project Targets at the macro level, meaning word count goals for our entire manuscript or for our writing sessions. In part two of this series, we dive into the document word counts and look at how Scrivener totals these numbers within your project structure.

Reminder: I use Scrivener 3 on a Mac OS, so images and menu options may differ if you are on Windows or another version of Scrivener.

Word Count

Scrivener tracks the word count for each document in the binder. When working on a document in the editor, you can see statistical updates in real-time on the footer of the editor pane.

The image below tells us we’ve zoomed the editor to 150%, 1,923 words are in this document, we’ve configured no target for this document, and we’re not including this document in the compile.

screenshot of Scrivener's editor footer
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

If we click on the middle section, a pop-up window shows us more statistical information about the document.

screenshot of Scrivener editor footer with more info
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

One other thing to keep in mind is the word count displayed in the editor’s footer can display the word count for any selected text as well. This means you can highlight a sentence or paragraph and get the same information about the word or character count for just that selection.

Document Targets

You can set up word count goals for each document in your binder. Once a target goal is set up, the footer will show more information.

When a goal is entered, Scrivener will replace the target symbol with a small progress bar, showing how close you are to meeting the goal. It will change as you type. The information in the middle will also change to show the actual work count versus the document goal.

comparison of editor footer before target set versus after
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

Click the target symbol in the lower right of the footer to open the Target for this document window.

screenshot of target window
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

Options available for the document target include:

  • Target for this document: Enter the numerical target, either in words or characters, for this document.
  • Minimum target: This allows you to set an acceptable minimum. The progress bar will show red until the minimum goal is reached. It will then stay blue until the target is met, when it will turn green.
  • Show overrun: Checking this will show if you’ve gone over the target for the document.
  • Overrun allowance: This allows for a threshold of overage before showing red in the progress bar.
  • Show allowance in progress bar: This marks where the overrun is in the progress bar.
  • Show target notifications: If checked, Scrivener will notify you as you reach the different states you’re tracking.

Viewing Results

You can view word count and target goal information in the document’s footer when it’s in the editor, as described above. This is handy to use while you’re working in a document.

But what about looking at your list of chapters or scenes? How can you see more than just one document at a time?

Word Count Aggregation

An important concept to understand is that Scrivener will aggregate or sum your word count for groups of documents.

If you set a target word count on each scene in a chapter, the total target word count for the chapter will equal the sum of all the scene word counts.

In the image below, look at the Target column. Each scene in Chapter 2 has a document target of 250 words, while Chapter 2 itself does not have a target. However, in the Total Target column, Chapter 2 shows 1,000 words. This number is the aggregate amount rolled up from the sub-documents underneath it.

screenshot of target sum with no target on chapter
Screenshot by Lancy McCall


What if we added a target word count at the chapter level? What would happen then?

Here’s the tricky part you have to keep in mind. If you add a target word count to a top-level document or folder, that target count gets added into the total aggregate!

Look at the same example with a target added to Chapter 2:

screenshot of target summed with target added to chapter
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

In the Target column for Chapter 2, we’ve entered 1,000. Now our aggregate Total Target for Chapter 2 shows 2,000 words, instead of the expected 1,000 words. Yikes!

Conclusion: Make sure you are adding targets at the correct level and not duplicating the targets anywhere in the roll up levels.

I can’t tell you how many times my Total Target word count has looked wonky, and it’s because I’d added a target on a roll up level.

Outliner Mode

Now that we understand how word counts aggregate, let’s talk about viewing your book in Outliner mode (Cmd+3). In Outliner mode, you can select specific columns to see your word count and target goals by scene, chapter, or part.

  • Target and Word Count show the numerical value for folder/document in that row.
  • Total Target and Total Word Count show the sum of all the nested folders and documents that roll up to the item in the row.
  • Total Progress displays a colored progress bar that shows if you’ve met the document target. Depending on the options you selected when you set up the document target, it may also show any overruns.

The image below shows the Outliner view of my Three Little Pigs manuscript. The dropdown on the right lists the columns available to view.

In this version, each scene has a target word count, configured to show overruns. Notice the Chapter levels do not have any targets set (Target column is 0), and the document targets sum up at the Chapter level (Total Target column).

screenshot of outliner with column options
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

How to Use Document Targets 

So now that we understand the big picture of how Scrivener works, we have to figure out how we work and how to best use these targets.

Sometimes, they serve us well at the detail level by setting a word count goal for each scene. Other times, they might work better as a guideline to help drive story structure or pacing.

Document Level

If you’re a detailed plotter, you might want targets set on each document. I’ve seen authors who start with a “recipe” of twenty chapters of 4,000 words each. Others assume each scene will have 1,000 words and go from there.

Tip: If you need a word count target for each document, you can set up the target in your scene template so that you don’t have to configure it for each new scene.

screenshot of template folder in Scrivener binder
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

Just remember, if you set up targets for each document, don’t add targets for the roll up levels (chapters, beats, parts, acts, etc.)

Roll Up Level

For my writing, I’m an outliner. I don’t do detailed plotting, but I like to have an outline to use as a measuring stick to make sure I’m hitting all the beats of the story. 

I start with a beat sheet template that has targets set at the plot point or beat level. The image below shows my starting template. Any chapters or scenes below the plot point do not have target word counts.

screenshot of outliner view of book template
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

And to get an idea of my end results, below is how my book, Left Turn, ended up. My original goal was 80k words and my final word count reached just short of 77k.

screenshot of outliner view of Lancy's book, Left Turn
Screenshot by Lancy McCall

Things to note about the image above:

  1. If you look at the Hook in Act 1, you can see the word count of each scene in the Words column. 
  2. Notice how the Total Words roll up for the chapter entitled “Traveling.”
  3. The chapters and scenes don’t show a progress bar in the Total Progress column because I set no target for those items.
  4. The Total Progress bar for the Hook beat compares the Total Words aggregated to the Total Target. And the same logic applies for the roll-ups above Hook—Act 1 and the complete Book.
  5. And, lastly… it’s definitely a guideline for me. You can see where I went way over on some plot points and came up short on others.


So that’s my take on document targets in Scrivener. The main takeaways I want to emphasize here are:

  1. Targets a great tool with plenty of flexibility for how you can use them. Make them fit how you work.
  2. Pay attention to the levels where you add your targets, because the aggregation feature will trip you up if you’ve set a target at the wrong level.
  3. Remember to treat your targets as a guideline. They are great for helping with pacing, tracking, etc., but ultimately, the story is what the story is. Targets are a tool. If they inhibit writing your story, then they may not be the tool for you.

(Looking for Project Targets? Check out this article for how to set up targets for your overall manuscript.)

Do you use target word counts in Scrivener? If so, how do you use them? Does each scene get a target? Or do you do it by chapter, part, or other?

Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Writing!

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