How to Get Started With Scrivener (free template + demo)
Have you been thinking about using Scrivener but have no idea where to start? Perhaps you’ve downloaded the free trial and opened it up and felt immediately overwhelmed. Or, maybe you’re curious about the fuss some writers make about this programme. If any of these situations apply to you than this Scrivener Tutorial is for you. When I first started using Scrivener, I found it overwhelming, but I persevered and learned how to use the software. Since that fateful day, I haven’t used another piece of software to write, revise, or edit my books, both fiction and non-fiction. Right now, I understand that using a new piece of software can be overwhelming. There’s a learning curve, and it can be hard to tell if it’s worth the time you will need to invest. I want to point out that this software is worth the learning curve. Not all programmes are, but this one is the exception. So, How do you get started with Scrivener?
Before we go over to my computer screen, I want to briefly talk about this new segment on my channel titled, tech for authors. And, what you can expect from this series now and in the future.
So, what to expect from the tech for writers tutorials?
Like most content creators do at the end of a year, I looked back over my YouTube channel, and I wasn’t happy with the content I had shared. I’m a writer and an introvert. On top of that, I don’t like being on camera. I tend to avoid it unless it’s in a casual setting like a Vlog where there is more b roll footage than me. So, my tendency is to avoid making videos. But, I’m not the type of person to back down from a challenge. I feel that by giving into my introversion and dislike of the camera, I will never grow as an entrepreneur. This lack of growth is my worst nightmare.
So, this leads me to confess that I’m a bit of a nerd. I love tech. I’ve built my websites using WordPress and various themes over the years. Just a side note, I now have four websites all built on WordPress. I’ve been blogging since 2011 and experimenting with CSS, HTML, Content Creation, MailChimp, and the Divi Theme. In more recent years, I’ve branched out into book funnel, sales and product funnels, scrivener, and formatting software. And, I’ve been dabbling with Photoshop after starting out with Canva. However, I’m going to wait until my skills are more finely tuned before I share any tutorials.
I’ve been secretly sitting on all of this information for quite a while. But, I’ve been wanted to create a piece of content that is exclusive to my YouTube Channel. Thus, tech for Writers was born. The Tech for writers tutorials will be posted on this channel at 6:00 PM GMT or 1:00 PM EST, every Saturday.
So, come on over to my computer screen, and let’s get started with the how to get started with Scrivener tutorial.
The Software Details
If you haven’t purchased scrivener or at least downloaded the 30-day trial product you can do so at this website. Scrivener is available for Mac, Windows, and as an App for iOS. At the time of this recording, Scrivener 3 is only available for Mac, but according to the website they plan to release Scrivener 3 for windows in the future. If you have a windows computer, you can still use Scrivener 2.
But, I would like to point out, in this tutorial I will be using the latest version of Scrivener which is Mac Only at the moment. You do require a Mac with OS 10.12 or newer or Windows 7 or newer for the desktop versions. The App for iOS requires iOS 9 or above. The software retails for $45, and there are discounts for education, multiple purchases, and upgrades from an older version. One of the unique features of the trial is it’s for thirty days of use. So, if you use it every day, the trial period will last for thirty days. If you use the software three times a week, the trial period will last for ten weeks.
There will be No Product Install in this Tutorial
I’m not going to go through the initial software install and set up with you because I purchased Scrivener a while ago and I purchased the new update the moment it was released. I didn’t have the foresight to record this in advanced. Now, that I’ve said that out loud, it sounds like a nerdy fail. Here is a tutorial by the creators of Scrivener who walk you through the setup.
How to Create a new file
By default, Scrivener opens at the project templates page unless you close a project before exiting. Because this is the first time you’ve used Scrivener, you need to choose a template from these options. In this tutorial, I will show you how to get started with Scrivener as a fiction writer. If you’re writing non-fiction, you’ll need to choose a different template. So, which template should you choose if you’re writing fiction?
I love to use the first template that’s in the fiction tab labelled Novel. When you click on the template, you will need to give your novel a name. The name you give your project will be added to the compile as the title of your novel. But, you can change it anytime. I’ll show you how to do this in the meta-data section of the tutorial. My Scrivener projects are all saved to an apps folder in Dropbox because this is how scrivener syncs with the iOS App. I’ll show you how to sync scrivener with the app in the syncing section of this tutorial.
A Free Gift for You
I’ve created a three-act structure scrivener template to make the file setup easier for you. I realise this is super obvious, but this template is for fiction only. If you want me to do a tutorial for non-fiction writing, let me know in the description box below. I will upload the template to my Dropbox account and share it via email. If you want to use this template you can sign up for it on this landing page.
Just a side note, if you choose to sign up for this scrivener file, you will only receive scrivener related emails now and then, as well as tips on story structure. You will not receive blog updates or my writing tips newsletter unless you specifically ask for it. However, if you don’t choose to use my template, this tutorial will walk you through how to set up and use Scrivener to write your novel.
Walking You Through My Template
What you see on the screen is my three-act structure template. I’m going to walk you through how to use the template and highlighting the feature scrivener has to offer. This template is shown in the latest edition of Scrivener which is the third edition. The template should be compatible with either Scrivener 2 or 3.
The tutorial will focus on the features that relate to outlining and story ideas first. After that, I will show you how to use the manuscript section in the binder where you will be writing your novel. In the binder section, the project is made up of folders and note documents all with different icons. The great thing about Scrivener is you can customise it as I have done on the screen.
Idea and outline section
Under the research icon, I’ve created a series of small orange flags which are scrivener note documents. To create these notes click on the research folder, then click the plus sign at the bottom of the page. A new notes document will appear in the research folder. You will probably notice it looks different to the other notes in the folder. This is because I changed the icon. I use the flags to represent different things. The code I like to use is as follows.
How I use the Flag Icons
The light blue flags represent story ideas and development. The light green flags represent story Research folders. And, the red flags represent the scenes in act one. These scenes in the folder in the research section are one or two sentence synopsis or scene notes. They are not the scenes in the first draft. These will be written in the manuscript section. The purple flags represent the outlined scenes in the second act. And, the yellow flags represent the outlined scenes in the final act.
The orange flags represent which are not present in the three-act structure template are editing notes. I’ve created my system for editing and recording notes in Scrivener. I use a split screen system where I have the notes at the bottom and the scene at the top. Just like you can see on the screen right now. These flags are not present in the three-act structure template because you’ll probably create your system for revision and editing. If you want me to share how I revise and edit my novels and show you how I do this in Scrivener, let me know in the comments section below.
The white flags represent any deleted scenes. I keep these scenes in this folder because I don’t want to trash them. In the future, I’m considering sharing these deleted scenes with my email list after the book has been published.
Creating Project Notes
This key and formatting notes are written in a project notes folder. This feature was in the old version of Scrivener. There were a few different features in the old scrivener that all performed similar tasks. In the new version, they were all merged into one feature. And they old features were added to the projects bookmarks. I love this new feature because these notes are easier to access. I use these project notes to write the answers to questions I ask after every Heavy Edit. After every round of the Heavy Edit, I ask myself notes about the overall story that are related to a specific element of the story. I write these notes in this folder.
How to Create Project Notes
To create this simply click the folder icon at the bottom of the page. Give the folder a name. Add a blank notes document by clicking the plus button at the bottom of the page. If you want to bookmark these notes, click on the file and drag it toward the red flag icon in the toolbar.
How to Change the Icon of a Folder or Notes Document
To change the icon of a folder or notes document right click or press Ctrl and click (for Mac) on the folder or notes document. In the pop-up list select change icon and change it to any of the options on the screen.
Now, back to the story section in the research section. When you expand these folders, you will see, ideas, premise, story details, synopsis, and scene list. In the ideas folder, I write a few brainstorming notes when I’m in the idea phase of the writing process. This note is labelled as an idea. You can see this label at the bottom of the screen.
If you click on the tag icon at the top of the screen, you will see an include in the compile check box. I like to leave this check box empty because I don’t want any of these items included in the final product which is created using the compile feature. And, by checking the compile check box, the notes in this section will not be included in the project word count.
In the premise section, I write a brief description of my story idea. Underneath this is notes section labelled, story details. In this section, I write notes about the type of story I want to write. In this section, I add notes about the type of novel. For example, Novel, Novella, or short story. I also include the genre, word count, Amazon category, and the longline. In the synopsis section, I write a one-page synopsis of my story. And out of this synopsis, I expand on the story and start creating a list of scenes.
I added a separate story research folder because I do story research throughout the writing process. The first round of story research is done after the outlining phase. Over the years, I’ve found it easier to devote a note to a topic and add notes and links to URL in the file. I don’t do a lot of research at this stage. I only do enough to start writing the story. As I write the story, I add a task on ToDoist to research things at a later date then add them to the story. After adding this task, I make a decision at the moment or put an x and continue writing the first draft. During the revision stage, I make all of these changes based on the research that I’ve done. The next rounds of research are performed during revision and are added here.
On the screen, you can see my research notes for Immunity. Again, as you can see, I’ve created notes each devoted to a topic. The last note document contains information about how a newspaper works. As I research things, I add notes and sources links here. I’ve since stopped using these notes and transitioned to created a separate series bible file. The reason behind this decision was the James Lalonde Novels are a series, and I want to keep the world building and all of the notes in one central place. So, all of the books I plan to write have their notes written in this file. It’s more of a consistency thing.
This template can be used as a stand-alone, trilogy, or series. But, if you write a series you may want to consider creating a series bible just for the research, notes, characterisation, and world-building elements of story creation.
Act I, II, + III
After I create the initial shorter scene outline, I create a full scene by scene outline in excel. I then go back to the outline section and add all of the scenes in Scrivener. You don’t have to use excel as I do. You can write a full outline in Scrivener, but the excel spreadsheet is a habit I created and love to continue.
I’ve created a playlist of all the episodes of the Indie Authorpreneur Podcast about three-act structure so you can understand the terminology I use in this template. This three-act structure is an ongoing series on the podcast. So, each week I’ll update this playlist with a new episode.
The character profile is a feature of Scrivener that I don’t use. Scrivener has character profile templates you can use to create characters. But, I like to use an ordinary note document and add an image and character notes. It’s a great tool to use. The reason why I don’t use the tool is, I learned to write stories through screenwriting and before the days of Scrivener. My first character profiles and story synopsises where created in Microsoft Word, way back in 2013. But, don’t let me and my bad habits stop you from using this feature.
To create a character profile, click on the character section then click the plus icon at the bottom of the page and a character sketch will appear in the folder. I have used these sketches in a way. If we go back to my Immunity scrivener file, you will see that I’ve just labelled them with the character names and occasionally add in a photo.
I know this appears to be a never-ending list of characters but some of them are deceased and are mentioned, and some don’t make it to the end of the novel. I’m writing a thriller novel set in the world of newspaper journalism. So that explains the huge cast of characters.
The places section is where you would put details about the setting and locations in your novel. This is another feature of Scrivener that I don’t use. I’ve opted to place dropped pins on a google map, and I saved them as a list in my account online. My husband works for Google and has done a great job at encouraging me to use the google tools.
To create a setting sketch, click on the places icon then click the plus icon at the bottom of the page and a setting sketch will appear in the folder. It looks very similar to the character sketch in the previous section. You can drag and drop images into the file on the right and fill in important details. Now that I’ve looked at this in greater detail, I’m probably going to start using this in future scrivener projects.
In this section is where all of the scenes in your first draft will live. The manuscript folder will show you all of the documents you’ve ticked ‘include in compile.’ And thus, will act as an electronic manuscript.
Act I, II, + III
When I first learned story structure, I was learning how to write a screenplay. For those of you who are unfamiliar with how a screenplay is created, a screenplay is written in scenes. When I first started writing novels, I struggled with chapters because all I understood was scenes. It took me far too long to figure out that scenes were strung together and put into chapters. But, more about that later.
As you can see on the screen, I have three chapters labelled Act I, Act II, and Act II. These chapters are folders that contain scenes. So each folder has the scenes for the entire act.
Each scene is a document similar to the notes documents. To create a new scene, click on the act older then click on the plus icon at the bottom and the new scene will appear in the folder. Just like word or any other type of word processor, all you need to do is click the white space and start typing away. Just a quick word about formatting. Don’t worry about the correct formatting at this stage. All you need to do is write, rewrite, submit to an editor, then format your novel in the compile.
The compile section is super easy to use. All you have to do is click the formatting options, and press compile. It’s a tiny bit more complicated than that but, that’s the general gist. I’ll do a compile tutorial when I’m finished editing Immunity.
On the left-hand side, in the binder, you will see the scene is labelled scene. If you want, you can give the scene a title. To change the title of a scene all you need to do is double-click and start typing. If you chose to do this, you would have to check the display scene titles in the compile feature.
On the right-hand side of the screen, you can see a white box labelled synopsis. I leave the scene synopsis blank and place notes for the scene in the document section. I leave this blank for the editing stage. The reason for this is, it’s easy for me to write a two-line scene synopsis during one of my revision stages then check if the scene has lived up to this expectation. But, you don’t have to use it this way. If it helps you to have the scene synopsis in here before you write the scene, then do that instead.
In this section, I like to write notes about future revision or editing changes. The reason behind this is when I write the first draft all I want to do is get the words on the page. I don’t trust myself to write a first draft and edit at the same time. I’m worried that if I attempt this that I will never get the story finished. So, I add changes here. Usually, I will be writing another scene or realise that I need to make a minor story change or need to add in a new scene. Sometimes, these changes will result in edits to previously written scenes. I make a note here then go on and write as if the change has already taken place.
Scene and Chapter Labels
At the bottom of the page, you will notice two labels. The first label is “scene” and the second is “first draft.” The first label is to classify the file type. It’s important that you use these correctly before this is how the compile differentiates between a scene and a chapter. So, this scene is labelled scene. If you go over to the Act I folder, you will see that the folder is labelled chapter. So, everything is great.
The second label is for you to know where you are at with the writing. This feature comes in handy during revision. But, you can change the status of the file from “to-do” to “first draft” to “revised draft,” depending on where you are at in the writing phase.
I like to use these during revision. I save a version of each scene before I make a round of revisions. My heavy fiction edit has about nine rounds of revisions. I know that sounds like a lot, but each round focuses on an element of the story. Before, I go through a make my revisions I save a snapshot of the previous version then go on to make changes.
As I alluded to earlier, I like to write in scene and group the scenes in acts. I originally grouped the scenes into chapters. I caution against this because scenes are moved around and split up during writing and revision. The file you have after your first draft will look different to your third draft. It’s much easier to move scenes around when it’s formatted like this. I’ve spent hours reformatting the layout from my eight chapters to these three-acts because I was changing stuff around frequently.
So, what is meta-data? Meta-data is the data relating to your novel. It includes the title, author name, publisher, and copyright year. If you need to change or create any of these details you can find it the compile section. To find the compile feature, click the box with the up arrow icon in the toolbar. Select the “compile for” option at the top centre of the screen. If you select one of the pub options, you get access to more information in the meta-data tab.
To access the meta-data click on the tag icon on the left. Here add your title, author name, publishing company, year of publication or any other details. To save the changes you just made, hold down the alt key, and you will see the compile button change to save. Every time you come back to the compile these settings will be the same unless you change them.
Before you start writing your novel, I recommend taking advantage of the work count tracking features that Scrivener has to offer. To access the word count features, in the top toolbar click on the project. In the drop-down list, select project targets and a pop-up box will appear. The pop-up box contains two bars that show your writing progress. If you hover over the manuscript target, you will notice the word target is editable. Enter your manuscript word count goal in here.
To set further goals click on the options button to be taken to the setting screen. In the draft target tab, choose the deadline for your first draft then go to the session target tab. In this tab, check the box next to “automatically calculate from draft deadline.” After this box is checked, you will be able to select the days in which you can write. Underneath the days, check the box to allow writing no the day of the deadline. Check the show target notifications, and then hit ok. The next window will tell you how many words you need to write in each session to finish the first draft on the day of the deadline.
Syncing with iOS
In, this final section in this tutorial, and I’m going to show you how to sync the desktop version with the app of your iPhone. First, purchase the Scrivener app for iPhone and download it onto our iPhone. Sign up for a free Dropbox account, then add Dropbox to your desktop. Dropbox will add a folder to your computer where you will save scrivener. Close scrivener and move the file and it’s back up to Dropbox. After drop box has finished syncing with the cloud double click on the file you’ve just moved and open it. Close the file and go to your iPhone.
Download the Dropbox app for iPhone and log into your Dropbox account. It’s a free app. Check the desktop Dropbox folder and see if it’s finished syncing. When the sync is complete, there will be a green tick next to the file. You need to do this to avoid conflicts between the desktop and iOS app.
Open the Scrivener App and click the sync icon at the top of the screen. Choose the option to link dropbox. Because Dropbox is already installed on your phone, it will open automatically. Choose the folder where your Scrivener files are located, and press “done” and wait for the file to upload. It’s crucial that every time you open the iOS app that you close the desktop app and select sync now to update your files.
As always, I have an important question to ask you. Is there a writing or publishing related tech tutorial that you would like to see me do on this channel? I want to hear from you. Let me know by sharing your ideas in the comments section below. Next week, I’ll walk you through the exact steps you need to take to create a series bible using Scrivener.
Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next Saturday for another tech tutorial.
I’m Amelia. I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Missing, the Lawn, and the Candidate. On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process. Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.