How I Write With Scrivener, Part 1: The Binder

Writing programs.  I’m one of those people who has tried just about every single writing program that’s out there.  But for me, each one lacked something somewhere and I found myself becoming increasingly annoyed at itty bitty things the software would or would not do.

Enter Scrivener for Windows.  This little jewel is created by the fine folk at Literature and Latte and was originally designed for the Mac.  I heard about it a long time ago, about how it was just about the best out there when it comes to flexibility in the writing process, but I could never get it because I didn’t have a Mac.  When the windows version was launched, I grabbed it and have never looked back.  As far as I’m concerned, this one is the best.

NaNoWriMo Day List

NaNoWriMo Day List

My first foray into the world of Scrivener was during the 2011 NaNoWriMo.  The windows version was still in beta testing but the company executed a great business move in extending it’s month-long trial period to longer than 30 days so those who wanted to try it during NaNoWriMo could utilize it for the full month plus an extra few days before November 1 and after December 1.  Now THAT’s customer service.

Today, I’m going to talk about the binder feature.  I am a global thinker so I rely heavily on this to keep me apprised, at a glance, as to what’s happening in my story and when.

To meet the NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words during the month of November, one must write at least 1667 words a day so I decided to have each day as it’s own text file or document within a folder.

You’ll also notice in this picture there are names next to the days.  My novel has three story lines and those are the names of the different main characters who I wrote about on this particular day.  After NaNo, I went back and added those names so when it came time for me to actually put everything together, I knew at a glance which days contained their story.

If you look above the binder area, you’ll notice there are tabs with my character’s names.  Those are collections.  I created a collection for each of my main characters so I can look at only their story line to make sure there is a good progression from one scene and chapter to the next.

Doing this is incredibly helpful in figuring out structural deficiencies in the plot.  Just recently I added another collection (12 Steps to Intimacy) to track the subplot of the progression of a relationship between one of my main characters and a secondary character.

The best thing about collections is that when you add a folder or document, it does not take it out of the main binder.  I think it’s actually a type of keyword system because even though the document appears to be in two places at once, it really is not.  If you edit in one, it also makes the changes in the other.

Scrivener Binder Icons

Scrivener Binder Icons

Now what if you don’t like that white paper look of the document icon and want to change it to another color?  Or maybe you want to completely change it to something else to give you a visual reminder to do something or to describe the contents?  You can do that too.

I had seen something like this before but for the life of me just could not figure out how to do it.  For the longest time I thought it was because I was using the Windows version but little did I know that I just wasn’t looking in the right place.  Thanks to Gwen Hernandez, I have been educated.

The last item I’ll talk about today is how I use the binder to actually structure my novel.

I use top level folders to split the novel into the standard three-act structure.  Within those top level “act” folders, I have my chapter folders and within those, I have the text documents which are my scenes.  Simple enough.

Scrivener Binder Folders

Scrivener Binder Folders

When a chapter or scene document is created, Scrivener prompts you for a name and if you don’t give it one, it’s automatically titled “Untitled.”  I could never have a whole list of chapters or scenes named “Untitled” or “Chapter” or “Scene” because then I would have no idea what was in them.

I’m writing historical fiction so I use specific naming conventions for each chapter and scene to help me keep track of what’s happening and when.  I use the date of my character’s action as the first part of the name then add two or three words as a descriptor.  This is helpful in keeping track of the movement of my characters.  It’s also good to keep track of any seasonal and weather related changes.

Once the chapter or scene is finished, I add two exclamation points to the beginning of the name.  If I decide not to use that chapter or scene, I put an “X” at the beginning of the name.  If it still needs editing but I’m at a point where I need to stop working on it and move on to another next chapter or scene, I’ll leave the exclamation points off as a reminder that I have to go back to it.

For any text I cut, instead of deleting it altogether, I create an additional document within that same chapter, give it the same date but use as the title “Deleted text.”

There’s more to the binder feature but I’ll save that for another post.

If you’re looking for a super versatile writing software, give Scrivener a try.  They have a 30 day, fully functional, version and if you decide you want to keep it, it’s less than $50.

Have you tried Scrivener yet?  What about other writing software?  What do you think?  I’d love to hear from you!


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5 Responses to How I Write With Scrivener, Part 1: The Binder

  1. Pingback: How I Write With Scrivener, Part 2: The Binder and Meta-Data | Live With Courage

  2. Great overview, Karina. I love seeing how other people use Scrivener’s awesome features. Glad I helped, and thanks for the mention! 🙂


  3. L. E. Carmichael says:

    I LOVE Scrivener. I write nonfiction, and it’s the best way I’ve found to keep all my research organized.



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