My Writing Process: How I Use Scrivener to Outline My Novels

My Writing Process, Pt. 1 of 2: How I Use Scrivener to Outline My Novels

My writing process is a continually evolving thing. Not only does every new story require a slightly different approach–and not only am I constantly learning and refining–but sometimes a new tool comes along and completely revolutizes the whole system. That’s what the writing software Scrivener has done for my writing process this past year.

Scrivener LogoFor years, I’ve been extremely happy with the free organization program yWriter. One of my mottos has always been, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Besides, I kept hearing about Scrivener’s steep learning curve. As much as I love new techie stuff, I kept thinking, I don’t have the time for that! But so many of you Wordplayers kept asking me about it that I finally broke down and bought it.

Three words: Blew. My. Mind.

Seriously, it was as if the designers looked into my brain and took notes while I was outlining my novels–and then designed my dream word processor. Kinda like Extreme Home Makeover–but for writers.

However, it is true there’s a bit of a learning curve. The program is tremendously detailed and thorough. It offers you just about any organizational tool your little heart could imagine–and if you’re like me (and Han), you can imagine quite a bit! So in the interest of helping you take full advantage of this tremendous resource, today and next week I’d like to offer a sneak peek under the hood of how my writing process works when using Scrivener.

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland

Outlining Your Novel (Amazon affiliate link)

This is how I use Scrivener to outline my novels, using the approach I talk about in my book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to SuccessThis post isn’t going to teach you how to use Scrivener, so it does presuppose you have some understanding of how the basic features work (e.g., the Binder and Inspector). My goal here is to show you how I actually use the features when outlining. I’ll be using my historical superhero work-in-progress Wayfarer in the example photos. Click on any photo for a larger view.

My Writing Process, Step 1: General Sketches

My first step in outlining is to simply get my ideas for the plot and the character arcs onto paper and start working my way through the plot holes and questions until I have a viable story. This is where I will start figuring out all the major plot points in my story structure. I like to do all my brainstorming longhand in a notebook, and I use a color-coded highlighting system to help me know what I want to transcribe into Scrivener later–and what folder to put it in.

Story Summary

I start with a summary of the story. Usually, this is something I wrote long ago, when the story idea first solidified for me. I stick this in a document at the top of the Binder, so I can refer to it to keep me on track throughout the outlining process. Plus, it’s just fun to get to put some words in the file right from the start!

Scrivener Wayfarer Summary


Structure Folder

Structuring Your Novel IPPY Award 165

Structuring Your Novel (Amazon affiliate link)

And then it’s time to start figuring out the story in earnest. Once I’ve worked out the basic shape of the plot, I start figuring out how to fit into the three-act structure (which, of course, I talk about in my other book Structuring Your Novel). In Scrivener, I create a folder called “Structure” and sub-folders for each of the primary structural turning points. This isn’t my actual outline per se, as much as it is just rough notes to guide me when I start fleshing out the outline in detail. I keep this file and all outline-specific files in the Research folder.


I use short summaries of each section, so I can view them at a glance in the corkboard section. (I’ve blurred out most of the cards, because, you know, spoilers!).


Theme File

Theme is something I start working out early in the process, since it’s so inherently linked to the character arcs. I create a separate file for that as well, so I can have easy access to any pertinent thematic notes that don’t fit elsewhere.


Scrivener Tip Corkboard Settings


Orange Notes

“Orange Notes” are how I refer to any pertinent information that doesn’t have an obvious home somewhere else in my outline notes. I call them this because they are highlighted in orange in my notebook. They get their own folder in the Research section as well.


My Writing Process, Step 2: Character Sketches

Outlining Your Novel Workbook

Outlining Your Novel Workbook (Amazon affiliate link)

Once I have a basic sense of the entire plot, I move on to Character Sketches. This is where I will interview my characters, using the list of 100+ questions (which you can find in Outlining Your Novel or the Outlining Your Novel Workbook). I create a folder for Characters, then a sub-file for each major character. Scrivener offers the opportunity to include photos, so I always add the actor I’ve cast as the character.


I also add a file indicating the major archetypes I want to include and which character fulfills which role.


Minor Characters

I like to keep my minor characters in a separate folder in order to streamline the appearance of the Binder and keep my major characters easily accessible. I also include a folder for “Unused Characters,” whom I may have dreamed up early in the outline but never found a home for in the actual story.


Scrivener Tip Keywords


My Writing Process, Step 3: Settings and Other Considerations

I also create folders for Settings, Costumes, Animals, and Vehicles (and Weapons, if appropriate). I collect images of each of these as needed while outlining, so that I have a visual library to draw from when writing.


Scrivener Tip Images


My Writing Process, Step 4: Extended Outline

Finally, I’m ready to start my Extended Outline–the nitty-gritty of the outline itself. This is where I work out the story, chapter by chapter–paying attention to the structure of each scene (goal, conflict, disaster) and sequel (reaction, dilemma, decision). Once I’ve completed the Extended Outline in my notebook, I’ll transcribe the pertinent notes (which I highlight in blue) to Scrivener. I use Dragon Naturally Speaking for this step, to save the wear on my wrists from all that typing.

Chapter Folders

This is where I move up into the actual Manuscript section of the Binder and start creating the folders that will become my chapters. I start by creating master folders for the major structural sections, then subfolders for each chapter and files within those folders for each scene. I generally break the scenes into multiple files–one for the scene and one for the sequel.


Scrivener Tip Changing Icons



The Synopsis section of the Inspector is where I record the actual structure of the scene, as well as the date and time in which the scene is taking place.


General Meta-Data

Below that, in the General Meta-Data section, I use the color-coded labels to indicate whether the file holds a scene, a sequel, or both.


Document Notes

Finally, the Document Notes section at the bottom of the Inspector is where I type in the entirety of my outline notes for each scene.


My Writing Process, Step 5: Research

While not actually a part of what I consider the “outlining” phase, I’ll also mention research in this post, since it has to take place before the first draft begins. I create a master folder for my research, then subfolders for each category to allow for easy reference. I also add a master file at the top that records my bibliography.


Scrivener Tip Matching Styles



My Writing Process, Step 6: “Read This” Document

Finally, I add a Read This document at the very top of my manuscript–titled all in caps. This will contain any pertinent notes I want to make sure I’m keeping in mind as I write.


Scrivener Tip Project Notes


Once I’ve completed all that, I’m locked and loaded and ready to start writing! Click here to learn how I then use Scrivener when I’m actually writing my first draft. I hope this will benefit you in finding the right process to organize your own outline notes in Scrivener and use this powerful program to up your writing game!

Tell me your opinion: What is your writing process for organizing your story notes?

My Writing Process, Pt. 1 of 2: How I Use Scrivener to Outline My Novels

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Hi KM

    I’m delighted you found Scrivener too. I know exactly what you mean about the design – it feels as if it was either created by writers, or with enormous help from writers. And it fits a whole range of different ways of writing – whether you outline in detail as you do, all the way through to just bunging it on the page and sorting out the mess later.

    I now use it for everything, including magazine articles and even log-lines. The ability to monitor the number of words as you go is enormously helpful when you’re writing to a tight brief.

    Looking forward to the next article.


  2. Eric Troyer says

    Great post, but under Scrivener Corkboard settings you forgot to blur out the information on your cards!

  3. Thanks, Katie, for another openhearted piece of advice. I’ve started with Scrivener too and haven’t yet mastered all the features. Is there any particular reason why you have Settings and Characters etc. under Manuscript rather than Research?
    And if I dare say it: the Brits won’t like it if you refer to their ‘caste’ system; they call it ‘class’; and ‘Mother Hubbard’ will read as a childish joke.
    What I miss with Scrivener is the ability to work on my WIP from different computers, and that it doesn’t include a grammar/style/word usage feature (like ProWitingAid or Grammarly)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The novel template in Scrivener offers a character folder (and maybe settings, too – can’t remember for sure). It automatically sets them up there in the Manuscript folder.

    • Hi, Viktor,
      I use Scrivener on different computers, and I’m not sure if you’ve tried this method yet, but you can upload your projects to Dropbox in order to store them in the cloud and access them from any computer that has Scrivener installed. This is what I do, and it works pretty brilliantly! The only extra thing I have to do is make sure that all my Scrivener projects are closed on one computer and that Dropbox is synced before opening the project on another computer.
      Hope that helps!

    • James Shewmaker says

      Replying to Viktor

      You mentioned that you wanted to work with your WIP from multiple computers. I am the moderator of an online Scrivener Users community of over 4200 members and there are a number of users who use Scrivener with multiple computers.

      Not only are people already using Scrivener with Multiple computers but the developer is getting ready to release an upgrade for both Windows and Macintosh as well as the iOS mobile platform that has a newly developed syncing system. This release is scheduled for later this year. They are currently in the alpha testing stage and are choosing beta testers for a private beta testing of the new software.

  4. I love Scrivener, and it is so flexible. Each new book that I start, I try out a few new features, gradually figuring out the best way (for me) to outline using the free-form corkboard, organizing research, using icons, colors, labels, and stamps, auto-filling the index card, etc. Such a great program, it has really revolutionized the writing process for me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s ridiculously flexible. I like to say each novel is its own adventure. We never use exactly the same writing process for two books. So that flexibility within Scrivener is a huge tool in itself.

  5. Thank you for sharing your Scrivener process. I’ve been a avid reader of you blog and craft books. I’ve been using Scrivener for a couple of years and still found your Scrivener process insightful. Looking forward to next week’s post.

  6. Perfect timing! I’m just outlining a new project now (day 3).
    I’ve been using Scrivener for about 3 years and you’ve given me some great ideas to rethink how I organize my files. I’ve never used keywords – what a great idea!
    I took Joe’s workshop with you last summer and I was amazed how much I learned (even though I’d already been using scrivener) I might even take it again!
    Thanks for sharing this and Happy Writing!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Awesome! I hope we see you there again in a few weeks. 🙂 I was just starting out with Scrivener last summer when Joe did his first webinar for us. I’m sure I’ll get even more out of it now that I’m consistently using the program.

  7. I enjoyed reading about your process in Scrivener. You do many things that I also do for my novels, but I discovered a few new tips that seem interesting. I never thought to use Dragon Naturally Speaking to transcribe my notebook notes. That seems a real time saver and I already own the program…I simply haven’t been using it. I’ll be watching for the follow up post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m really impressed with Dragon. I’ve used other speech-to-text software, and the results are often sketchy at best. But Dragon gets the job done surprisingly well. Saves the wrists too!

  8. KM, thanks for a great post. I’m just starting to figure out how to use this software and this was a great help. I was wondering, did you interview your minor characters as well? Or do you just have a picture of them? If you interviewed the, do you just have pertinent info (i.e. who they are to the main character?)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I interview all major characters – which usually means protagonist, antagonist, sidekick, and love interest. For other characters, I just use a photo and any random notes I come up with.

  9. Hello and good Sunday afternoon Kim,

    I want you to know that your site has helped me immensely and the latest Scrivener posting has excited me beyond belief. I recognized that you used the photo feature by posting the characters you use in your novel as I have. I thought I was a little wired.

    Using this feature focuses and streamlines my thoughts as I type. Than you, thank you, and thank you again. I have the Webinar set for the 23 of April.

    Again thank you so much for this posting. As Scrivener user since November’s NaNoWriMo, I’m only scratching the bare surface and potential this program offers.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Cool beans! I think you’ll find Joseph’s tutorial on Scrivener extremely helpful. There’s so much to take advantage of in this program that it’s super nice to have some guidance.

  10. Thanks for the inside look at your process. It’s always good to watch the maters at work.
    I’ve also been using Scrivener in my latest project. I basically swapped the Synopsis and Document Notes sections and used them for the opposite purposes as you. However, I think your way might make more sense so I think I’ll try that next time.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I really do like using the Document notes for my outline notes, since they’re document specific and apply only to whatever scene I happen to be working on at the time.

  11. This article is very detailed. I like the glimpse you gave us into your writing process. I recently met a cool writer who outlines as well. I think the webinar you will be having will be a great help to many of us writers who are looking to polish our outlining/drafting processes. Thanks for the amazing post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Glad you enjoyed it! As you gathered, I’m a huge proponent of outlining. It makes everything easier in the long run.

  12. Pamela Hill says

    Thanks for your insite into the Scrivener Program. Boy did my eyes light up when I saw your email on Scrivener. I just bought the program last month when it was on sale and I still haven’t had the time to review it. Having two jobs and a busy life; I’m hoping the program gives me more writing time and an easy process in developing story ideas. I will be watching for information on that free webinar, “Learning Scrivener Fast”. Thanks for all the feedback everyone.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Joseph’s webinar will be just the ticket to get you rolling with the program. Scrivener will change your life!

  13. Gary Stephens says

    I’m working on my first novel and it’s coming along very well, much in part to your book Structuring Your Novel. My system is crude to say the least but am looking into the webinar 4/23 my birthday!! I’m 18! Ok maybe not. But it sounds like Scrivener is just the thing. I’ve set up the first half of my story in plot points like a map and made a flow chart. I have separate files for major characters as well as minor characters as well. I have research files, sub plots listed, and a file for interviews. I’m going all the way on this, thanks for all your posts, they’re all very helpful. I feel real good about this.

  14. Steven Duncan says

    I have read your book “Outlining Your Novel” & follow your blog. I am an older writer to the wonderful world of writing, hoping to someday publish.
    Do you use the Apple or the Windows version ? I have heard that the Windows version does not work on Windows 8

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Windows – and it does work on Windows 8. The recent updates to the Windows version have nearly caught it up to the Mac version (yay!).

  15. Thank you for this. I actually came up with almost the same way of organizing using your Structuring Your Novel Workbook too. (and created an awesome template out of it) It really helped me finish up my first draft.

    So glad someone showed how they organize and divide chapters and scenes. I would love it if you could do a detailed post on that at some point. And how you compile a manuscript from that?

    A Scrivener question – how do you get the number of words to show as titles in your folders?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Basically, I just divide my scenes into scene and sequel, which I wrote about in this series:

      As for the word count, I have to do that manually. I rename the folder and add the word count each time I finish a chapter.

      • When I want to check word counts I use the “outliner” (the third view mode icon beside the cork board icon).

        There are columns you can add both for the number of words in a document, and the aggregated total number of words for a given folder or document. To do this, click the icon at the right end of the column headline. (See )

        If you add the “Target” column, you’re also able to add planned word counts for a document (and the “Total Target” column will show aggregated target word counts).

        The planned word count will show at the bottom bar of the document view as well as in the full screen view.

        The only backside: you can turn up doing a bit too much planning. I’ve learned to be cool when I get way too few or way too many words in a scene… After all, there’s editing as well! 😀

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Ah, of course! I knew about that, but have never taken advantage of it. Thanks so much for pointing that out. I’ve got word count front and center right now as I’m trimming fat from my WIP.

  16. Nancy Lohr says

    How can we sign up for the Scrivener webinar?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I don’t have a link yet. Check back next week, and we should have the sign-up page all set up!

  17. I use the meta data function as a way to get an overview of the entire plot (or a specific section).
    I create different labels- character names, time in novel, place, subplot etc. Then for each scene I mark the characters and subplot that appear, as well as date, time, place etc.
    When I go into outline view for the entire manuscript (the one where you see all the metadata in a table) I can check if my timeline makes sense, if a subplot has a resolution or if I created a character that only appears twice in the story.
    Thanks for sharing your process. I think I’ll add new labels for the scene/sequl parts.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s smart! I haven’t figured out a way to fully take advantage of the meta-date in my process yet. I’ll have to play with that!

    • Thanks for sharing that, it’s REALLY helped me track the subplots

  18. Thanks Katty. I use Scrivener too. I also bought yor books. So, I am learning much from you.
    I have a question for you: If my POV character is not the protagonist (the lead character of the story– let say my POV is one of the character other protagonist– whose “goal-conflict-disaster” should be in a scene? Is it the goal-conflict-disater of the protagonist or of the POV character or of the both?
    And, how do you apply MRU in the scene. Is R reaction of the protagonist or reaction of the POV character?
    Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Generally speaking, the POV character should always be the one with the goal–and thus the reaction.

  19. I too have been holding out on Scrivener. I have my own system of Word documents and OmniOutliner and Excel and a physical cork board… but seeing your process in Scrivener made me downright jealous, and now I want it too!

    The question is, do I get the program mid-novel, or do I wait until I’m starting the next one?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s not that you can’t write just as great a novel *without* Scrivener, but Scrivener just makes it all so much easier and more delicious! I would recommend waiting until you begin a new novel, so you’re not switching files around mid-draft.

  20. My name is Amanda, and I am a writing tools addict. 😀

    I bought Scrivener for Windows a couple years back and have been ACHING for an excuse to dive in and use it. Problem being, I have been stuck in rewriting/revisions for as many years, and it sort of felt like a step back after working on the story in Word for so long, if that makes any sense. My process is fairly similar to yours except I’ve kept all of the notes and “story bible stuff” and my brainstorming journals in Microsoft One Note.

    I am curious if when the time comes I will be able to use Scrivener to write. My mind tends to get a little overburdened when ALL of that info is in the same place as my manuscript.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Next week, I’ll be talking about how I use Scrivener to write. And the answer is, yes! Scrivener offers great tools for streamlining the writing platform and blocking out the clutter.

  21. Troy Gallant says

    Quick question: how do you get the word counts to show against the documents in the binder view? This is easily achievable for the outline view but I cannot find the correct switch in the menus to do this for the binder view.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Honestly: I cheat. I type the word counts in manual whenever I finish a chapter or scene.

  22. I’m a fellow Scrivener user, and I enjoyed reading about your approach to structuring inside Scrivener.

    I’m just a meticulous, but my method has many differences. For example, the book I’m working on is an epic urban fantasy series with a large ensemble cast and many factions, so I keep detailed list and profiles of each faction and character, their relationships with each other, as well as their individual arcs in the story. I also create HTML links inside each faction/character sheet so as I’m reading about a character or faction’s relationship with others, I can click on names and be taken to that character/faction instantly instead of scrolling through my long list.

    I have detailed notes on the world-building, the magic system, as well as ideas for scenes and dialogues I want to work into the manuscript later.

    I color-code and use icons extensively, to visually differentiate the sex of the character, if a faction/character is mainly neutral, good, or evil.

    I have detailed templates I use to fill in information about factions and characters, such as background, purpose in the story, personality traits, desires, fears, regrets, likes and dislikes, how they see themselves vs how others see them, what they care about the most, what are their greatest obstacles, who their allies, rivals, and enemies are, and so on.

    I keep a detailed record of the conflict structure in the story, with a top-down hierarchy, starting with inter-world conflicts, inter-species conflicts, inter-faction conflicts, inner-faction conflicts, personal conflicts, to inner-self conflicts. For each level of conflict, there are different conflict types, ranging from ideological, cultural, racial, greed, power, survival, vengeance, to emotional/psychological.

    One big difference I see in your approach, is that you don’t seem to use the Outliner view, while I use it extensively. I don’t bother with the corkboard view because it’s too basic for my needs (I have yet to find the ideal virtual index card software. Writer’s Blocks comes very close, but it’s missing a couple of critical features I need).

    One thing I can’t stand is bright GUI, since it gives me a headache. I always customize every piece of software on my computer to use dark or medium brightness GUI. I’ve done the same with Scrivener (I also customized the text editor to be the most comfortable on the eyes for prolonged exposure, using colors that are the most soothing to human vision). You can download my customized GUI/layout here:

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I actually don’t use the Corkboard view that much either (or the Outliner). I prefer the Binder for quick referencing my scenes and such.

      Great idea on hyperlinking important notes within the document. I’ve had that in the back of my mind but haven’t gotten around to utilizing it as of yet.

  23. Nice tutorial! But what is 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D? What am I supposed to write in these documents or are they just your personal way of writing?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That is how I’ve indicated the structural sections. The numbers refer to First, Second, and Third Acts:

      1A: Prior to the Inciting Event.
      1B: After the Inciting Event.
      2A: After the First Plot Point.
      2B: After the First Pinch Point.
      2C: After the Midpoint.
      2D: After the Second Pinch Point.
      3A: After the Third Plot Point.
      3B: After the Climactic turning point.

  24. Your post is very timely for me! I have a similar process as you do when writing, with several file folders starting with the first ‘brain dump’ then drilling down to separate folders for characters, setting, research, plot, etc. I’m just now going through the tutorial for Scrivener and hope to transfer all the files very soon as I begin work on my next novel. It’s exciting and a bit scary to change but I think it’ll be a very effective tool for me.

    I was signed up for your webinar this week but I’m in Thailand so it would have been 3 am my time. I’m looking forward to getting the link to the re-play. Thanks!!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think you’ll fall in love with Scrivener. Once you get it figured out, it makes everything so much easier.

      Sorry you couldn’t join us for the live webinar! But the replay should be up sometime today.

  25. Thanks so much for this detailed explanation. I use Scrivener, but you gave me some ideas about how to use it better.

  26. Bill Atkinson says

    Thanks for the great post and detailed look at how you have adapted Scrivener to your outlining. Your first book on Outlining has made a huge difference for me in getting my first novel off the ground and now over 100,000 words (I know, I will end up with too many words but it is easy to cut stuff that doesn’t really do the job than it is to come up with new stuff late in revision I think).

    Just a picky question as I am just working my way into moving my one big Word file of a novel over into Scrivener. I see in your bibliography screen capture that you have an “alphabet code” beside each book: AA, BB etc and then move to AB, AC on the next set. Do you set up that code as a keyword linked to specific scenes? Or what do you use it for, just curious.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Awesome! Glad you found the post useful. Scrivener is so useful, but it *can* be a little overwhelming at first without a little guidance.

      The alphabet code in the research section is actually my shorthand for identifying which quote is from which book. I keep a master bibliography file which assigns a code to each title. Then when I’m organizing my notes according to subject (Clothing, Setting, etc.), I don’t have to type out the book’s title and author next to its quote (in case I need to reference it later); instead, I can just type AA and the page number.

      More on my research system here.

      • Bill Atkinson says

        Thanks KM, good idea and one I will follow myself.

        You should probably get a commission from the Learn Scrivener Fast people, the final tipping point in my decision to to sign into the site was the fact that one of the bonus items was the template you have included on structuring the novel. I have it in my Scrivener now and am populating it with my current draft. Thanks.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Awesome to hear you’re finding the template useful! In full disclosure, I actually *am* a Learn Scrivener Fast affiliate. But I’m very particular about products I affiliate myself with or advertise on the site. I only choose products that I’ve used personally and can wholeheartedly recommend. Obviously, Learn Scrivener Fast earns that! I’d still be just as gung-ho about it even if I wasn’t an affiliate.

  27. Howdy!

    Great post. Lots of good information. You’re a master outliner!
    There’s so much to digest. I’ve got a lot more learning to do with Scrivener.
    You’re quite a sharp cookie. Probably an oatmeal raisin.

    How many scenes do you do in your first, second, third acts?
    How does that break down by chapter?

    Thanks for sharing!


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I don’t have a set rule for number of scenes, although I try to get to to even out. For Wayfarer, it worked out to be 50 chapters–usually one scene per chapter.

  28. Mikayla Martin says

    I have to ask, what does “negation of the negation” mean?

    Referring to the highlighted text in your “Theme File” picture.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s a principle from Robert McKee’s classic Story, in which he talks about the need to dramatize the various thematic degrees of the story’s Lie and Truth. For example, in the book these screenshots are from, I’m dealing with a theme of “respect.”

      The basic positive aspect of this is simply respect in general (respect for others, others respecting you, etc.).

      What aspect is then contrary to this idea? In this instance, it would be rudeness (instead of treating or being treated with respect, the response is “harmless” rudeness).

      If we take that still further into an outright contradiction of “respect,” we get its opposite: “disrespect.”

      The “negation of the negation” is then the ultimate low, in which the character himself loses all respect not just for others but for himself: hence, self-disrespect.

      The idea is to present a fully rounded theme by presenting some aspect of all these degrees of the thematic principle somewhere in the story (through minor characters, etc.).

      • Christian Imme says

        This goes nicely with the Dramatica theory for complete stories, I think. Theme (and all the other building blocks of story) are evaluated from all angles without heavy-handed moralism or bias so the author gets his message across more subtle.

        I fiddled a lot with Dramatica because sometimes it can help to spur your creativity when it tells you what topics you should address in which section of your story (great book from Armando Saldana-Mora about this btw. ). However I always come up with several story forms that seem to fit equally well so in the end most times I’m still confused (though on a much higher level 😉 ).

        Have you ever used Dramatica (I mean the software) for your stories?

        Apart from the software I do find the theory quite appealing: the extended archetypes, the blending of 3 and 4 Act structure and the explicit separation of players and characters and Main Character vs. Protagonist (although you risk being killed online by Jim Hull if you happen to misinterpret some part of the theory 😉 ).

      • Story! Great read. Very good information. Although focused on screenplays, it still captures the essence of good story telling.

  29. Christian Imme says

    One tip for the keywords: Keywords are one-dimensional only, despite the pure navigational hierarchies in the project keyword management window. So when assigned to scenes they result in one flat list. But if you prefix your different keyword classes (e.g. characters, settings – and I also use symbols (e.g. “red coat”), items (e.g. “crystal skull”) and contexts (e.g. specific gestures, people adressing a specific topic, etc.) – with a class identifier, then you can easily search for scenes which have a keyword of that specific class at all.

    characters: c:Peter, c:Paul, c:Mary
    settings: s:church, s:dungeon, s:haunted-fortress

    Now you can search for “c:” in keyords only and find all scenes where you have at least assigned one character. Those scenes not returned from search obviously lack a character keyword, although you have to spot them manually. However this is easy when you first multi-select a number of scenes and get less scenes from the following search.

    What I also found useful is to add a few metadata fields:

    ID: to assign each scene a unique ID of some sorts, which will not change even if the scene moves up or down in the scene order and which also lets me refer to a scene when the summary changes, e.g scene [Pete0012].

    Time and Date: I don’t put this info in the card summary because I want to see it in the Outline window simultaneously for all scenes.

    Scene Type: scene or sequel. For the same reason: easy spotting the info in the Outline

    The Label field in my scrivener projects gets redefined to POV, e.g. “Peter 1PP”, “Mary 3PP”, “auctorial”. This gives me the handy coloring feature in Outline and Binder for POV information.

    Also when you export your outline to Excel or so, you can do all sorts of advanced search and filtering having these pieces of information in separated columns instead of being hidden in the summary text.

  30. Excellent Post! I too am a Dramatica fan and see how this fits. Get the spine as you say, fit the bones, and then let your creativity flesh it out. I need to find part2.

  31. Do you still use yWriter in any way? Or have you completely turned to Scrivener?

    Thanks a lot for sharing your process! 😀

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s pretty much all Scrivener all the time these days. But I still think yWriter is a great alternative, if you don’t want to shell out the $40 for Scrivener.

  32. BridgeteMarie says

    I have searched and watched Scrivener “How to” many times. Is the data entered into the scene folder suppose to populate the Chapter folder and the Manuscript folder. That is what is happening.

    I have the opening scene in three different folders without my physically doing it. Is that productive? Or a waste of space?

    Thanks for you answer.


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m guessing what you’re seeing is actually just Scrivener showing you the *contents* of the overarching files. All the Chapter folders are in the Manuscript folder, and all the Scene files are in the Chapter folders. So when you click on a master folder, it shows you all the contents.

  33. BridgeteMarie says

    OK. Thanks for the answer. When I first got Scrivener, for some reason I could only enter in Corkboard and the Inspector. The Editor panel would not accept input as if it were write protected.

    I’m entering on another Mac and creating folders. I am re-entering the binder info from the laptop to the desktop. So the multple places made me wonder if that was normal.

    To see the completed first draft (which needs more dialogue) I have to look at corkboard. Clicking on the page icon to the left (inspector is on my right) gets me about half of the story in the editor window.

    I am not very good at reading instructions. I did learn to knit from a right handed book which was quite confusing for a leftie.

    Thanks again for responding.

  34. Debbie Emmitt says

    Thank you. I’m blown away by the generosity with which you share your knowledge and experience. I’m a first-time writer with very limited time due to work and two young kids, but have learnt so much through your downloads and podcast. You’ve made the process of honing my writing skills an absolute joy, and an easier road than it could have otherwise been!

    I’ve just downloaded the trial version of Scrivener, and Stuart Norfolk’s fantastic template, which I highly recommend to anyone just starting out with the program, and can’t wait to put all my Word and Excel notes into one place! Thanks again, Katie, you’re a star.

  35. Just started using Scrivener recently—you have done a wonderful job of outlining how to USE the software. Others have described navigating the tech, which is also helpful. You have put the writing back in prime focus.


  36. Hi, K.M!

    Thanks for this guide, it was extremely helpful.
    One question. I noticed you separate scenes and sequels in different files, which I also intend to do. But, when you compile the manuscript, Scrivener detects these files as separate scenes and adds scene breaks. Sometimes I have multiple scenes and sequels within a chapter and I dont want there to be a scene break between scene and sequel (while sometimes I do and is ok in that case). So how would you advice to organize scenes in this case.

    Thank you very much!

  37. Nadia Syeda says

    Sadly, I’m a young girl without a bank account so I can’t buy Scrivener, but this article is still helpful. I have OneNote on my computer, and I’ll be sure to use this structure while I’m outlining.

  38. Antoni Dol says

    Just a note saying that this article is about the previous version of Scrivener, so in dire need of an update. Did you like my e-book Mastering Scrivener?


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