Top Formatting Hacks Scrivener: Our Most-Used Tricks

Scrivener Formatting Hacks

Scrivener is a wonderful program many writers use to set up and manage their books, screenplays, and research projects. Nearly every aspect of the program can be customizable, from the drafting settings to the export format. But with so many options, many authors find themselves overwhelmed. To that end, we’re posting a blog series on our favorite features. While we could post fifteen blogs on the formatting features, today, we’ll just cover our top formatting hacks in Scrivener.

Note: The screenshots are for Scrivener 2.0. for Mac. We hear from our friends at Literature and Latte that version 3.0 is coming soon, and when we get access to it, we’ll update this post.

Hack #1: Scene Labels and Images

Scrivener formatting hacks: adjust compile group to show different documentsFor our Madion War Trilogy series, we had the challenge of multiple POVs. We wanted to label each POV with the character’s name and a unique icon. To accomplish this, we added a Custom Metadata field to our project and called it POV. Then, in the Compile settings, we added the following to the Section Layout under Prefix:

<$img:<$custom:POV>;h=50>
<$custom:POV>

In the Compile setting, you’ll see that the POV is listed there under Level 2+ (we’ll go into levels a bit later).

Scrivener Formatting Hacks

When we compile the draft, we get the POV name along with the image.

Hack #2: Preserve Formatting

Sometimes within the text, we want to preserve formatting. That is, the rest of the book is Garamond 12, single-spaced, left aligned, and maybe this one section is a letter, and we want it centered and Times New Roman 13. In this case, we have two options: We can create a separate scene and select “Compile As-Is,” or, the better option, we can highlight the text and use the “Preserve Formatting option.” You can find it under the Format menu, under the Formatting sub-menu.

Scrivener Formatting Hacks: Preserve Formatting

Here you can also find the Copy and Paste Formatting options, which allow you to take the formatting settings from one scene to another. Generally, though, you shouldn’t do too much in-line formatting in your final manuscript. And make sure if you’re using Preserve Formatting that you’ve got your formatting exactly as you want it.

Hack #3: Compile a Section

If you’ve taken our advice and kept all the books in a series in one Scrivener file, then you’ll need to know how to Compile just a section. Luckily, this is pretty easy:

Scrivener Drafting Tips: Compile Settings

In the Contents section of Compile, use the drop-down menu to select the grouping you’d like to export. Under Compile Group Options, you can select to either include the container (generally you don’t want to do this), and treat selected group as entire draft (generally you do want this).

You can also use a Filter based on a particular label. So, for example, if you were compiling a preview of an ebook, you could tag specific chapters with “Preview” and compile only those.

Hack #4: Compile Levels

Scrivener formatting hack: Scrivener 3.0 uses formatting categories instead of levelsA lot of folks are confused by the idea of Compile Levels. We’re happy to announce that in Scrivener 3.0, they’ve changed Compile Levels to a much more user-friendly version. As it stands now in 2.0, your Compile levels work like this:

  • Part (Folder) -> Level 1
    • Chapter (Folder) -> Level 2
      • Scene -> Level 3
        • Subscene -> Level 4

Each level can have its own formatting. So your Part would be different from your Chapter, and so on. In Scrivener 3.0, they’ve gone back to the drawing board. Instead of assigning formatting by level, you can now assign formatting by type. So if you’d like your Part and Chapter to share formatting, you can. And if you have a certain set of scenes with particular formatting (like a dream sequence, for example), you can set individual scenes.

As formatters, we’re looking forward to this new feature!

Hack #5: Getting a Clean Manuscript

Our last hack has to do with getting so-called “clean” manuscripts from Scrivener to editable formats like Word. If you’ve drafted your book in Scrivener, then you’re probably already mostly there. In the Compile Format feature, you can add additional so-called “presets,” or settings that you can re-use. This is especially helpful when you’ve got several books in a single manuscript, or if you need to export to hardcover, paperback, Kindle, and more. For exporting a “clean” manuscript, create a project preset using the formatting standards your editor requires. Usually, that’s 12pt, double-spaced letter-sized pages.


Want to know more about this topic? Need some help with formatting, editing, or even marketing? SGR-Pub offers a wide variety of services to help you make the most out of your self-publishing journey.

Contact us today for more information. We can’t wait to work with you!

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