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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:


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.

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Editing in Scrivener: Our Best Tips

Editing in Scrivener: Our Best Tips

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 of Scrivener. Today, we’re going to talk about our best tips for editing 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.

The Downside: Tracked Changes

Editing in Scrivener: Need to send tracked changes back to your editor? Use Microsoft Word's combine editions featureWe’ll say it up front: Scrivener’s editing integrations aren’t the best. Most of the rest of the world uses Microsoft Word or Google Docs, where it’s easy to accept changes in your manuscript. Scrivener doesn’t allow you to do that, so for some, the editing process has to take place somewhere else.

A not-Scrivener work around is to use Microsoft Word to combine documents. First, export your new draft from Scrivener. Then, take the original document from your editor and use Microsoft Word’s Combine Editions. Your edits will appear in the combined document as Tracked Changes. It’s not the prettiest workaround, but it does work. Check out more on the blog today.

When you’re on the other side of it–getting edits that need incorporation, we usually do a side-by-side screen, with our edit comments on the right and Scrivener on the left. Then we go line by line and get it all in.

Comments, Labels, Colors

There are a few different features we use most often when editing. When we edit a book, we like to export the draft to an eReader and add comments there. Then we take the comments back to the manuscript and triage them. With Scrivener’s comment color options, we can set a system. Blue comments, for example are small edits like word choice. Red comments are scenes which require a lot of heavy lifting. We can then look across the manuscript and knock out edits in a systematic way.

Scrivener Editing Tips: Label Colors

Editing in Scrivener: Color-code your scenes to help triage your editsScrivener also allows you to attach custom labels to scenes, and color code those labels. Under the View menu, you can set the label color in the binder and outliner rows. By selecting “Binder,” you can color code each of your scenes or chapters. We like to use this more in the drafting process, where, again, we can triage. Red scenes need work, yellow scenes need some review, green ones are ready. It then becomes a game to change everything to green.

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Our Best Scrivener Drafting Tips

Our best scrivener drafting tips

Scrivener is a wonderful tool that helps writers organize their manuscripts, screenplays, research projects, and more. But with all the customizations available, it can be daunting to understand it all. To that end, we’re posting a series of blog posts about Scrivener, from drafting to formatting. Today, we’ll be sharing our best Scrivener drafting tips.

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.

Moving, Changing, Rearranging

scrivener drafting tips: use split and merge to organize your thoughtsWe’ve already covered project set-up in a previous post, so for today, we’ll just talk about the actual act of writing. Some writers outline, others like to figure it out as they go. In both cases, we’ve got tips to help you organize your thoughts.

First, thanks to Scrivener’s modular makeup, you can drag and drop scenes as you need to. So maybe Chapter Five should be in Chapter Ten, or Chapter Two needs to go completely. As part of that, you can also use shortcuts to Split and Merge scenes. If you’re working on a scene and it needs a break, use the Split function. Have two scenes that need to be one? Select both and use the Merge function.

Keep it Focused

Some writers find it hard to stay focused on a single thing. Having so many scenes and folders at their fingertips is a recipe for disaster, they say. But Scrivener has a feature for those scatterbrained authors. It’s called the Composition mode.

Scrivener drafting tips

Here, everything disappears but you and the text. You can even change the Composition backdrop to be something inspirational to your draft. When we’re writing a draft based in a real city, we like to find a photo on the internet of that city and use that. You can adjust the paper opacity (making it see-through or not), or just leave the background black.

Couple this with a Pomodoro app and you’ll be on your way to writing in no time.

Get it Done

We’re big project planners, so our most obsessively frequently used feature in Scrivener is the Project Targets. In Scrivener, you can set a project target or a chapter target (though unfortunately, one doesn’t feed into the other).

Scrivener Drafting Tips: Project Targets

In the Project Target setting (find it under the Project menu), you can set the overarching target for your manuscript. Then, under the Options button, you can add more granularity. If you’re shooting for a particular date, you can set a deadline. Then, by clicking the “automatically calculate from draft deadline,” you can have Scrivener calculate a daily writing goal based on the number of days left, and writing days you’ve set.

Scrivener Drafting Tips: Compile Settings

Best scrivener drafting tips: use the compile feature to adjust your project targetsIf you’ve got multiple books in a single Scrivener file, you can make this more granular by adjusting the Compile group. Simply go to the Compile settings, then select the book you want to track. Click “Compile” to save the new settings. Now, your word count goal will only take into account the scenes and chapters you want.

We’ll go more into the Compile window in the coming weeks.

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How to Set Up a Project in Scrivener

How to set up a project in Scrivener

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 of Scrivener. Today, we’re going to cover how to set up a project in Scrivener, including some tips and tricks to set you up for success.

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.

Creating a Project

When you first open Scrivener, it will ask you if you’d like to use a template or start from a blank project: How to set up a project in Scrivener - the initial form

Again, don’t let the options daunt you–and don’t feel that the templates will lock in you into a specific feature set. Everything is customizable. The templates simply pre-select some features, like adding placeholders for places, scenes, and characters. If you don’t need any of that, feel free to use the blank template.

How to set up a project in scrivener: Where to begin

No matter which template you use, when it comes to the act of writing your book, you’ll just need to focus on the box in yellow. That is your manuscript, a template chapter, and a template scene. From here, it’s a matter of organizing your book to meet your needs.

Organizing Your Project

Our authorly alter-ego writes multi-book series, and so our Scrivener project folders contain all the information for all the books. In that case, we structure our books thusly:

Level 1: Series Name

Level 2: Book Name

Level 3: Part (if applicable) / Chapter (usually)

Level 4: Chapter (if applicable)

Then scenes in the lowest folder. We’ll go into how each of these levels get formatted in a later blog post.

How to set up a scrivener project: keep all books in a series together. Having everything in a single Scrivener file does a couple of things for us. First, it’s super easy to recall back to a previous book for a question. Second, export features are consistent across the board (although be careful about book headers here). Finally, when we’re compiling an eBook box set, there’s still a single master file to compile from.

Because of the modular nature of Scrivener (that is, everything is in pieces), you can reorganize as your story unfolds. It’s easy to drag a scene from Chapter 5 to Chapter 10, or to send the entire Chapter 2 to the Trashbin. Even better: if you decide Chapter Two is salvageable after all, all you have to do is drag it back to the main project.

Backing Up Your Project

How to set up your Scrivener project: make sure to set a backup before you beginBefore you write a single word, you should make sure your backup is in place. Every author has horror stories about computer crashes, coffee spills and the like. Therefore, it’s imperative that you set up a system that is both efficient, but also doesn’t require you to do more than set it up.

Scrivener offers two options for this. First, you can opt to save your file in a Cloud Storage Solution. Therefore, instead of your desktop, your Scrivener file will be saved in Dropbox or iCloud. To do that, simply Save As to your cloud storage solution. (Need help setting that up? Check the bottom of this blog post for links to tutorials). How to set up your scrivener project: Backups

The second feature Scrivener offers is the ability to save a backup of your file. For those of us paranoid about system failures, we opt to save the backup of our file in a different storage solution.

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Scrivener: Our Favorite Writerly Tool

Scrivener: Our favorite writerly tool

Welcome to our newest blog series, all about the wonderful tool known as Scrivener. At SGR-Pub, we use Scrivener from the very beginning of the writing process all the way through formatting. It’s the best $50 we’ve ever invested, but it’s taken us a while to figure out all the features. To that end, we’ll be sharing some of our best tips for using Scrivener over the next eight weeks, culminating in a Q&A post. So if you’ve got questions, let us know in the comments!

Please note: Our tips and tricks are primarily for Scrivener 2.0. We’ve heard from Literature and Latte that 3.0 is coming at the end of 2018, so we’ll be holding our breath until then.

What is Scrivener?

Ask not what you can do in Scrivener, but what Scrivener can do for you!Scrivener is, at its heart, program writers use to draft manuscripts, screenplays, research papers–you name it. Over the years, more features have been added to help with exporting your manuscript to different formats. For most writers, having an all-in-one solution helps pare down on the messiness that arises in the drafting process. Here are just some of the features Scrivener has.

With so many features, it’s easy to quickly become overwhelmed. So the first thing you should ask yourself is not what is Scrivener, but how can it help improve your writing experience.

Plotters and Pantsers, Rejoice

No matter how you choose to write, Scrivener has a method for you. If you’re a writer who loves to know where they’re going before they set out, you can use folders and scenes to outline your book. If you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of writer, Scrivener offers a full screen mode, and the ability to reorganize and adjust as you go.

All writers, however, can benefit from the structure of Scrivener. It’s designed to be flexible, which can be daunting. Let’s begin by defining each of the levels.
Scrivener screen shot: How to read the page When creating a new project from the Fiction preset, you’ll get something like this. There’s a tutorial, some items called Places, Front Matter, Research, Template Sheets, and more. At the outset, it’s best to leave most of these alone and focus on the boxes in yellow.

This is where you’ll be focusing all your energy. Scrivener will automatically create a Manuscript bucket for you, adding a template Chapter and Scene. As with the above, if you’re not yet ready to divide the writing into chapters, you can delete the chapter folder.

Then just write! Add scenes, add chapters. Write everything in one scene and divvy it up later, or break them up as you go.

If you’ve got research to do, you can drag and drop images, PDFs, and more into the Research bucket. Under Template Sheets, you can create basic character profiles, if that’s how you write. You can keep photos and descriptions of scenes under the Places tab.

Editing and Formatting in Scrivener

Scrivener: Having a single master file is easier than editing a comma in fifteen different filesWe’ll have a more in-depth look at editing in Scrivener in the coming weeks, but for now, we’ll touch on some of the basics. With all your scenes and chapters in Scrivenings and folders, reordering is a cinch through drag-and-drop. Select two or three scenes at once and view a subsection of your manuscript. Add comments and notes to keep track of things you’ll need to fix later. Use the Project Replace to change character names. The possibilities are endless!

One of the downsides of Scrivener is tracked changes aren’t as easy to manage as in, say Word. You can use the Snapshot feature to keep track of what changed and when, but it’s not as collaborative as Word or Google Docs.

But the big upside to Scrivener is the relatively easy way to export your manuscript into a variety of different formats. From ePub to Kindle, PDFs formatted for print to .docs for your editors, you can keep one master file. Anyone who’s ever wondered “which version is this?” can appreciate the benefit of not having to edit a period in fifteen different documents. And when you’re on to Books 2 and beyond, having the same formatting presets can save you time and frustration.

Suffice to say: We love Scrivener, and we wouldn’t think of writing a book without it.

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When Is It Finished? How to Let Go of your Manuscript

How to let go of your manuscript

You’re at the finish line. You’ve slogged through a first draft, second, third, fiftieth draft. Beta readers provided feedback, and your line editor handed you a document covered in comments and red ink. You’ve ordered your printed proof and several eager readers have provided a list of typos. Today, we’re going to share some tips and affirmations to let go of your manuscript.

Set a Deadline

The number one way to get your book out of your hands is to set a deadline and, most importantly, stick to it. Make sure it’s a reasonable deadline based on your lifestyle and abilities. If you’ve got a publish date, you should ideally have your book completed at least 90 days prior (more is better). From that point, work backward:

  • T-6mo: Beta Reading
  • T-5mo: Line Editing
  • T-4mo: QA process/proofing/typo checking
  • T-3mo: Book Complete and Available for Preorder
  • T: Book released

Why give yourself 90 days between preorder and release? Because life happens. You’re less likely to miss your deadlines if you give yourself a little lag between them.

You’ve Done Everything You Can

How to let go of your manuscript: Trust that you've done everything you can

Right about the time you get ready to finish, some authors start second-guessing all the things they were sure of before. Is the second act well-written? Does the romance simmer enough? Or is it one giant garbage fire?

As the alter-ego says: Slay Your Fears.

If you’ve followed the steps outlined in our editing toolbox, there really is nothing to be fearful of. And even if there is a missing period, most readers won’t notice it. The human brain is geared to fill in the blanks. As long as your book is mostly free of errors, you’ll be fine. And if that typo made it past all your QA readers, then it’s probably going to make it past most of your readers.

It is okay!

Focus Your Energy Elsewhere

How to let go of your manuscript: Channel your energy into marketing to avoid overthinkingThe best way to channel your nervous energy is to focus on something else. Ideally, if you’re at the finish line for your book, you should already have a marketing plan in place. But if not, now’s the time to slap one together. Instead of fussing over the book, write a few blogs about the book. Reach out to some fellow authors for guest posts. Talk about your excitement on social media (and your anxiety).

Then press that publish button and go have an adult beverage!

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Beginning, Middle, and End – How to Structure A Novel

How to structure a novel

Have you ever read a book that left you gasping at the end of a chapter? What about a scene break that kept you reading far beyond your bedtime? Books that engage and surprise us all have one thing in common: They have good timing. From a writing standpoint, timing has to do with the mechanics of the scene. It’s less about the flowery words and more about how to structure a novel.

A lot of what we’ll discuss today is nebulous. Unfortunately, that’s because writing is nebulous. What works for one book doesn’t work for another. Therefore, we always recommend that when in doubt, seek help from external sources.

Now is the Start

How to structure a novel: knowing where to start, break, and end your book is a developed skillAn oft-used adage for new writers is to “cut the first three chapters.” The conventional wisdom is that authors tend to front-load with unnecessary information. We’re really not fans of any one-size-fits-all advice. However, there are some good questions to ask yourself.

For starters, your opening scene should be enough to hook the reader. What does that mean, exactly? For some books, it’s about the action. Fling the reader in the middle of a battle or heavy action. Give us some snippets of a mystery to be unraveled. Introduce us to your villain’s grand plot.

For other books, it’s enough to showcase the author’s voice. Take the first chapter of Harry Potter (which functions as a prologue). How many of us were first hooked by the Put-Outer or the description of Dumbledore on a very quiet, suburban street?

Knowing exactly where to start your book is part of that tricky “craft” piece. Until you’ve got the skill down, a good editor or beta readers can help.

Gimme a Break

Another skill to learn is when and how to end scenes. A scene break can have many uses–from moving along the story to changing POV. Part of the book’s flow is interconnecting each of those scenes and chapter breaks using transitions.

If your beginning is where you hook the reader, your scene and chapter breaks keep them reading. It’s the difference between “I can put the book down to sleep” and “I have to know what happens!” Of course, not every chapter ending needs to be on-the-edge-of-your-seat tense. Try for a balance, and, as always, listen to your beta readers.

At the End

How to structure a novel: when writing a series, the conclusion of book one should be both a resolution and transitionHave you ever read a book that just dragged at the end? (LOTR, we’re looking at you) When you’re thinking about where to end a book, it’s usually pretty clear. We’ve all seen Freytag’s Pyramid, which lists out the rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement (or resolution). But implementing that structure gets a little tricky, especially when writing a series.

As yourself what’s the big climax of your book? Look back at your character motivations to guide you. Once you’ve hit that point, look to the next book. What’s your motivation there? The conclusion of book 1 should be both a resolution and transition. For example, if Book 2 finds the protagonists in a new world, end the book sometime before they get there. Therefore, the reader will know what to expect in the second book, and be excited to continue.

Hang the Cliff…Or No?

Cliffhangers have their place, as much as we love to hate them. A good cliffhanger turns the book on its head in the final paragraph. Maybe it introduces a new idea, or brings forth a new light of information we know. You could do a “Who Shot J.R.?” type ending, as well.

Crafting a good cliffhanger has a few important elements. The main story of the book must be resolved. Many-an-author has been accused of a bait and switch for ending the book in the wrong place. If introducing new characters or plot, you must also make sure to not completely leave the audience behind. For example, if we’ve spent 400 pages being told that X is right, a bad cliffhanger would be to say, “No, just kidding” without any sort of foreshadowing.

The good news is: Crafting a good cliffhanger is a surefire way to get readers buying your next book.

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