Outline With Scrivener Without Outlining

At its heart, Scrivener as a writer’s development tool and that means it’s affective from the very beginning of a writing project. Let’s look at how to get started. Without even discussing it, Craig and I happened on the same general topic this week, just from differing places. It’s great that we happened on the same thing: begining a story with the basics, a starting point and outlining. It provides a great theme for the week and one which may well help other writers get through this early stage of story development without all the confusion and frustration and in less time.

Scrivener has several modes that you can use for various phases of your writing project development. Right from the start, you can use the simply and power means of outlining your work and quickly make some order of it. Gone are the days of writing up note cards and placing them on the table just to be blown off by a fan or have the family cat jump in the middle of your work. Then your all messed up. I know other people who have used note cards and put them in order, stored in a box or kept together with a rubber band.

However, with Scrivener, you can do the same thing without all the mess and hassle of trying to keep it together. You don’t have to worry about the cat, the fan or even spilling coffee on them. You can keep it all straight and safe using Scrivener. Let’s take a look at how you can use the same technique with Scrivener.

Toggle between editor, corkboard and outliner.

With the corkboard, you can create note cards, label them and add a short description. These note cards coincide with what appears in the binder, but with the corkboard, you have a visual means of seeing what you have and then moving them around with drag-and-drop (even more simple with a touch-screen). This way, you can interact with the most basic form of your book which is essentially a storyboard outline.

How does it work? Simple, click into the corkboard mode and right-click on the corkboard looking screen, slide to Add and get a fly-out menu. From there you can choose to add just text or a folder or an existing template. It will appear as a note card which you can label. After that, add you basic description.

Sample notecard

If (or when) you look at the binder, these are displayed in the order they appear on the corkboard. Move one in either the binder or corkboard and it changes position in the other one. Creating just a folder and want to drill down to documents and sub-documents? Excellent, use the corkboard for those and you have note cards that appear stacked. Drag the top level wherever you need and the rest of the documents follow. Scrivener makes it easy.

Need to write a short synopsis of a chapter or scene? Just go into the metadata in the Inspector, choose the Notes and type in your synopsis of that section or document. You can keep updating these little notes as you like and make changes so you can keep up. Additionally, with the Inspector, you can use the various meta-data settings to visually track your note cards.

Using all this sets up your binder with ready-made folders and documents ready for you to begin writing once you’ve completed all your storyboarding. However, if you need additional work with outlining there’s another mode – the Outliner. Click into the Outliner just to the right of the Corkboard near the top of your Scrivener window and there you will see everything in the order you left it in the corkboard. If you click into the Outliner for a card/folder that has several sub-folders or documents, you’ll see those in order with your notes listed under Synopsis. You can click to change meta-data from this location.

Sample view of the outliner

Even for “pantsers” who do little to no outlining because they hate it and find it boring, Scrivener has it done already for you while you worked. You can go back and fill-in the details all you need for making changes during or after that first draft.

No matter how you handle outlining, Scrivener has you covered. Simply starting with note cards/document/folders begins the structure of your project. View it in any manner that helps you organize it (or not) so that you have the writing ready to go when you are ready. Scrivener makes outlining a proverbial breeze with an intuitive, connected software interface that leaves you able to work rather than confused.

How do you start your writing projects? Share how Scrivener’s simply development tools let you begin your work and progress quickly to the main writing phase. Please leave your experiences in the comments section and I’ll respond as soon as I can. Thanks for stopping by to read the post today.

P. H. Solomon


23 thoughts on “Outline With Scrivener Without Outlining

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  3. I’ve never been one to keep a bunch of index cards lying around. You are right about cats, my two would have them destroyed in about five minutes. (That’s why I gave up working jigsaw puzzles.) I love the idea of using Scrivener’s note cards for outlining. (Something I’ll do with my next project.) I’ve used the label function for scenes and chapters, taking them from first draft to final copy. With using Scrivener for outlining, the initial idea can be labeled as such. Another great post, P.H.

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  4. I type out a very general outline in Project Notes and keep that visible in the Inspector as I work on each scene. That way I can see at a glance where I just was, where I currently am, and where I’m going next. I love that on one screen I can see an outline, detailed notes on my current scene, and have access to character sketches, setting descriptions, specific notes, and research. I love Scrivener. I’ll never go back to standard word processing.

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  5. Although I don’t use Scrivener for outlining, I do make notes before I start a story. Because I’m a panster, most of my outlining or thoughts develops as I write (such as making notations of something I’ll want to remember later on–especially true when writing a story). Scrivener sounds like it has some great tools for outlining. Also, nice that it’s cat-proof 🙂

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