Using Scrivener to store structure – Scene template, Part 8

Update 10/25/13: If you would like a blank Scrivener file with all this structure stuff already in it, drop me an email address to abehrhardt [at] gmail. I tried really hard to upload it – but WordPress won’t let me, and Dropbox won’t let me make a file public. I have it all ready and will just attach it to a reply email. No obligation whatsoever. Use or modify to suit yourself.


This is the final Scene Template post, and I will discuss where I currently store all the template’s structure bits in my Scrivener file. Scrivener is incredibly versatile – there are places to store anything you can think of. If you’re not a writer using Scrivener who is a plotter, it will all be gobbledegook – with screenshots – and I recommend you skip the whole thing.

If, like me, your current system is getting overwhelming, jump right in. I wish I’d been able to get a copy of someone else’s complete system BEFORE I made the transition, so I wouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel.

There are advantages to having the template on a single page and filling it in as a single file, but, for me, that entailed either burying the structure in the same file as the text (using Word’s Hidden text feature) – or maintaining a second, parallel set of files, and updating that simultaneously. Needless to say, the ‘simultaneous’ part of the updating was often out of date.

And for ebook publishing (my eventual aim), having a Word file laden with buried hidden text would have ended up a complete disaster.

I made the transition from Word 2004 on my Macbook 1,1 because it was becoming increasingly impossible to keep track of everything. For a writer with brain fog issues, it became a quagmire. The main advantage of having all my files in Scrivener – beyond having almost infinite storage space – is that in digital form everything is searchable. I don’t lose things. If my brain remembers that the piece I’m looking for somewhere has the phrase ‘tiny redwoods’ in it ANYWHERE, I can find it. My brain remembers ‘what,’ but not ‘where.’

And that, when I’m writing or revising, everything is right there on the same screen, rather than having me dig through printouts of text and structure. My elaborate paper system is rarely consulted. I’m not going back.

Scrivener files for each chapter:

Scrivener makes it easy to put the text for a scene in a file, and the associated bits and pieces nearby. It provides several default adjunct files with different looks and formatting options to them that are connected by the Inspector pane (right sidebar) directly to the file.

You can also create as many other files as you like for a project. The Binder (on the left side) keeps your scene, chapter, and other files in a scrollable easy-access list.

Scrivener separates files roughly into the files whose text will make it into the final manuscript – and those that will not. The former are at the top of the Binder list, in the most logical structure for a manuscript’s text.

I use the following structure for each chapter:

ist of scene files for a cahpter.

Chapter 5 files: a Header file and six Scene files.

For each of these file types – and many others such as character files – I have created templates (stored in the Scrivener Templates section toward the bottom of the Binder) which supply Chapter, Chapter Header, and Scene files with a structure for all the adjunct files. Saves a lot of cutting and pasting! After creating a new Scene, for example, from the template, all I have to do is fill in the blanks.

The adjunct files you can customize – and which I use to store my template components are (all examples are from Chapter 5):

Chapter, Chapter header, and Scene synopsis cards:

Scrivener provides a synopsis card for each file in the list. I use the Chapter synopsis card for a short paragraph description of each scene. That way, when viewing the Chapters in Corkboard mode, each chapter has a card with a paragraph for each scene in the chapter. It makes doing a synopsis easy.

chapter synopsis card

Chapter synopsis – paragraph per scene

The Chapter Header file is where I store details about the chapter as a whole, such as the title, the epigraphs at the beginning of the chapter, the chapter end, a list of unanswered questions, and the hook to the next chapter. In the original template, these bits were at the beginning and end of the chapter template. The Chapter Header synopsis card has a brief version of these items.

Chapter Header synopsis card

Chapter Header synopsis card

The Scene file contains the text for each scene; its synopsis card has the basic scene template:

Top: Scene parameters description

Top: Scene parameters description

Bottom: Scene core and end

Bottom: Scene core and end

The scene parameters are described here, the scene core here, and the questions here.

General Pane:

This is where I keep track of the pov character for each scene, and its revision status. It takes a bit of finagling, until you realize that you can put anything you want into your categories. So I use the first pop-up menu to cover two different items: a Label for the Chapter and Chapter header files, and the POV for the Scene files. Each file will have only one menu entry associated with it, and the pov character selection makes things very easy to see in the Outline mode.

While I was at it, each major character got a color, and each minor character associated with a major character got a shade within the color range. Useful to see which scenes various characters appear in. In addition, the list of scenes provides a quick way to determine if I’m doing the alternation I want between characters point of view: too many Kary scenes in a row – what was Bianca doing that I need to put a scene in for.

General pane showing Label/pov and Status popup lists

General pane showing Label/pov and Status popup lists

Label/POV popup list

Label/POV popup list

Revision status popup list

Revision status popup list

Document Notes:

I store two things in this adjunct file.

At the top I put the beat structure, and beneath the beats, all the appreciations from Dramatica, Save The Cat, The Key, or other structural plotting systems that have no other special storage place.

List of structural bits - appreciations

Top: beats
Bottom: remaining appreciations

Keywords pane:

I use the keywords to keep track of the major and minor characters. The Keywords pane – which can be given its own column in Scrivener’s Outline mode – is where I list each one of these characters, except for the pov character, which is on the General pane.

Keywords pane showing character list

Keywords pane showing character list

Major and minor characters in tree structure, color-coded

Major and minor characters in tree structure, color-coded

Custom Meta-data pane:

This is one of my favorite panes. I keep two groups of details here:

Top: time, date, location Bottom: Plot twists

Top: time, date, location
Bottom: Plot twists

The critical information about settings and timeline is on top, with a space to keep the spearcarriers (characters who appear in more than one scene) and walk-ons (characters who appear in only one scene).

Structural plot twists: The main Dramatica plot structure report entries go into the slot labeled PSR. I have added a slot for James Frey’s The Key hero’s journey appreciations, and one to store any appreciations that come from Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat books. It is important to keep those details – which scene is which turning point in which story – stored with the scene and chapter files. The meta-data is easily added to the Scrivener Outline or Corkboard views.

The last entry, Heart, is where I store the most important single point in each scene.

Notes pane:

I use Inline annotation, Comments, and Footnotes to keep track of things that need to be added to a scene – or checked to make sure they have been taken care of. As I plot, the pane fills up details – if I stopped to check each one while I’m writing, I’d never get anywhere – but if I don’t mark them somehow, I WILL forget. So I mark them, color-code them, and put an entry into the Notes pane for each item – and then when editing, remove each one by tending to it, until the pane is empty.

At that point I know that everything I intended to do with a scene, but had postponed, is taken care of. These items will all be removed, eventually, from the text. This pane is my check off list for revision.

Notes pane: Comments and footnotes (empty when revision is done)

Notes pane: Comments and footnotes
(empty when revision is done)

The beauty of using this pane – plus color-coded Inline annotations – is that I can see at a glance what still needs doing before a scene/chapter is finished.

And that’s everything from my Chapter and Scene templates, loaded into Scrivener, and linked to the posts where the content is described.

If you’d like a copy of my system, please contact me.

If any of this is useful to you, and/or you have pieces you add to what you do to keep track of structure, I would love to hear about it.


10 thoughts on “Using Scrivener to store structure – Scene template, Part 8

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Scrivener is the best organizing choice I ever made. It’s amazing.

      Pride’s Children has a file that’s hundreds of individual parts, maybe in the low thousands, and 65MB in size – and you can barely feel it.

      I use it for everything from little projects with 10 parts on.


  1. jjtoner

    Hi Alicia. Great article. I have Scrivener on another (windows 7) computer and have used it for this and that – mostly short stories. I always felt it suffered from what I call “top left syndrome”. What I mean by this is that it’s fine for a structure containing about 16 chapters or scenes, but once you have more than can be accommodated on one cork board you’re in trouble. This is why, for novels, I use Excel to keep track of my plot structure and Word for the text. But I’m sure if I got myself organised as well as you have I could use Scrivener and save myself time and heartache. One thing that Scrivener lacks, as far as I can tell, is a facility to keep control of the passage of time through the plot. I wish it could keep a track of the start and elapsed time for each scene/chapter so that, if I moved a scene/chapter it could adjust all the subsequent times. I would want to specify elapsed times in whatever units I needed, seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc. If Scrivener could do this, I would use it for everything. JJ


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I haven’t been able to find a timeline program I could work with, so I just use my computer’s calendar, and a different color for each of the main characters (3) plus another color for story things in general. My novel is set in 2005-2006, and I’ve had this computer since last summer, so even with the restrictive Calendar on the Mac, I can keep story and real life events separate.

      I use the metadata to make sure EVERY scene has a time and date – I use the Outline view in Scrivener to make sure things sty in order.

      I personally don’t use the corkboard view much – but each of my 20 chapters does have a ‘Header’ file, and a synopsis card – so I can see the whole thing either on corkboard or outline view at any level. I used to use Excel, but this works fine when you figure out how to use all those little extra files Scrivener attaches to your text file (see my whole Scrivener 8-part series for where I tuck things like characters, time, date, scene, STC stuff, KEY (James Frey – KEY…Myth), and Dramatica bits, pov, labels referring to the current state of completeness of the file (rough draft, completed, before running through AutoCrit, etc.).

      I work in scenes – an average of 5-6 scenes/chapter, and have 20 Chapters in Act/Book 1 with no trouble. I must have 500 individuals files in the Scrivener project file – and don’t even notice slowness when I ask it to search the whole thing for something. It is MASSIVE. (PC Book 1 is running at 150k; really). Without Scrivener I used to do all this on paper – and used Word and Excel. Now it’s all under control in one file. I LIKE Scrivener – it was worth the learning curve. Now I use it for any project in my life, from doing taxes to home repair: set up a Scrivener project, keep all my notes in one place.

      Please excuse the excessive length – I have a massive headache from the cold, and took some headache medicine with caffeine, and now I’m high.

      It was a HUGE outlay of my energy to switch from one system to the other (plus I upgraded to a very new Macbook). Took me months. I have Gwen Hernandez’s Scrivener for Dummies, and took both her regular class ($30) online, and her Compile class ($20 at the time), and loved both. I’m so glad I made the effort.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Welcome, Teresa.

          I did try it, but the concept didn’t work for me. It was long ago, and I wanted to have a calendar. I forget the exact details, but it wouldn’t do the one thing I wanted it to do, so I decided against it, found my own way (I think I just fill out the regular calendar).

          I do remember investigating it in detail before I finally gave up. And since I won’t be doing that kind of plotting until I finish the next two books, it will be a while.

          Do you use it?


        2. Teresa

          Alicia, I do use it. Aeon works well with the historical romance novel that I am working on. Since I plan to do four in the series, set during the Regency Period, I’ll be able to lay out events globally and per book. I like that I can do a custom calendar to fit my needs. I just downloaded a new update, so if you haven’t looked at it in a while you might find they have added what you need. Good luck!


        3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Thanks, Teresa. I really appreciate your response.

          I will definitely look into Aeon again after I get back to writing.

          I’m in the middle of getting Pride’s Children ready for market, and there is no spare learning capacity – I’m way past my max as it is.

          But there was a reason I looked into it back then. I corresponded with them, they said what I was looking for was not in it, and I went on to other ways. If they’ve updated it since then, there is a strong chance they listened – and it might be very definitely worth having when I start on Book 2. I’ll go check it out then.


  2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

    The learning curve is steep for all software – but you should know that an enormous number of writers find Scrivener a huge help to keeping everything in one place. I used to try keeping things in my own file structure and use Word. It was incredibly clumsy for a large project. I didn’t learn all Word’s features because they are designed for business, and for groups working on documents together – Scrivener is the way I would organize my stuff if it were up to me.

    Not saying I don’t love the control Word gives you for formatting the final product BUT it doesn’t compare to Scrivener in keeping stuff available, letting you search for a phrase you remember you typed in ‘somewhere,’ and keeping things under your control.

    I bought it for creating ebook files – but it has replaced the thousands of pages of printed material in folders I used to have to keep. It has completely changed the way I work.

    I use it for ANY project I have to keep track of.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. philipparees

    I bought Scrivener some months ago, but have yet to dive in to mastering it although I began the very clear tutorial. I expect like anything in software it is the use that produces the mastery. I share your problems in remembering what but never where so this could be very useful. My computer is like a lifelong sock drawer full of good things that never find their partner and canot be worn until they do. The time taken to tidy up ( ie learn the ropes) never seems available, though I have a long novel needing just such tightening!



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