Planning Your Novel in Scrivener

I’m working on a novel length piece of writing and I’m stuck. I have a beginning and an end written, but am bogged down in moving the story between those two points. I needed a way to layout and plan the story’s progress to aid me in filling in the missing pieces. Since I’m writing the piece using Scrivener, I figured there must be a feature to help me do that. This article is about what I found and how I used it.


What I wanted to document was the story and character development. I could make notes to that effect in the Document Notes section of each text document (e.g., chapter, scene) that made up my project, but they would be mixed in with any other notes I took. I didn’t think that wouldn’t work very well so I browsed through the tabs at the bottom of the Inspector window for something more appropriate. I found the Custom Meta-Data tab. It displays any custom meta-data field you have created for the project. Different data can be entered into a field for each text document. Now I had a place to put my data.

I created two fields: “Story Contribution” and “Character Development”. In the first one, I indicate how the section (document) advanced the story. I use the second field to describe the impact of the story events on the characters emotions and way of thinking. The fields are shown in the image to the right.

To create a custom meta-data field either click on the settings button in the upper right corner of the tab and select “Edit Custom Meta-Data Settings …” or select Project/Meta-Data Settings …” and then click on the Custom Meta-Data tab. When you create a field, be sure to check the “Wrap Text” option. You will see the use of this next.

Now that I had a way to record the data, I wanted to be able to see it all at once so I could easily see how they flowed from beginning to end. That’s where the Outliner came in handy. It allows you to add any number of predefined columns to the view. In addition, you can also add meta-data fields.

After you have created the fields, select View/Outliner Columns. You will see your fields at the bottom of the available choices. Click on the ones you want to be displayed and they will be added to the Outliner view. You can change their location in the view by clicking on the title of the field and dragging it left or right. The word wrap option expands the entry vertically to show all the data. Without it, you would only see as many words that would fit in the field on a single line.

The following screen shot shows how the fields I set up might be used using Nigel Watts’ Eight Point Story Arc:

The example is trivial. You probably wouldn’t need to do any outlining for just eight scenes. Where it can be useful is a project containing a large number of scenes especially if you’ve written them over a long period of time and need a quick reminder of where you are going with the work. Scanning through them, you can verify that you haven’t gone off on a tangent or left something out. It also makes a great planning tool before you even start to write.

In my case, I set up some blank scenes between the parts I’ve already written. I then entered what contribution I want them to make to the story and the impact on the characters. When I have a solid progression, it will be easier to decide how to write each of the blank scenes.

The meta-data fields I created are the ones that I feel will help me. You can use these fields or create ones that better suite you. You might have several contribution fields for separate story arcs. I use one field for all character development. You might choose to use one for each character if the secondary character development is significant. That’s one of the great features of Scrivener: it can be customized to your particular style of writing.

If you have created custom meta-data fields in Scrivener, how have you used them? Please let us know in the comments. I’m always looking for useful ways to help my writing as I’m sure are others.

Tags: Scrivener

Categories: Writing