How to Use Scrivener to Create Easy Outlines

I use a little program called Scrivener created by the wonderful folks over at Literature and Latte (click the link to the right for more info).  It is a fantastic word processing program that meets all of my novel writing needs.  Today I wanted to you how easy it is to plan and outline a novel using this program.  Sometimes Scrivener has some unconventional uses like the one I am about to show you.

First of all, the program has three sections when you create a new document.  It has a “binder” on the left which lists all of the sections of your novel, the center where all the text is written and finally the “inspector” on the right column.   New sections are created by clicking on the green plus symbol in the toolbar at the top left of the screen.  When I am planning my novel, I create chapter after chapter in the binder and preliminarily name them as the picture below shows:

Next I will write in the “synopsis” box at the top of the inspector column a short synopsis of what I want to happen in this chapter.  I can be as detailed as I like, writing about characters in the scene, details about subplots, or whatever I desire to note about each proposed chapter.

I can then (if desired) switch to cork board view which is accessed by clicking a button in the tool bar over “view mode” to see all of my proposed chapters and how the story will play out.  If I wish to reorder them, I can simply click and drag them around the cork board until I get them in the order I desire.  If I write a chapter of text to go with the outlined chapter, it stays with the virtual note card.  However I reorder the chapters will be how the finished product is printed or saved.

This is just one of the many tools that Scrivener features that has made my life as a novelist that much easier and added to my creativity pool.  Give it a try.  At $49 you won’t be sorry.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

18 thoughts on “How to Use Scrivener to Create Easy Outlines

  1. I bought Scrivener several months ago, along with a tutorial. Unfortunately, the tutorial is for the Mac version, and I have the less feature-full Windows version. Extremely disappointed by what I WASN’T given, I diligently studied the tutorial anyway – which believe me, you NEED for this intensely complex, UN-user-friendly program. However, it has done me little good in the trenches. Much of the way the program is structured is just plain convoluted. The manual is almost worse than having nothing. And some of what I desperately need is not present, at least not in the Windows version, i.e., there is no way to put in special characters, at least none that I can find or learn about.
    Easy outline? No way, Jose. What sounds like a piece of cake is actually just a time eater. Sorry if I sound bitter. I really wish I hadn’t bought this thing. I am not exactly a newbie to software either – back in the day I was a software trainer and taught others how to use nearly every word-processor on the market at the time. So when I say it’s not friendly, I think you can safely believe me. I am really tired of reading glowing reviews for something I think is really bad.

    1. I’m sorry you have had such a bad experience with the Windows version. I suppose I should caveat that I use the Mac version. I am still using it now and love using it for writing everything from novels to short stories. It keeps me on task, and I find it great for organizing my massive text into readable prose.

    2. I’m with you, especially WRT creating outlines. Scrivener is useful for creating a structured document, but not for creating an outline. An outline requires creating a hierarchy, moving items (nodes) around within the hierarchy, expanding and collapsing them, and, in a perfect world, being able to attach a block of text to each one.

      Mind maps seem to be the hip new replacement for outlines and there are several tools for creating them, but none of the ones I’ve looked at can represent their “unstructured” mass of bubbles as an outline. Scrivener’s publisher has a tool called Scapple that I thought might be useful, but it is relentlessly non-hierarchical and therefore useless for outlining.

  2. Scrivener sounds amazing, just what I need as I am getting tired of the pile of notes on my desk. What seemed good when I scribbled it down never seems the same by the time I have waded through the pile and tried to decipher what I meant, or where in the msc it belongs… Thanks for that, Roger

  3. I do the same thing, Roger, though I often just set up my note cards on the cork board, then give each card a little notation–as you did–indicating what’s about to happen. One thing I also do, because it’s just me, is that I’ll give the date and approximate time for when the events in that part of the story happen. I did this for my NaNo Novel, because the events there happened over a three day period, and it was very helpful to look at the cord board, and see, “Oh, Chapter 16 is happening early in the evening, so 17 is just a little later.”

  4. This seems like a great program, Roger. I wouldn’t mind getting it at all for planning/writing purposes (I am also a novelist) but my question is how it transfers to other programs such as word processors or Adobe. For example if I need to send my publisher a manuscript or part of one, but they want it in .doc or pdf format, is it possible to copy and past from this program? Just wondering.

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