Writing with Scrivener Is As Easy As 1-2-3!

I bought my beloved MacBook Pro because I wanted to write my screenplays using Scrivener. After I pulled the MacBook out of the box at home the very first thing I did was download Scrivener from the App Store. Before that eventful purchase I had read everything I could find on the application and I thought that it was a brilliant idea. I would always start a new screenplay by going out and buying a new hardcover notebook. I would write pages and pages of notes about the characters and plot, often filling my new notebook and then moving to a second notebook. But when it came time to look up a piece of information it took forever as I flipped through pages and pages of notes. Since buying Scrivener I have not used a notebook for story notes.

What Is Scrivener?

Scrivener is an ‘All-in-One’ writing application created by writers for writers. On the left side of the screen is the directory structure that will include your manuscript, research, story notes and character profiles, just to name a few of the possibilities. The centre of the window is the editing window pane where you will do your writing, but as you will see below it has a couple of other jobs. If you activate the Information pane (as I have in the images) you will see it on the right side of the screen.

There are a number of different books, website, tutorial videos, etc about Scrivener. I do not wish to add to the list. I don’t mean this to be instructional in any way. What I will say is that regardless how you write, Scrivener is the tool for you. When you open Scrivener you are presented with the Project Templates window pane. The application comes with a number of pre-designed formats built-in. Below are the different template categories, 6 in all. In the Getting Started window the user also has access to an Interactive Tutorial, User Manual and Video Tutorials to help started.


Within each of the six template categories are individual templates for a specific writing project. Under Screenwriting the user will find BBC Radio screenplay, Stage play and Screenplay formats as well as others. I prefer to start with the BLANK template and build my Scrivener project exactly how I need it. Once you select your template, that’s where Scrivener shines. Using it is as easy as 1-2-3! When your project opens you will see two of the three panes. Clicking the blue circle with the letter-i in the middle will open the third pane, as shown below.


 1 – Organize Your Thoughts

Gone are the days where I would fill notebooks with character profiles, story points and other important research material. On the left side of Scrivener’s screen is the BINDER and like a 3-ring binder you can put any store any time of file within your binder. When you open a blank template you get a very clean binder. There is the DRAFTS folder, a RESEARCH folder and the TRASH can but that’s not to say you can’t crate other folders and files in your binder. You can store nearly any file available within your binder. You have an early draft of your screenplay in MS Word or PDF then store it within your binder for easy, in-app review. Image and websites can also be stored to be referenced later. Everything you store within Scrivener becomes part of your Scrivener file.

With the default template created I then set out creating various folders within my binder that I’m going to need. Pictured above is my Master Scrivener file. All of my old, pre-Scrivener writing has been imported into a single Scrivener file that can easily be dragged and dropped into any future Scrivener projects. The last folder listed in the image is the TEMPLATE folder. This is where you can store various template files that can be opened elsewhere in Scrivener as needed. For example, when creating my characters I have a creation form which I have been using for a while now. Originally it was a MS Word template file but I recreated it within Scrivener and set it as a template file. Now when I want to create a new character I just click the menu PROJECT > NEW FROM TEMPLATE and then click on my character template and then start typing.

The most important folder in the binder is the DRAFTS folder (also called MANUSCRIPT when using a Screenplay template) which is where you store the files that make up your final document. It is this folder that will be COMPILED later to create your finished document.

On the right side of the screen is the INSPECTOR pane. This is where some of the metadata of your document is displayed. At the top is the SYNOPSIS window. Each document has a unique Synopsis card attached to it. This is not included in the final document but can be used to summarize what will appear within the document. In the image above on the left I have the 30531 – Scrivener file highlighted and on the right in the Synopsis window the title is the same as this is the cue card attached to the file. Below the Synopsis is the GENERAL window which is the metadata of the file. You can assign each file a custom defined label such as Work in Progress or Second Draft as well as a a unique STATUS. The other three setting are used during the Compiling process. Finally the lower half of the right pane is the DOCUMENT NOTE window. This is a project-encompassing notepad for the writer to keep track of quick and little things, such as a character’s first words or last words or what the character was wearing when he fell over the side of the yacht in the first act.

2 – Write Your Document

Once you have completed the prep work for your screenplay then it’s time to start writing the manuscript. One of the best features of Scrivener is its ability to allow you to write in an non-linear fashion. If the climax of your screenplay comes to you in a dream complete and whole then wake up and create a new file within the DRAFT folder, calling it Climax and start writing. At no time do you need to import, copy or merge that into the final draft because Scrivener allows you to write in smaller files and will compile them automatically when your ready.

One of the best approaches to writing within Scrivener is piece meal. If, for example, you are writing a novel then start by creating a file for each chapter or create a separate folder for each chapter with two or three files within each chapter for the different scenes, characters or locations within that chapter. When I start writing a screenplay I create three folders, ACT 1, ACT 2 and ACT 3 under DRAFTS and then under each Act folder I create a unique file for each of the story beats within that act (14, 28 and 14 respectfully). I then take the cue card information I wrote out in my planning stage and feed that into the Synopsis window (on the right) ensuring that I’ll remember what that story beat is meant to be when it comes time to write it.


At any time you can look at your entire document as cue cards by first selecting the DRAFT folder (or any folder under the DRAFT folder) and then clicking on the VIEW CORK BOARD button on the menu bar (shown above). I can now sit and click on each card and write out what is expected to happen within that beat of the story. Each card can then be assigned a unique label (Main Plot, Subplot A, etc for example) allowing you to find plot lines quickly in this view. Like a real cork board you can move these around as needed to reshape your story and your written scenes move around with the it’s cue card. The easiest way to think of this is as a cue card paper clipped to the several screenplay pages that the card represents. Just keep writing in each document until you’ve completed the first draft of your screenplay.

3 – Publish Your Masterpiece

Once you have completed the first draft of your screenplay you’re ready to compile it into a single document that can be shared easily and Scrivener has the tools to do it quickly for you, without loosing the individual cue card documents you’ve written. FILE > COMPILE is the most powerful menu option in the application. You can save your document in any one of nearly a dozen different file formats including, .PDF, .MOBI, .EPUB, .DOC, and .FDX (Final Draft). You can create and attach a unique cover page to your document before saving. I’ve compiled only one thing thus far, a complete version of the Screenwriting Workshop that was posted on this blog through 2012 into a .ePub format. I was amazed at the ease of the process. Within a minute I had a complete, ready to read version of my document that I sent to my iPad and read as though it was a professional eBook.

The compile process is very powerful allowing you to completely reformat your book from within the compile screen (not something really needed too often for screenplays but very useful for other writings, such as my Screenwriting Workshop). I’ll admit, I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the compile tool but I can tell you if you want to publish your own eBooks this is the tool to do it in. Once the file is compiled and saved you can freely email it out to friends so they can read it and provide feedback or upload it and offer your writing to the world.


I have just scratched the surface when it comes to Scrivener. I bought my MacBook Pro because I wanted this software and I am very happy with it. I’ve started writing each of my blog posts in Scrivener. I’m putting the finish touches on the Scrivener file of this blog sitting out on my balcony in Toronto over looking Lake Ontario. This brings my Mobile Writing Trilogy to a conclusion. I say, if you own a Mac or Windows computer and you write ANYTHING then you have to get Scrivener. As of this writing it’s price is just $45.00 USD ($40.00 USD for the Windows version). So head over to the Literature and Latte website and read what the creators and other writers are saying about Scrivener. It just might be the last writing software you ever buy – it’s just that good.

– Steve


5 responses to “Writing with Scrivener Is As Easy As 1-2-3!

  1. Scrivener rocks. It is an amazing piece of software, and while the Windows version is good, the Mac version really shines. If all goes well I am soon to get a shiny new 13″ MacBook Air. Scrivener will be one of the first programs to get loaded on there.

  2. Pingback: Writing with Scrivener Is As Easy As 1-2-3! | Everything Scrivener·

  3. Pingback: First Draft in Scrivener | feekwrites·

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