Structuring with Label View

For our second post on the upcoming Scrivener 3, I’m excited this week to show off a new corkboard layout that takes advantage of one of my favourite features in Scrivener: coloured labels. Labels have always been helpful for organizing your project—you might use them to mark a scene’s viewpoint character, to indicate a document’s main topic, or to track locations for a script. In Scrivener 3, you can further use labels to visually chart your project’s structure by the points important to you.

Traditional corkboard view and new Label View
Arranging by label keeps the linear order but breaks out the documents into distinct threads.

Use labels to monitor the tension level of your scenes? View ▸ Corkboard Options ▸ Arrange by Label will quickly give you an overview of the pacing. For a story with multiple narrators, creating a label for each viewpoint character will let you see at a glance whether any character goes too long without a scene or has too many too close together.

Label view can display vertically or horizontally
Cards can be displayed horizontally or vertically along the label lines.

Just as on the regular corkboard, you can rearrange cards by drag and drop. Moving cards between label lines will update the card’s label without changing its order in the narrative. And of course you can create new cards and edit them, all as you’re used to doing, making the label view great for both initial planning and later reorganizing.

Bookmark Your Favourites in Scrivener for iOS

Drilling through a hefty binder of hierarchical files on an iPhone can be a chore, so Scrivener on iOS lets you bookmark documents to make them easily accessible. Just tap the ribbon icon in the editor footer to add the file to a special “Bookmarks” group at the top of the binder. You can also swipe left on a row in the binder and bookmark the item from the “More” menu.

Screenshot of bookmark icon states
Tap a document’s bookmark icon to toggle it on or off.

Bookmarked folders appear in the path menu from the binder navigation bar, so you can jump to them directly from anywhere in the binder. The “Move To” menu also lists bookmarked folders at the top to simplify restructuring your project. When you no longer need an item bookmarked, swipe its row in the binder for the “Remove” option (under “More” if you’re not viewing the bookmarks list), or tap its bookmark icon again.

Screenshot of bookmarked folders in path menu
Bookmarked folders are available from anywhere in the binder.

Bookmarks on iOS sync with the “Favorites” list on Windows and macOS, so you can quickly load your documents no matter where you’re working.

Finding Your Place in Scrivener for iOS

In Scrivener for iOS, the sidebar usually shows the binder (the list of files in the project). However, the sidebar can also be used to show the inspector and, on iPads, a Quick Reference editor for referring to research.

So that you don’t have to disturb the sidebar if you don’t want to, Scrivener gives you multiple options for navigating your project directly from the editor: you can switch documents using the Previous/Next buttons, select from the Recents list, or follow a Scrivener link to another document.

If you ever lose your place, simply tap the document title in the editor navigation bar to reveal the document in the binder. A further tap on the container title in the binder nav bar will show its full path in the project outline.

Screenshot of the binder path menu
View the current group’s path in the project outline.

Working with Research in Scrivener for iOS

One of Scrivener’s key features has always been its ability to keep all the pieces of your project together, allowing you to refer to research alongside your writing. The iOS version is no exception. Besides supporting iOS’s multitasking feature, so you can share the screen with other apps, Scrivener lets you load PDFs, movies, sound files, images, and webarchives right in the editor. The Recents button lets you easily flip between research and writing, and on the iPad you can view your research and text side by side.

Screenshot of editor displaying an photo
The editor can display images, PDFs, webarchives, and more.

Tap the import button in the binder footer to add files from standard locations such as iCloud, Dropbox, and Photos. Choosing “Camera” lets you take a picture and add it directly to your project. Additionally, you can use the Share feature in other apps to send supported documents to an open Scrivener project.

Scrivener for iPad: Travel with Your Corkboard

Scrivener’s binder offers a great structural view of your project, but sometimes you may want to spread out a little more. Scrivener lets you take advantage of the extra space on an iPad to view your documents on a virtual corkboard.

Tap the corkboard icon next to a group in the binder to display the group’s subdocuments as index cards in the editor. (If the group is already expanded in the binder, tapping anywhere in the row outside the circled chevron will load the corkboard.) The cards show each document’s title and synopsis, or the first few lines of text for those documents that don’t have a synopsis. (Sneak preview of a future desktop feature!) You can even assign an image to a document to display in place of its synopsis text.

Screenshot of Scrivener's corkboard
The corkboard displays documents as index cards and photos.
As in the desktop version, you can drag and drop cards to reorder your documents, and you can resize cards the iOS way, with a simple pinch gesture. You can create new documents directly on the corkboard, as well as delete, merge, or move documents.

Besides providing a fresh perspective of a container’s contents, the corkboard also gives you an easy way to navigate. Just tap a card to load the document in the editor, or swipe left on the card to open it as a Quick Reference document in the sidebar. Double-tap a card to pop open the inspector, where you can view and edit the title, synopsis, notes, and other meta-data such as label and status. If you prefer, tap the “i” button in the editor navigation bar to open the inspector in the sidebar so you can work with the meta-data while keeping the corkboard fully visible. Or, go full-screen to focus on the cards—Scrivener’s mobile corkboard lets you work however you like.

Keeping a Book List

Toward the end of last year, fed up with my failed attempts to keep track of books I’d read and books I wanted to read, I created a Scrivener project to manage my reading lists. It’s proven so successful, I thought I’d show it off.

Corkboard with image synopses

Clicking the index-card icon in the inspector “Synopsis” header switches to image mode, allowing you to drag cover images onto the cards.

I renamed the Draft folder “Library” and gave it a fitting custom icon via Documents > Change Icon. Each book title goes into this as a new document, so the book can have unique meta-data and a synopsis (or synopsis image). Notes about the book, anything from a few thoughts after reading to a full review, go into the document text.

Although I tend toward filing systems, I’ve kept my Library as a flat list rather than pigeonhole entries into folders. Instead, I use keywords to mark a book’s genre, which lets me tag it with multiple terms–a book might be “YA”, “steampunk”, and “mystery”, for example–and then use project search to filter my list.

In the Project > Meta-Data Settings, I’ve repurposed the Label and Status settings to show the book’s state–read, unread, or shelved–and my rating. I tint the icons in the binder with the label so each title’s read state is immediately visible. I colour the index cards with the label as well.

Label and synopsis in the inspector

Label is renamed “Status”, with its colour shown throughout Scrivener via the View > Use Label Color In submenu. The default Status is renamed “Rating” and uses 1-5 stars, added from Edit > Special Characters on the Mac and Edit > Character Map on Windows.

Most other form information I enter as custom meta-data. Since I use dates in multiple fields, for first read, reread, potential release date, and publication date, I prefix the date, year-first, with a letter so I can search for a particular field. For example, I can assemble a list of all new books read in 2015 by searching meta-data for “r2015” or list all books total for the year by searching for both “r2015” and “re2015” (rereads).

Custom meta-data

Searches I run frequently I save as collections, via the magnifying-glass menu in the project search bar. It’s quite gratifying to load my “read” list and see it growing over the year!

If you keep a reading list, what details do you record and how do you keep it organised?

Collaborative Novel Prep for the NaNoWriMo Rebel

We’ve just entered autumn here in the northern hemisphere. To celebrate the changing seasons, the fiery landscape, the woodsmoke scenting the crisp air, I thought I would make this month’s post a simple (yet subtly complex and insightful) haiku.

Then I remembered I can’t write poetry worth fairy gold. Also, my autumn kicked off with unceasing rain, fog, and general unpoetical greyness. So instead I will regale you with the mostly-true tale of another autumnal event: writing a novel in a month!

My three best NaNoWriMo novels have three things in common: They were all meticulously outlined, collaborative, and written in Scrivener. Coincidence?

Yeah, possibly, but I’m going to blog about it anyway.

Although NaNoWriMo officially frowns on collaboration, NaNo Rebels have a special home in the forums, and I have no shame. My partner in crime and I churned out over 50K words apiece all three Novembers, and if alone we each only had half a book–well, 50K is only half a book anyway. Together, we had a complete beginning-to-end novel that included a middle thick with subplots. I won’t say the writing or plotting was staggering genius (I try to be humble) but it made a beautiful first draft ready to be ripped to pieces and redone. A definite NaNo win.

To make it work, we needed to be able to write at any time. We both had crammed schedules, and as we all know you can’t turn on creativity like a faucet. Sharing a single Scrivener project thus wasn’t a viable option, since we’d be too likely to run into conflicts. We also needed to have the novel planned enough that we could write without waiting on the other person’s instalment. But though we didn’t want to wait for each other’s scenes, we did want to see them. Purely from a desire to encourage, inspire, and applaud, you understand. Neither of us harbours a competitive bone in our body.

Not having had the foresight to write our collaborative NaNos while still housemates, my partner in crime and I turned to good old-fashioned email and instant messaging to plot the novel. The plan was to break down the novel scene by scene and split the total between us. We’d been tossing ideas around for a while, so we had a pretty good idea of the general shape of the story. Building it into a concrete, coherent outline was something else altogether, but November’s loom lightened the process. It’s difficult to be too perfectionist about a novel you’re going to bang out in a month.

Our handful of point-of-view characters divided the scenes among themselves without much bickering. We each took a few characters, and the count came out surprisingly even. I won’t speak to how well-balanced the scenes were, but it hardly mattered for NaNo. I can stretch the word count of anything, and my partner in crime writes fast. In the event, I foisted three scenes off on her and we ended happy.

Because I’d been the one insisting we use Scrivener (I wasn’t working for L&L at the time, so I was allowed to badger people like that), I took charge of creating the project. Into this went our research, emails, notes, and painstakingly crafted MorphThing character mugshots. (Procrastination: Never start NaNo without it!) Our outline became synopses of 781 Draft documents, labelled by point of view and assigned “author” custom meta-data.

I used the author data to build a collection of all my scenes and another of all my co-author’s. Once we forked the project so we could each work in our own copy, we set our collection as the compile group. That let us track our month’s word count independently in Project Targets and compile for the validation servers without cheating.

We shared our work during the month using Scrivener for Mac’s “Sync with External Folder” feature.2

External Folder Sync settings

This lets you keep text documents in your project in sync with an external copy saved in a designated folder. The external files can be edited in any word processor supporting the RTF format (most do) and changes will be synced back into the Scrivener project. Combined with a file sharing service like Dropbox, this is a great way to work with a colleague who isn’t using Scrivener.

Of course, we both were using Scrivener, so we had to get creative.

Let me take a step back at this juncture and clarify a point. Scrivener’s sync feature is not intended to share documents between projects, even copies of the same project. Attempting to do so is singularly inadvisable and will almost certainly result in corrupting both the projects you’re trying to sync, which in turn will result in tears, gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair, and great consumption of chocolate and/or alcohol.

Most of that is not conducive to writing.

Instead, we created two shared Dropbox folders, one for each of our projects, and limited the projects to syncing only a specific collection of documents. My project synced my scenes to Folder A but not my co-author’s. Her project synced her scenes, but not mine, to Folder B.

Both projects synced the research documents. Since these weren’t set apart for only one of us to edit, there was the potential we’d both update our own copies during the month and end with vastly different versions. Syncing the documents for both projects wouldn’t cause conflicts, because the Dropbox copies were entirely separate, but would alert us to any changes our co-author made. Then we could update our own project to keep the documents uniform.

To control whether a document was in the dynamic sync collection, we used Scrivener’s “status” meta-data. We replaced the default revision-state settings (“to do”, “first draft”, etc.) with two options: “private” or “shared”. All documents marked “shared” were automatically collected into the saved search and thus automatically syncing. In the meta-data settings we also made “private” the default status for new documents, so we could easily create personal notes that wouldn’t sync. If we did want to share the new document, just toggling its status added it to the sync collection.

Status meta-data settings

Any time my co-author synced her copy of the Scrivener project, all her updated scenes appeared magically in my Dropbox and a notification popped up. I immediately dropped whatever I was doing and ran to read all the updated documents. It’s possible my partner in crime displayed more discipline using the updates from my syncs as motivation to meet her word count before reading.

When so moved, we copied and pasted the scenes into their slots in the Scrivener project. (Since our projects weren’t syncing our co-author’s scenes, this didn’t create chaos with extra copies.) Because I am highly skilled in putting off writing, I usually found an excuse to do this with every sync. Dumping the other person’s text into our own copies of the project filled the gaps between our assigned scenes. We could see the novel growing as a whole. In Scrivenings mode, we could see how astoundingly well we’d transitioned blindly from one scene to the next, or how well I’d managed to drag out one person’s dialogue to the length of one of my co-author’s entire scenes.

Collaborating brought another benefit: instant positive feedback. Positive as a rule. No one wants immediate critiques on a draft written sometime past midnight in a caffeine and sugar haze. Under normal circumstances, I doubt anyone wants to read that draft. But a trusty collaborator in the NaNoWriMo trenches is uniquely positioned to provide encouraging words, humorous asides, and unexceptional notes to research those magical FTL particles later but carry on with them for now.

Before commenting on a scene, we checked via chat to make sure it wasn’t currently being edited. If my partner in crime synced at the beginning of her writing session and I started annotating the same scene in Dropbox, we’d end up overwriting one or the other in the next sync. Scrivener takes snapshots of updated documents as part of the process, but merging the changes takes time. NaNo’s gruelling pace leaves no room for such slipshoddery. So we’d wait for the all-clear, then comment to our heart’s content. The next sync pulled the marked-up copy into the original author’s project and she could fortify herself with crackpot comments before launching into the day’s word count.

We won NaNoWriMo this way with every book of our trilogy, clocking in around 70K words apiece each November. Starting in January we’d spend eight months tearing apart and reassembling the completed draft (usually with wholly new pieces). In October we outlined the next book and started the cycle over. My partner in crime zipped her project and dumped it in Dropbox. I made sure all her files were up to date in the master, trashed old snapshots, and handled the other housekeeping. A new copy went back out and we were set for another month of wild writing.

Project example

Now we’re out of first drafts for NaNo, but our project is still going strong. The expanded custom meta-data has transformed the outliner into a multi-coloured spreadsheet of subplots. Our comments are occasionally more pertinent (or impertinent). We attack each other’s scenes with red text. We write, sync, repeat.

When our book hits the shelves, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, November’s just around the corner. You’ve got a novel to write.


1 Hush, it was NaNoWriMo. The count dropped in revision.

2 Although Windows doesn’t have this specific feature, you can mimic it using File > Export > Files… and saving to a shared Dropbox. The only difference is that changes made externally won’t be automatically pulled back into the project, but as you’ll see, our method uses copy and paste regularly anyway. A side benefit is that both projects can export files into the same Dropbox folder, whereas syncing requires a unique folder for each project. You just need to be careful to use unique names when exporting research documents–perhaps append your initial to the title directly in the project, to avoid accidentally overwriting the other person’s version.