The L&L Blog  /  Scrivener

Developing Your Structure With Scrivener

Our new blog contributor, Rebeca Schiller of, discusses how Scrivener changed her writing process and helped her find her novel’s structure using the Sokoloff Method.

Writers are intrigued and obsessed with process. We experiment with what is the most expedient way to get the story down on paper. We spend countless of hours experimenting with different outlining techniques that include the traditional method we learned as children in elementary school, playing with the various approaches as described in craft books, or writing it all down in one fell swoop à la NANOWRIMO.  

In the beginning, my process was labor-intensive. I wrote 1,000 words on a yellow legal pad—any other color was unacceptable. Once I was done with that day’s session, I transcribed it into a Word document. 

I continued in this manner during one NANOWRIMO. Once finished, I began to edit the story in what seemed to be an endless document. I came to the realization that keeping all the scenes in one text file wasn’t optimal. So I broke them down into different Word documents, which ultimately led to a chaotic and unmanageable digital filing system.

A few months later, a friend introduced me to Scrivener, which allowed me to create a structure I could see and easily follow.  Word was soon set aside and all my writing projects—freelance articles, essays, blog posts, and marketing collateral—were drafted and neatly stored in their individual  Scrivener projects—each one with it own binder structure. For example, in the online magazine I edit, I have folders in the binder broken down by year, month and week. The week folder holds four articles. It’s easy to create, organize and keeps the binder neat. 

And yet, a structure this simple wasn’t working for my novel. One afternoon, procrastinating when I should have been writing, I scoured the internet to find other outlining methods that I could piece together to build a structure that made sense to me. After reading several blogs, I discovered Alexandra Sokoloff’s “Screenwriting Tricks for Authors” and found “Nanowrimo Prep: The Index Card Method and Structure Grid.”  Following Sokoloff’s steps, I divided the story into three acts, breaking it down into sequences, and then scenes. Suddenly the story flowed. I had an outline that made sense to me and suited my writing style.

The mechanics of creating the Sokoloff method was relatively simple. Following her structure grid, I created what I call the “bones” of the story : Act->Sequence->Scenes (or Chapters). Because each scene/chapter was its own document, the real work was to determine in which Act and Sequence they appeared in. Once I moved each scene/chapter in its respective folder, I devised a code where each document included the Act, Sequence and Chapter numbers along with a descriptive header. Should I decide to move the document into another sequence during the editing process, I know where I had it originally filed. 

I’ve had friends comment my process is complicated, but it works for me. For writers who prefer to get their story down quickly, Scrivener provides a number of templates for novels, short stories, essays, and general non-fiction that includes a built-in binder structure, but I discovered that half the fun of writing is coming up with a structure that’s unique to your own style.



rumikern  /  01 JUNE 2018

Thanks for sharing your writing format. I suspect that setting up one’s writing tools and format and flow is perhaps one of the most important steps to getting it done.

I think I am finally getting the hang of Scrivener after climbing the steep learning curve over the past year. And it’s daunting. But the more I delve into it, the more amazing it is.

This is probably going to be anathema to those who feel that Scrivener is the be-all and end-all. But I found it useful to employ two other programs before doing my work in Scrivener.

My process right now is to do my brainstorming on paper, sometimes actual Post-it notes, and then to put them into Omni Outliner (OO). (Since I write non-fiction, I do a topical outline rather than a story grid.) I then continue my piecemeal writing using that very rudimentary structure of ideas. With OO, I can indent and outdent and reorder thought items very easily. I can also add attachments or perhaps just references to attachments that I might want to incorporate in a larger document, for example if I'm doing a lengthy formal correspondence which has multiple footnotes and attachments. (Additionally, the column function in OO allows me to then sort by key themes especially when I have a lot of material to gather; often that material may be redundant as I have gathered the material in spurts.)

When I finally get the very rough draft of the outline - and the first round of spelling correction - done, I then save it as a PDF and import that PDF into Scrivener as the first entry into that new writing project. It serves as the skeleton. I also export that complete document outline to a word or pages document and then import that into Scrivener as well as I may want to return to that structure. I’ve got an idea of the keywords and overall sections.

However, I often prefer continuing to work in a word processor for the ensuing rough drafts (truth is I do many rough drafts). With each draft, I do a printout and make my corrections with a pen and then enter all of the new edits on the document with “track changes” on so I can see the changes as I’ve made them (to ensure I’ve gotten them all in) and then save the new edit. And I keep doing that until I’ve got a working draft. By this time, I’ve given the long narrative some working section headings and subheadings.

Now that I know the section headings and key themes and have an idea of the pieces I’d like to tag, I bring that working draft into Scrivener and break it up into the appropriate chunks of text according to the headings. And the refined writing process begins. I can bring in the entire tag word list and then assign as I go through each text chunk.

For me the advantage doing it now here in Scrivener is having the dedicated writing space and reference resource material all together. Yes, the rough content of the document is already mostly written. But the beauty here is that I now get to tag components of it, write reminders and comments, bring in related PDFs and website material, and cross reference my source material using bookmarks. And I get to continue to write and refine.

One worry though - I’m not yet clear about Scrivener’s capacity to handle large files – one research document has over 200 related articles (and growing), most with extensive tagging and some cross-referencing, and is approaching 2 GB.

All said, Srivener is becoming indispensable to me.


Huskey  /  03 JUNE 2018

I'm a Scrivener newbie and just worked through the interactive tutorial. What I would find very interesting at this stage is to see other writers' structure with Scrivener. Are such resources available, preferably in video format?

Many thanks for your help.


IamWereBear  /  04 JUNE 2018

I am so pleased you found a way to “find the backbone” not only in helping the writer tell the story, but also in helping the reader feeling comfortable with the structure and settling into the story.

I love moving my index cards around when I have a tricky area to fix. But then, I’m a digital person all the way through :)


charile121  /  19 JUNE 2018

This is lovely. Thank you so much for writing, and please thank your son for sharing 
- roll the ball -


Gilmarzinho  /  20 DECEMBER 2019

I'm thinking if there's a way to use a project structure created by another user. Not copying it on my Scrivener, but open a file as a project model when opening a new one...

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