How I structure novels in Scrivener

Posted on Sat 19 August 2017 in Articles • 3 min read

I really enjoy Matt Gemmell's writing so when he wrote about how he structures his novel, Changer1, in Ulysses2 and invited comment, I thought I'd take him up on the offer.

My immediate takeaway was that our approaches are similar and this is encouraging. Each writer is indeed different, as Matt points out, however we have the same challenges and thus there's a lot I'm prepared to learn.

Apps like Scrivener and Ulysses encourage authors to break up large projects. It's the difference between cutting up a T-bone steak and systematically eating it with a knife and fork versus eating it whole with your fingers like a caveman. Both ways will get the job done, but far out, I know which way I'd rather tackle it.

Matt uses Ulysses because it better-fits his iPad-only environment. Ulysses for iOS enjoys feature parity with the macOS version whereas Scrivener for iOS does not. Since, I am still wedded to the Mac I'm happy to divide my time accordingly -- at least for this book.

Regardless, this is a discussion about structure and process rather than a discussion of tools. Matt rightly points out that his methodology works on both applications, and I'm fairly confident that mine does too.

So what can I add to the topic? Well, I can show you how I tackle novels with Scrivener. I can show you what a 200,000-word fantasy epic looks like. I can show you how I include my world-building files and lastly how I've dealt with more than 10 years of rewrites.

Here's what it looks like in Scrivener for iOS

Weaver of Dreams Structure

  • Inbox is my dumping ground where I import notes, scene snippets, bits of dialogue and so on
    • Typically these are imported from outside Scrivener either written quickly in Apple Notes on my phone, or emailed to myself from work
    • Stuff in here gets triaged, formatted and then actioned or deleted as needed
  • Front Matter as in Matt's system it contains the titles, dedications, acknowledgements etc.
  • Manuscript contains all the chapters and scenes in my book. Chapters are folders, scenes are documents.
  • Previous Editions contain a complete history of my novels version going back to 2004.
  • Notes holds both a general bucket of ideas and thoughts as well as material and scenes I've jettisoned from the MS.
    • Quite frankly this repository is a mess; I've still got crap in there imported from my old Palm Pilots (that's how old this project file is)
    • One thing I like about Matt's approach is his Unused Scenes folder and in my next book, I'll adopt this practice.
  • World holds my setting's world-building files and the displayed subfolders should be fairly obvious as to what is contained within.
    • After spending far to much energy and brainpower on databases, wikis, DIY python-powered apps, I've settled on just using Scrivener.
    • This work wasn't a complete waste of time however, and I still use a combination of templates and Python to generate some aspects of world-building as a time-saving device
  • Research contains all the third-party material I've collected as well as several of my own essays from my student days.
  • Templates is self-explanatory. It stores the document template I use to create Character and Location sheets for the World folder.

What's not shown are the many collections I use on the macOS version of Scrivener. The view in macOS is rather different.

Weaver of Dreams Structure macOS

What I've learnt from Matt

What I like about Matt's approach, and will likely adopt, is:

  • The unused scene's bucket
  • The idea of storing correspondence (i.e. with his cover designer)
  • The Journal to document his personal thoughts while on the journey.

Closing Thoughts

Reflecting on process (your own and others) is a valuable exercise. My project is a kludge that predates my adoption of Scrivener in 2007. I've made many mistakes and learnt a lot that I've applied to other projects3

Because this project is so old, and predates Scrivener 2, my set up doesn't reflect what I regard as best practice. I haven't utilised Scrivener 2 to the best of its abilities as I have on newer, smaller projects. As you can imagine, I'm very much looking forward to finishing and moving on not least for the opportunity to start with a cleaner base.

  1. I'm reading the Kindle version currently on my iPad mini. 

  2. I'm currently reviewing Ulysses myself so Matt's post was timely indeed. 

  3. I have two novels nearing completion that I'll resume once I publish Weaver of Dreams

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