Rosser Writes

How to write a series with Scrivener

Filled with a sudden desire to clean house, I merge three Scrivener projects in one, and write a tutorial on how to write complete saga in a single project.

It happens to the best of us. You write a story, and it takes on a life of its own. Ideas blossom, your setting expands, characters grow and multiply, and what began as a single tale sprouts enough legs to become a multi-volume saga.

Unless you’ve deliberately set out to write a well-planned saga, chances are you’ve got files scattered about the place. Scrivener’s lauded virtue is its peerless management all those chunks of text in one project, analogous to the humble ring binder. But what if you’ve got multiple projects? What if you want to use a single Scrivener project to manage an entire series?



I find myself in the same position. The Lords of Skeinhold started off as a novella, a second followed, and now I’m busily writing three full-sized novels at once. Weaver of Dreams began life as a 130k word novel, but I realise now I have much more story to tell.

Currently, I have three Scrivener projects, shown below (iPad app so I could draw on the screenshot). Two contain the stories, while the third is for my world-building files. I’ve decided it’s time I merged the lot into a single project.

Three projects to consolidate
Three projects to consolidate

In this post, I’ll concentrate on setting up the project and merging the stories — I’ll get to world-building in the next post. I’ll also use the macOS version, so I have Scrivener’s full feature set at my disposal. I’ll start with a blank project, rather than trying to modify one of the existing ones.

A clean slate
A clean slate

The blank template is about as barebones as it Scrivener gets, giving us only the three mandatory folders, Draft, Research and Trash. I’ll start by renaming Draft to Books, and Research to Codex. I’ll also add folders for Notes, Front and End Matter, as well as my Templates. This suits my sensibilities, you are free to do what you like.

Series top-level folder structure
Series top-level folder structure

With the structure in place, it’s time to start making it a little more useful, not just for now but as I continue to add more books in future.

Firstly, I’ll add the Notes folder to Project Bookmarks. Scrivener 3 went a long way towards decluttering the mess of project notes in earlier versions of the product, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Notes folder bookmarked
Notes folder bookmarked

Next, I’ll create some front and end matter templates. That’s not worth it in a single volume project, but for a series, it will save time and improve consistency. I’ll use the front/end matter folders from Scrivener’s Novel template as a starting point.

Front and end matter templates
Front and end matter templates

Now it’s time to work out a structure for the books themselves. I’ll use this.

Books
---- Series Title
-------- Book Title
------------ Chapter Title
---------------- Scene

Here’s what it looks like in practice.

Series structure
Series structure

The highlighted Lords of Skeinhold series contains five books. I’ve expanded out the first chapter of Cadoc’s Contract, to show you the scenes, so you see the whole structure — you get the idea.

For the purpose of drafting, there’s not much more I need to do. I’ve already pulled in the manuscripts, and I can resume writing as before. It gets a little more interesting when it comes time to compile, and I’ll save myself a little trouble by laying the groundwork next.



Setting section types

Aside from streamlining one’s projects, combining them in this manner also makes it easier to compile a whole series for creating box sets. However, to do so, we must alter the project’s section types. Upon compile, Scrivener uses Section Types to determine how a particular document or folder is formatted. With the blank template I used, the default types are rather generic.

Default section types
Default section types

I’ll replace these with Series, Book, Front Matter, Chapter, Scene and End Matter. I may have to tweak them when it comes to designing and testing the output, but they will suffice for now.

New Section Types
New Section Types

I’ll also set section type defaults at the structural level, as follows.

You’ll note that The Lords of Skeinhold and Weaver of Dreams are highlighted as Level 1 Folders and set to Section Type series. Folders at the next two levels are set as Books and Chapters respectively, while text documents are marked as Scenes.

This lays the foundation for compiling individual books, or even a whole series. Hit compile at the series level, and you’ll see all documents appropriately tagged as Books, Chapters and Scenes. I show this below.

Compilling a series
Compilling a series

You’ll also note the big yellow warning box alerting me that my section types aren’t yet mapped to layouts. Layouts are the formatting instructions Scrivener uses to turn sections types into a finished product. Since I don’t need to compile right now, I’ll save this for another post when I deep dive Scrivener’s dreaded compile settings.



What’s next?

That’s enough to get me (and you) to get started. I’m about 65 thousand words into my latest novel, out of a target of 100k. I don’t need to think about compiling and revising for a couple of months, but that will come.

What I do need is my world-building files. In my next tutorial, I’ll describe how I use Scrivener to build my fantasy world and to fold them into this series project.



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