Scrivener is the one-size-fits-all writing and formatting tool for authors. It has loads of features aimed at helping authors go from idea to draft to a formatted book ready to publish.
But can it be used for outlining? Or do you need to purchase a separate tool to help you with that?
In this article, we'll check out Scrivener’s plotting feature to determine whether it’s right for you.
In this article, you will learn:
- What Scrivener is
- The features it provides for plotting
- How much it will set you back
- Whether it’s the right tool for you
- And… you’ll get a free bonus plotting template to use!
Table of contents
What is Scrivener?
Created by Literature & Latte, Scrivener is a downloadable software that authors can use to write their books, organize their book bibles, create their characters, plot their work, format, export and more. It’s an amazing tool that really provides authors with the ability to write their books the way they want to write them. One of the key features I love is the ability to organize and label everything, down to the scene level in each chapter.
Check out this video created by Scrivener to find out more:
If you’re interested in getting more technical information about Scrivener and what it does, or if you have questions about pricing or ‘trying before you buy’ you can head over to Scrivener’s helpful FAQ page here.
So, now that we know what Scrivener does in general, let’s look at what it can offer you when it comes to plotting your novel–or outlining your book if you’re writing nonfiction.Plotting your story? Check out Kindlepreneur's Scrivener Plotting Feature Review and find out if it's what you need to create your perfect outline.Click To Tweet
What Plotting Features Does Scrivener Offer?
You can approach plotting in Scrivener one of two ways:
- You can download someone else’s template that includes a plot (you’ll find some amazing ones out there).
- You can create your own template with a plot of your design. That’s what we’ll be doing in this review to fully test out Scrivener’s features.
So, let’s get down to it.
Basic Plotting Features
To understand how to create an awesome outline in Scrivener, we need to go over some of its basic features.
Right off the bat, Scrivener enables you to edit and change your template according to your needs. All you’ve got to do is select a template that works for your story — whether that’s fiction, nonfiction, scriptwriting, or something else — and then edit it. See those buttons along the side of the page below? That pane is used for navigation and is called the binder. It's an incredibly powerful tool for organizing your story.
Scrivener allows you to:
- Populate a template that’s already laid out for you
- Create an entirely new template for your story and book bible (including plot, characters, and universe)
- Track your word count as you write
- Add or delete files, folders, and items
- Create your own character sketches or place sketches
- Use default sketches already provided
- Upload other author’s templates
- Generate names for your story characters
- Create collections
- Sync your work to your mobile
- Write your entire story
- Format it for publishing
- View your story in three different modes
- Split the screen as you write so you can work on one screen while viewing the other
- Handy instructions on how to use the template you’ve chosen
- A corkboard for organizing all the different parts of your story
- And more… so much more
But is Scrivener a plotting tool with a lot of power? Let’s find out.
Every person’s outline is unique, just like every book is unique. Sure, a lot of them will conform to genre conventions, but the stories are different and how writers lay them out as plots is different too. That’s what’s great about Scrivener. You can adapt it to your needs. Compared to tools like The Novel Factory, Scrivener comes with fewer built-in outlining features, but it is extremely customizable and affordable, which is why many authors love using Scrivener.
The Fiction Template
As it comes, the basic fiction template doesn’t provide too much room for plotting. There’s a character section and a locations section, as well as some sketches for both of these, but there isn’t a standard plot provided.
Of course, it’s up to you to fill in those sketches–and don’t get me wrong, they are very cool and we’ll discuss them in more detail later–but the lack of a plot section is kind of strange to me. Other tools such as The Novel Factory offer this and it seems like that would be a fairly simple addition that would really help authors.
Of course, it is possible to go ahead and download templates that have plot sections or sheets in them or to create your own. Let’s find out how versatile Scrivener is when it comes to making your own template with a plot.
Creating Your Own Template with a Plot
Let's create our own Kindlepreneur Plotting Template with Scrivener and review the features it provides while we’re doing it.
It’s super easy to create your own section and even change the icon to create a plot section. Under that, you can add in all the relevant files–these are files that you'll have to populate with information yourself. That’s the tricky part because you’ll need to know how to plot before you can use this feature.
Take a look at my first steps creating the plot section below.
See the little lightbulb? It was quite easy to create several files underneath the icon and fill them with the necessary information for my plot.
Once you've created the content you want, all you have to do is turn it into a template. I did that by selecting ‘File,’ heading over to the ‘Save As Template,’ and hitting that button–that new plot section is now available to me every time I start a new project. I also dragged the ‘Plot’ section I created into my ‘template sheets’ section as seen below.
To be clear here: templates in Scrivener are the general ‘fiction' or ‘nonfiction' type templates you select when you start a new project. Whereas ‘Template Sheets' are sheets or sections within the main project that you can copy and use (like the plot one we've just created).
This way, it’s always there for me to use.
You can also view your outline via the corkboard and organize your various elements accordingly in your binder. Check this out:
But while creating the plot section is easy from a technical standpoint, the hard part is filling it in. There’s no plotting guidance that comes standard with Scrivener. So you may need to do some research to figure out how to plot a story or outline a nonfiction book in your chosen genre.
To make your life easier, I've gone ahead and created a Scrivener plotting template that you can use for free. It might save you some time compared to creating your own.
Character creation with Scrivener is similar to plot creation–there’s a built-in Template Sheet to help you along, but it’s not incredibly detailed. And you’re free to create your own sheets for characters as well or add questionnaires that you might find online. As mentioned before, Scrivener is all about creativity and allowing authors the freedom to do what they need to do to make their books complete.
That comes as both a plus and a negative–great if you’re into creating your characters from scratch. Not so great if you’d prefer to have a sheet with everything laid out for you. Either way, you can easily create character sheets using the method outlined in the plotting section above.
Of course, you can use multiple character sheets to create several characters. You could potentially upload character sheets that are archetypes as well. I.e. Protagonist, Antagonist, Mentor, and so on.
Once you’ve created a whole bunch of characters, you can organize them under the characters section. You can organize them on your corkboard as well, and get a great overview of those characters–you can even move them around.
You can label each character and create new labels if you decide you want some more variety as well. It’s a great organizational tool. A single click takes you directly to the character sheet you want to access.
World-building is a big deal for some authors, particularly those of fantasy and sci-fi, so it’s important we take a look at what type of features Scrivener provides for universe creation. The answer is… a lot and not much all wrapped into one.
Again, Scrivener provides a sheet in the basic Fiction template for authors to use when creating settings, but it’s not incredibly detailed. You’ll have to create your own sheets for the world-building you do. What’s cool about this is, you’re free to style it however that looks for you.
If you wanted to say, add a bunch of biomes under one central place, Scrivener allows you to do that, but actually creating the template questions or information sections is up to you.
As you can see in the image above, you can also change the status of any of your pages within your project and better organize your time and what you need to get down. While that’s not necessarily a must-have for plotting or world creation, it’s super helpful for author time-management.
Scrivener has a name generator! I was pretty excited about this when I found it in the toolbar for the first time. The name generator can come up with first names, last names or both in ‘male’ and ‘female’ genders. The names can be generated for just about any region or race.
Pretty impressive. This will be useful if you’re always getting stuck on character names, whether you’re a fantasy author or not. (Honestly, it’s too difficult to come up with last names!)
Story creation is where Scrivener really shines. Once again, you’re able to organize your chapters or scenes on a corkboard, in a binder, or reveal them one by one so that you can focus on one page at a time.
You can also split your screen horizontally or vertically. That means you can pull up your plot in the bottom pane and work in the top pane–you’ll always have that for reference while you write. That’s a pretty neat feature. I know I’ve grown frustrated by clicking from one tab to the next when I’m working in a word processor.
And with a click of a button, you can enter full-screen mode for distraction free writing or plotting, depending where you are in your project. Since you can work offline with Scrivener, that means you can shut down all external distractions and focus on what’s important… getting words down on the page!
Speaking of getting words down on the page–Scrivener provides you with statistics about your writing. You can access them under the Project Tab and go as far as to set your own goals for the word count length of the manuscript and per session. This is a great way to keep track of how much you’ve written and how far you’ve gotten in your manuscript. It even tells you which words you’re using at a greater frequency.
But, and this is quite a big but, it doesn’t seem to indicate how many words you’re writing per day. So you wouldn’t be able to view ‘streak’ statistics without manually noting that down yourself.
Scrivener has a plethora of features to use, including ones I haven’t listed here because of the context of this article. Overall, I’m impressed with its utility and the space it gives an author to be creative. I would have liked some set templates for outlines provided by Scrivener, though.
What Does it Cost?
Scrivener is one of those tools that you can try before you buy. So, you’ll be able to test out my template and check out all the features before you upgrade to a full Scrivener license (which is a once-off purchase). The trial is for 30 days, which will give you more than enough time to decide if it’s worth the money or not.
As for what it costs for that license:
- Windows standard license: $49
- Windows educational license: $41.65
- Mac standard license: $49
- Mac educational license: $41.65
- Scrivener of iPads/iPhones: $19.99
- For Mac and Windows: $80
I love that this is a once-off, lifetime purchase. I bought Scrivener years ago and I haven’t had to subscribe, purchase anything extra, or worry about hidden costs once. And I use it frequently too, so it’s paid for itself many times over.
To get a full picture of the software, let’s look at what I disliked about Scrivener while I was creating the plotting template.
What I Disliked About Plotting in Scrivener
Now that we’ve gone over Scrivener’s stand-out features, and some of them you may not have known existed, let’s take a look at some of the things that I didn’t enjoy while working in Scrivener on the plotting template.
- You have to really fiddle around to find some of the features. A lot of them seemed hidden to me. Of course, Scrivener does provide you with general guides, and you can find videos online that introduce you to Scrivener. I would have preferred things to be a little more obvious. I.e. It takes a few clicks to find the name generator and statistics areas. They don’t just jump out at you at a glance.
- You have to create your own templates or upload them–there aren’t ones that are provided standard with the software. For the beginner plotter, this might be a problem.
- There’s no license for android, so you won’t be able to use it on your device unless that device is running Windows 10.
Is Scrivener the Right Plotting Tool for You?
If you’re looking for a versatile way to plot and you’re OK with either creating your own plotting template, uploading one, or doing your own research on plotting first, then yes, it’s definitely the right tool for you. It’s more than just a plotting tool, it’s for writing too, and it allows you the creative freedom to write your book the way you want it done.
If, however, you’re new to outlining and you don’t want to be overwhelmed by all the options, you might need to look elsewhere–like at Plot Factory or The Novel Factory for instance. Scrivener has videos that explain its functions, but there’s no hand-holding beyond that.
For the price, Scrivener is an amazing piece of software that can help authors write their books and focus on story rather than distractions. Even cooler, you can use Scrivener offline. I would definitely recommend it.
Scrivener is a creative tool for authors that can be many things at once. While it might not have templates for plotting that will help authors learn more about the outlining process in general, it does provide authors with versatile software to create their own plots. Many of the features that come standard with it are considered as bonuses in other outlining software you’ll find online. For that reason, I highly recommend Scrivener and I’ll happily use it again.