Category Archives: scrivener

Compiling with @ScrivenerApp – How to make your manuscript look GOOD!

Like many of my friends, I like a simple, step-by-step guide when learning something new. So I’ve decided to capture how to use Scrivener, the greatest writer’s tool invented since the ballpoint pen, and show you how to crank out something impressive.

If you have no clue what Scrivener is, their own videos should whet your appetite. Assuming you are up and running, let’s dive in!scrivener-compile-button

  1. Assuming you are inside your wonderful book (in my case, Darklight), hit the Compile button.
  2. You’ll be thrown into something filled with more options than a scrivener-paperback-novelblue plate diner. I kind of like the look-and-feel Scrivener can give you for print ready things, so where it says “Format As”, select Paperback Novel.
  3. scrivener-contentOn the left hand side are a series of options. Let’s start by picking Content, and then ensuring you have selected Manuscript from the binder.
  4. On Print Settings, make sure Publishing is selected.
  5. Separators is kind of neat. Ever notice those like “* * *” between scenes in a book? This is where you get to set them. “Text” is what is known as a scene break and “Folder” is a chapter break, so you can pick options like “Page Break” as a folder separator, and some custom separator like “* * *” to put between scenes. If you’re not sure what each what one means, there’s a short sentence describing it perfectly.
  6. Formatting. This part can get really confusing. This is where you can decide what chunks of stuff are shown. There are different levels. When you pick a given thing (Level 1+, Level 1, etc.) it will highlight the piece of the binder where this applies. It lists “Title”, “Meta”, “Synopsis”, “Notes” and “Text”. Essentially, you can print/not print these various aspects. Ever read a book that opens every chapter with an encyclopedia entry? (Think DUNE or THE FOUNDATION) You can enter this text the chapter level and flip it on here. None of that? No problem. Clicking on “Title” for each level and “Text” for the Level 1. Nothing short of tinkering to find
  7. Formatting >> Options…. Pick “Remove first paragraph indents” “At the start of each new document”, and you’ll get that professional style of the first paragraph of every scene not being indented.
  8. Formatting >> Section Layout. Title Prefix and Suffix is where Scrivener will automatically plug in “Chapter 1”, “Chapter 2”, etc. No need to manually number your chapters. First Page is where you can do things like “make the first three words of a new section upper case (small caps even!). You can also make each chapter or scene start on a recto or verso page. (I can never remember which is which, so if you want this, just try it).
  9. Title Adjustments. Got a Prologue or Epilogue that needs to NOT be numbered like other chapters? Click on the little gear icon, and check those chapters to exclude them from being counted.
  10. Layout. I’ve read some books that only put the “* * *” when the scene break happens at a page wrap, where you can’t spot an extra line. This is the place to do that.
  11. Transformations. Probably don’t need this unless you are down converting your material into some format that doesn’t allow things like italics, underlining, or other stuff. (I once submitted a query that only allowed pure text. Would have been perfect.)
  12. Replacements. I don’t use this.
  13. Statistics. Nothing to do here.
  14. Tables. I have none in my works, so no comment here.
  15. Footnotes. I haven’t written that required such a feature. If you use it, let me know!
  16. Page Settings. This one is critical. There are several things to tailor your output so I’ll break them down into section.
  17. scrivener-page-setupPage Settings >> Page Setup. When creating a camera ready PDF for CreateSpace or whomever, you need to pick the trim size. It’s a fancy expression for page size. This where you can specify things like 6″x9″, 5″x8″, etc. It delegates this out to your native system, so Windows and Mac users may have a different experience.
  18. scrivener-marginsPage Settings >> Margins. After picking your trim size (which seems to translate into metric on my own system), you can then pick the margins. This is where Scrivener really shines. When you picked Paperback Novel earlier, it converted left/right margins to alternate such that the spine of the book has a little more margin than the outer parts. This picture shows 1″ top and bottom as well as 1″ outer and 0.5″ inner. This is where you can grab your favorite paperback and measure their margins, making your work look like it.
  19. scrivener-headers-and-footersPage Settings >> Header and Footer/First Pscrivener-facing-pagesages/Facing Pages. This is the content at the top and bottom of every page. I really like left pages being left formatted, and right pages, right formatted. The following shows me putting the title and page number of my manuscript on the left, and my name/page on facing pages. This really makes your camera ready document shine like real books. Finally, you can pick a different font and size for headers and footers at the bottom.
  20. Quick Font Override. Skip.
  21. With all these settings, you just need to pick the output. Always, always, ALWAYS Compile for PDF. PDF files make the world go around. Everyone can see them. Everyone accepts them. It’s a quick and easy proof.
  22. Click Export and wait for it to turn the crank.

So let’s take a little peek at my own novel, DARKLIGHT, and see it’s output.

darklight-prologueFor starters, the prologue came out beautifully. I excluded it back on Title Adjustments, and see how it’s not numbered?

Hmm. I can see that the first sentence, though unindented (as expected), does NOT have the first n words capitalized. Need to go back to Formatting >> Section Layout and tweak that.

darklight-chapter-1Chapter One looks good. The text I have in Scrivener appears as the subheading for the chapter (see screenshot below of my binder, with Prologue and He’ Coming). Of course, I need to get first n words capitalized.

Now let’s checkout the headers as well as the margin of the spine.

Okay, the margins looks okay. They are bigger at the spine than the edges, but I think that’s still a bit much for a paperback. darklight-headers

And yikes, I got the headers backwards! Oh well, live and learn, right? Need to go back to Page Settings >> Headers and Footers.

scrivener-new-sceneSo, after fiddling with margins, opening scenes, and headers, things look a little better.

And look! The headers look MUCH better.


Looks like enough to go fiddle with and fine tune. Hope that gets you going and compiling your Scrivener manuscript.

Happy writing!



.@ScrivenerApp – The Ultimate #NoSQL Database

Over the past year, I have dove head first into use Scrivener for my writing efforts. The thing is amazing!

Scrivener is a writer’s tool, built by writers for writers. It costs about $30+. I couldn’t put my finger on what was so cool about it until I read this.

tl;dr – Scrivener puts your story/case/project into a database, Microsoft Word puts what you’re doing into a typesetter. Typesetters optimize for printout, databases optimize for reading/writing/updating information.

NoSQL Database

NoSQL data stores have gained big popularity over the past ten years. Why? Their charm is being schema-less.

schema-less – data not required to adhere to a certain structure

For years, people have adhered to SQL, the codified and accepted standard for grouping data to a strong structure. SQL comes loaded with lots of promises, which it indeed delivers. What is that?

If you define the structure of your data upfront, and observe other related practices (like 3rd Normal Form, i.e. 3NF; ACID, …), your data store will…

  • have maximum efficiency in storage by not duplicating data
  • have maximum efficiency in maintenance by not accidentally updating data in one place but forgetting to update in another place
  • get ALL the results when you query the database
  • ensure ALL inputs are committed to the database or none

These sound great, until you reach the era we have entered. People have discovered that all the guarantees of schema-driven data have costs. And costs that are proportional to your volume of data can catch up and cripple you.

We have discovered that not ALL data needs this amount of guarantee. Different data stores optimize in other ways, solving different problems. And thus was born the schema-less data store revolution.

Scrivener as a NoSQL data store


left – binder of folders with leaves; right – one leaf

How does Scrivener work? Out-of-the-box, it has a hierarchical nature. You can create folders within folders with folders. Each folder can have metadata about the folder itself, and it can contain leaves as well.

Click on a folder and you can view/edit all its leaves at once. Click on a leaf, view and edit a single leaf.

Folders and leaves can be converted from one to the other. The only difference is that folders are also containers, able to hold more folders/leaves.

The content can be text (our primary medium as writers) or other types (PDF, images, videos, …), meaning folders don’t have to just contain your story. Use it to capture your research, character notes, whatever!

Breaking out of the box

scrivener-charactersWhen you first install Scrivener, it comes with a pre-written manuscript and a tutorial. You walk through it, learning how to use the tool. It’s really quite clever and brought me up to speed, fast!

But at some point, you need to break out of conventions and learn how to use the tool. I first did so when I needed to sift through an extensive critique from my editor.

In the span of a 2-hour phone call, I had written down two pages of notes in a LibreOffice document last year. Some points, high level; some points, specific to a single sentence. I imported that document into Scrivener and took it apart, using another structure.

scrivener-researchI split up the collection of notes into individual leaves, all contained in a single folder. This way, as I addressed each comment, I could flag it as complete inside scrivener (I used checkbox icon to indicate this).

I put the scene-specific notes in a sub-sub-folder. To tackle the fact my editor had a different version of my manuscript, I dug that copy out of email and put in there as well. Using that, I tracked down every page specific comment and found its current scene.

Scrivener lets you put links between scenes (kind of like a MongoDB DBRef).

In a nutshell, I laid out my own structure, and then bent it as needed. Instead of bumping into it, like one often does with schema-based data stores, Scrivener accommodated my needs.

Spring Data Scrivener?

As a member of the Spring Data team, I’m truly amazed at how this release train of projects has leaped over the balkanized landscape of query languages. Use them when needed, but offloading typical queries to a framework is great!

I may have to keep my eye on the potential for writing apps that can query Scrivener manuscripts. It would lean on exactly what people are putting in their projects.

Until then, I hope you poke your nose into Scrivener and see how it’s perhaps the most user friendly NoSQL data store put out there to solve a very popular problem.