Plotting with Scrivener (With Pictures!)

(c) exDigita

Plotting is a strange beast. It’s a requirement for all writers—even the ones who write by the seat of their pants, the “pantsers,” plot on the fly. Yet, it can induce much teeth-wringing and hand-gnashing. Er, wait.


A plot is simply a map of where you want to go with your story. Some writers like to do detailed maps, many pages’ worth. Others, like yours truly, like to write loose scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter outlines that change as the story develops. Still others like to keep these maps in their heads and leave all the writing for the story.

There’s really no right or wrong way to plot, but this is what I do.

First, get yourself a copy of Scrivener. You can do this without Scrivener, but trust me, Scrivener makes life easier. 🙂 You see, Scrivener has a virtual corkboard, on which you can pin index cards. You can then open these index cards to reveal a document! Don’t know what the feck I’m talking about? Here, let me demonstrate:

So, in the picture, you see the Scrivener document for the novella I’m writing. It’s set in the same universe as my urban fantasy series, but uses all different characters. Each of the index cards above has a title (the bold black words), describing what happens in the scene. On the card itself, I jot notes about what I want to happen in the scene, or something I want to make sure I don’t forget while I’m writing the scene.

If I double-clicked a card, it would open up to the document, in which I write the scene in detail. See? It makes it all very neat and organized. Don’t worry about things being disjointed. At the end of the project, Scrivener has a nifty “compile” button you can hit. It combines all your index cards into one document in whatever format your little heart desires. You can add transitions if you feel like it’s still a bit bumpy from one scene to the next. An easy fix during the editing phase.

For my novella, each index card represents roughly 500 words. This helps me estimate the word count at a glance, too. If you look closely, or click the picture to zoom, you’ll see that I’ve marked certain word “milestones,” like 5,000 words. This is helpful because it shows me where I might need to add a significant event—especially helpful when writing longer lengths, like a full-size novel—and it helps counter the Meddlesome Middle syndrome which plagues a lot of writers.

So, what do you think? Do you/would you use Scrivener or another tool to help you plot? Why or why not?

16 thoughts on “Plotting with Scrivener (With Pictures!)

    1. I was intimidated by Scrivener for the longest time, but I love it now. 😀 Makes organizing so much easier for me. I also like that you can pop out the screen when you write so you can’t see email coming in or your Twitter feed in the background. 😀

    1. It’s hard to give up the notebooks and sticky notes! I still use notebooks for when I write out my backstory (that I don’t want to put in the actual book, but is important for me to know) and sticky notes when I want to make reminders to myself during editing.

  1. I am a Scriv-lover, too. As my WIP gets longer, I save so much time being able to go straight to a scene, rather than scrolling back through a Word document. I pantsed my first novel, and with the second, I plotted. I can see the structure forming, rather than having to keep it in my head or on a paper outline, and I can already identify structural problems that need to be fixed in the second draft.

    I also am making use of the comments function – I can add notes to myself along the lines of “this sux, change …”

    Spreading the Scrivener love – great post, GT!

  2. Oooh, I like it~! I’m also late, Adriana because my computer’s been sic. But I’m definitely checking out Scrib. I have to head out to the city for groceries, but when i get back…

    Thanks, hey!

  3. I’m like the pantsiest of pantsers, but I keep hearing such amazing things about Scrivener. I downloaded the trial version a while back and thought it looked pretty awesome, but I haven’t actually tried a project on it yet.

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