Scrivener as a Story Planning Tool

There’s a huge difference between dedicated screenwriting word processors like Final Draft and Fade In Pro, and organizing tools like Scrivener 3. Dedicated screenwriting word processor are best for writing and formatting your screenplay, or collaborating with others by tracking changes. Organizing tools like Scrivener 3 are best for planning your story. While you can create an entire screenplay in Scrivener, it’s more likely you’ll create a screenplay in Scrivener and then transfer it to a dedicated screenwriting word processor like Final Draft.

If you’ve never heard of Scrivener 3, the basic idea behind the program is to keep all your ideas in one place. A word processor lets you store a single document in a file. With Scrivener 3, you can store multiple documents in a single file. That way you can store your ideas, notes, and reference materials (such as PDF, audio, and video files) in a single Scrivener file. Now as you write, you can access your reference materials from within a single file. By using Scrivener, you can store all your files in a single Scrivener file and access them without wasting time looking for where you stored them on your hard disk.

Besides letting you store multiple files in one Scrivener file, Scrivener also lets you write a long document like a screenplay in parts. A typical word processor forces you to write an entire screenplay as if stored on a long scroll. That means if you’re writing a 120-page screenplay, jumping from page 1 to page 78 can be cumbersome. Even worse, viewing your entire screenplay as a mass of text can get distracting since you have to wade through large chunks of your screenplay you don’t want to see just to get to the one part of your screenplay that you do want to see.

Scrivener eliminates this problem by letting you break a long document into smaller parts, and then store those smaller documents in a single folder. By letting you divide a long document into parts and organize them into folders, Scrivener makes it easy for you to focus on just the part of your screenplay you want to work on.

For example, if you wrote a 120-page screenplay in a dedicated screenwriting word processor, looking for a particular scene to revise would require looking for the scene and then viewing all the nearby scenes as well. With Scrivener, you can break up a long screenplay into smaller parts where each part might hold a single scene. Now you can focus on writing and revising just that one scene without the distraction of the rest of your screenplay getting in the way.

Scrivener gives you a choice to view just an isolated part of your screenplay or your entire screenplay all together. Dedicated screenwriting word processors can only show your entire screenplay altogether, which makes them clumsier to use when you’re first writing your screenplay.

If you’ve never used Scrivener before, be careful. It’s really an organizational tool first and a word processor second. That means if you’re familiar with word processors, viewing the Scrivener user interface for the first time can be intimidating until you understand the program’s purpose and features. Scrivener is not the type of program you can start using right away without guidance.

So if you find that planning and organizing a story is a problem, consider using Scrivener to help you store and structure your ideas. Then you can use Scrivener to write a first draft of your screenplay before exporting it as a Final Draft (.fdx) file that you can import into a dedicated screenwriting word processor for final polishing and collaboration.

To learn more about Scrivener, visit the company’s website where you can also download a free trial version. Give the trial version a chance and you’ll find that it’s one of the most powerful organizing tools available. Scrivener can display your ideas in one of the following ways:

  • As a screenplay like Final Draft
  • As index cards on a cork board so you an easily rearrange and move ideas around
  • As an outline

Just be aware that learning to use Scrivener can take time.┬áIf you already own a dedicated screenwriting word processor but find it’s too limited in helping you structure and plan a story, then you might find Scrivener handy. By using Scrivener to structure your story, you can organize your thoughts into a story that you can turn into a screenplay far faster than a dedicated screenwriting word processor could ever do. Scrivener isn’t for everyone, but in return for learning its unfamiliar user interface, you’ll find it’s a powerful program to help keep your story ideas organized and accessible.

To get free access to my “How to Write a Great Script with Scrivener 3” video course, click here. Free access is limited and expires by the end of March.

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One thought on “Scrivener as a Story Planning Tool

  1. david says:

    interesting post – i love scrivener 3 and final draft 11

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