A Scrivener tutorial: character worksheets and freeform corkboard

Today we’re taking a look at character and setting worksheets in Scrivener, as well as how the application can be used to help brainstorm visually. (What, you didn’t know you could brainstorm visually in Scrivener? I didn’t either until recently, but then I discovered the freeform corkboard. It’s pretty nifty. Watch and see.)

I’m thinking of focusing on revising next time — How I handle editorial feedback in Scrivener, how I keep track of changes, etc. But if there’s something else you’d rather know, please leave me some notes in the comments! I’m happy to help if possible.

47 Responses
  1. Interesting. this is a handy video that shows how practical and valuable Scrivener can be, especially for book series. my brain is often like a box of tangled xmas lights.

    not sure I could ever use something like Scrivener, but not because i feel like I’m too cool for school. Besides the fact that my curious nature ensures I would spend hours putzing around with the software, I’m not sure I can process my information visually. How long did it take you to “get used” to this?

    1. Erin

      The stuff I talk about in this tutorial took me awhile to figure out. It wasn’t necessarily hard to pick up as it was non-essential. The app is super powerful. All the basic functionality is a breeze to pick up. The day I opened it, I was up and running after about 30minutes of poking around. It’s the more fun, in-depth features that are nice-to-haves but not necessary for drafting a book that took me longer to discover and learn about.

      Personally, I loooove Scrivener. I can’t say enough good stuff about it, Evan. It’s changed how I write and made my life so much easier (especially when it comes to revising).

      1. Very interesting. the revising part intrigues me, so if you decide to do your next tutorial on that I’d be curious to see Scrivener helps.

        My biggest issue is that I handwrite my rough drafts. So i end up with lots of ideas on my legal pads but also in Pages documents. By the time i revise, I do find I’ve lost track of dates, order of events, backstory tidbits. Might play around with a trial of the software to see if my new project could benefit.

        thanks Erin!

  2. Thanks, Erin. Have been using Scrivener for almost 2 years and still finding new ways to integrate it into my work style. It’s so powerful and flexible. In fact, that’s the hardest thing—not going the other way—i.e., trying to fit your work style into Scrivener. I like your tutorial because it’s a way of brainstorming I haven’t used. In fact, after playing w/ Corkboards a lot at the beginning, I haven’t used them much. But I like how you show using them just to collect snippets. What I didn’t get was your emphasis on “Collections” in re doing so. I mean all those images etc. are “sub docs” for the character…as shown in the Binder. Is the use of Collections just a helpful way for you to avoid the distraction of other docs? Just curious. Thanks for the tutorials. David

    1. Erin

      Is the use of Collections just a helpful way for you to avoid the distraction of other docs?

      ^ Yes. Exactly. I should have specified that in the tutorial. I could have easily made that inspiration folder in the binder as well, but I personally a neat-freak with my binder. I’ve even moved character outlines and stuff into collections before, along with research, inspiration, etc. I tend to keep the binder strictly related to the novel itself, but it’s just a personal preference. As you point out, what I showed in this tutorial could be handled there as well!

      I’ve been using Scrivener for about a year now and still can’t believe how much I’m still learning. What a powerful tool, huh?

  3. It is interesting w/ Scrivener that when you think of something you’d like to do, it’s sitting there waiting for you…and not even that difficult. Plus, little obvious things turn up that you haven’t thought of before. In any event, if you’re going to cover revisions, I’m curious how you’re going to deal with doing rewrites w/ editors. I mean you have to send them a Word file, which they’ll mark up. I just figure when you get the final draft, you have to break it up and put it back as “final” docs in the Binder one by one…so it’s there if you do a rewrite. Wonder if there’s a quicker way and been meaning to post the question on the board. You given that any thought?

    1. Erin

      I’ve handled everything BUT the copy editing phase in Scrivener. For major revisions I usually bring the editorial letter into Scrivener and put it in a folder in the binder. Then I’ll pull up the split screen mode and edit alongside their feedback, color-coding things as necessary. I’ve used snapshots, too, to track what I’m changing in the MS in case I need to roll something back. Hopefully that makes sense? (Either way, this is the process I tend to share in a bit more detail in the next tutorial, so perhaps that will help too!)

  4. Erin, this was terrific! I’ve been using Pinterest for my visual inspiration but have always been a little concerned that you can’t make the pinboards private. Now that I realize there is a Scrivener feature that can do the same thing (and that I haven’t been using it), I’ll be taking full advantage.

    I love the idea your next tutorial being about the editing/revising system you utilize with the program. Looking forward to it!

    1. Erin

      I just read that pinterest is adding private boards in the near future and I’m so excited because it’s a feature I’ve always wanted. I’ll still probably pull some graphics into Scrivener though. It’s nice to have everything in one place.

  5. OMG I had no idea about ‘Collections’ or this free form corkboard! Thanks for walking us through it! I’m looking forward to your revisions tutorial, too. Question — have you ever used Aeon Timeline with Scrivener? I’m just starting to explore Aeon because I needed something with more timeline function, but new software scares me!

  6. Excellent!! I love this. I’d love to hear more about how you revise. I’m doing that right now in Scrivener and was wondering. This is a great series. I write so much better with it ;o)

    Thanks for sharing!!

  7. Yes! I’d love to know how you revise in Scrivener! My agent and CPs use Track Changes, and I know a lot of editors do, so I figured I’d have to convert the draft into a .doc and just work from there once I got my first critique back. It would be great not to have to do that, though. Without having to switch back from the Scrivener file to the .doc, that is. Because that would be a pain.

    1. Erin

      I haven’t found a good way to handle track changes yet! I wish I knew, because it’s one of my biggest struggles when it comes to using the program! 🙁

      I do have some tips for digging through an editorial letter though, and I’ll try to share those in the next tutorial!

  8. Erin! I’ve been really behind on blog reading, but I *finally* watched this new tutorial, and it is SO helpful. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this! I definitely plan on exploring the freeform corkboard now. <3

  9. Kat

    This is a great video, Erin! I really appreciate all the tips…but for some reason, I don’t have the freeform corkboard option at the bottom of my page. Could this be because I only downloaded the free trial option? Thanks!

    I look forward to your next video- I’d love to see tips on revising!

    1. Erin

      It could be because you’re using a trial version. Someone also mentioned to me the other day that the freeform feature doesn’t exist in the PC version of the program, so that could be why as well. (I have a mac). I believe Scrivener was developed for mac first, and that they roll out features to PC in due time.

    1. Erin

      Yay! So glad they are helping, Rob! And let me know how Scrivener works for you. I honestly don’t know how I used to write without it.

  10. This is great, thank you! I’ve about to begin brainstorming a new idea, and I love the free-form cork board feature. Scrivener is the best!

    Looking forward to your future tutorials. 🙂

    1. Yes, I work on a mac. I believe free form mode is a mac only feature, although I wasn’t aware of that when I made the tutorial. 🙁 Sorry about the confusion. Scrivener might have more information on their site (including if they intend to release a windows version that supports the feature).

  11. I’m curious on how you added the images for the characters? I just got scrivener. and I found your site by searching something about Scrivener and it lead me here. So how do you add images? I worked with a windows I also just follwed you on Twitter so message me 🙂 @KatN21

    1. In the inspector’s “synopsis” window, you should be able to switch between index card view (the default) and photo. (It’s a tiny icon in the top right that gives drop down options.) When you select photo, the index card should update to a black box that says “drag in an image file.” Dragging and dropping a photo here should do the trick.

      Granted, I made this tutorial on a mac and didn’t realize that a lot of features (free form corkboard, for example) are not yet available in the Windows version of Scrivener. The same could be true with the photos, so I apologize for any inconsistencies you might run into.

      Good luck!

  12. I am thinkng about buying scrivener. The character’s in the story I am writing have chinese names. I need to have a field for both the chinese and the romanization of the name. Is that possible?

    1. I’d imagine so. The character templates Scrivener gives you are 100% customizable. So even though I pointed out that the bolded fields on the left were the standard when loading the templates, you can rename them yourself, add new ones, etc. Hope this helps!

      PS — You can demo Scrivener for free for (I think) 30 days. I’d definitely try it out that way first if you’re still on the fence!

  13. Hello Erin! I just wanted to tell you that I really, really enjoyed your Scrivener tutorials. I’ve looked at a great many tutorials from various folks over the past few weeks, and your videos are far and away the most interesting, the most entertaining, and the most informative. I would love to see the Revision tutorial you mentioned in this video, as well as any other areas you wish to explore. I think I learned more from you in 15 minutes than I did in two days of watching and researching elsewhere.

  14. Elizabeth Bourne

    Thanks so much! I have been struggling with the character outlines because I am a much more visual person and was finding the use of the text to define characters frustrating when what I really wanted to do was use pictures.

    Now one more question: Is there a way to organize characters by association? For example, in the novel I’m currently writing various characters belong to different guilds. Is there a way to sort or collect them together within characters, or is that something that would have to be done in collections?

    Thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate what you’ve done.

    1. You can absolutely group characters together within the binder (in the same way you can group written scenes into folders/chapters)!

      1) With your ‘characters’ composite selected, add a new folder (project > new folder OR just use the “add” button in the toolbar
      2) Name the folder accordingly
      3) Drag fitting characters into said folder
      4) Voila!

      Does that help? Thanks for watching!

  15. Alley K. Azahri

    I just barely downloaded the trial version of scrivener and I can’t find that option anywhere. Is it only on the full version? Or is it only on the Mac version? Or am I just missing something somewhere? Help Please =(

    1. I believe freeform mode is not yet available on PC versions. (I wasn’t aware of this when I recorded, but someone pointed it out to me.) Fingers crossed they add the feature soon!

  16. J.Rose Allister

    Thanks for this tutorial. I finally decided to give Scrivener a try and found myself a bit lost. Your video really helped! I’m just bummed that the freeform corkboard option isn’t available for the Windows version.

  17. Nanette Purcigliotti

    Erin, I’m solo happy I found you through the SCBWI workshop. Your name was mentioned as a wonderful Scrivener source. I must get myself into this program. Thank you.

    1. Hi Nanette! I’m so glad the tutorials have been helpful for you, and how fun to learn they’ve come up at SCBWI workshops! I had no idea. Best of luck with your stories and using Scrivener.

  18. lemonbar77

    Thanks so much for the insight! I have one off-topic question. Is there a reason the screen moves around so much during your screen capture? The side to side, up/down thing. I watch a lot of tutorials online and have never seen this. I had to stop watching after 4 minutes and just listen to the rest.

  19. Art

    Hi Erin. Given that the iOS version of Scrivener was just released on yesterday, I’m hoping that you may some day resurrect this overview for the mobile version. Thx.

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