Prep Your Novel For Self-Editing in Scrivener

As an advocate for the Nanowrimo writing process, I firmly believe that a writer should write the rough draft of their novel as quickly as possible and let the words flow as they will. The most important thing to remember about writing a rough draft is to finish it without letting your inner editor stop you. Once you finish the rough draft, there is still plenty of work to do before you hand your manuscript to a hired editor and begin the publishing process.

Breaking it Down

When my rough draft is completed, I break the entire manuscript into scenes. A scene is defined by a single place and time in the story where action or dialog happens. I write a short synopsis of each scene in a paper notebook that I can remember and I color code it with highlighters. I label “good scenes”and “bad scenes”. Each type of scene is color coded with its own hue.

I understand that many people like to print out their manuscript and then cut up the paper into scenes and lay this out on story boards in their office. Others take the print out and hole punch the pages to fit in a large Filofax or office binder. The loose pages allow them to move the scenes around in the binder as they rearrange the scenes. While I love to use paper in my writing process, I tend to reserve it for outlining and brainstorming. It gives me a hard copy of what I’m working on that I can use as a referral beside my computer.

What I like to do with my scenes is to create a new project file in Scrivener for my revision, leaving my rough draft untouched in its original file. I break each of the chapters into scenes and keep them free of their chapter organization and lay them out in the new project file. Then switch to cork board view and I use the notebook where I wrote down all the scenes and use the meta-data labels to color code my scene files to match what is in my notebook and I type in each synopsis into the scene file’s index card. I like to label each scene with the character POV as well. Naturally, as I go through the manuscript, there are scenes there that I did not remember. I label those as “forgotten scenes” and there are places in the story line that have no scene associated with them and need to be added at a later time. I create a blank scene file, write a synopsis of what needs to be there and label it as a “missing scene”.

The Different Types of Scenes

Good: These are the scenes you feel great about as the author. They are the cornerstones of your plot and characters. They are scenes that are most likely to remain in the book during the editing process.

Bad: These are the scenes that when you reread them you wonder “what on earth was I thinking when I wrote this drek?”. These scenes will either be removed or rewritten during the revision process.

Forgotten: These are scenes that you wrote, but don’t really remember. They could be good or bad, but the fact that you did not remember them as you did your break down means that they are not strong and could probably use rewriting.

Missing: As you reread your manuscript, you realize that there are plot holes in your story without any scene to describe it. Write what is missing into your list of scenes as a synopsis. There is no scene as yet to cover this bit of information, but later there may be.

Building It Up

At this point, my manuscript looks like a huge mess. My 30 chapters are now well over 100 individual scenes. Some scenes are a few paragraphs in size, others are twice as long as a full chapter. Due to Scrivener’s meta-data capabilities, it is easy to see in my cork board where the scenes that need work are due to color coding. I focus on all the red “bad scenes” first. I target them for rewrites or removal. I look over the small single or double paragraph scenes and remove them in order to tighten up the novel over all. Because I have set the meta-data to show me the POV of each character, this is a good time to follow each main character via a scrivening. This means to look at only those scenes that the character appears in. I can read this set of scenes and check for the arc of each character, giving small content tweaks to help shape each character into stronger story arcs. As I work, my cork board shifts from a hodge podge of different colors into being all green “good scenes”.

Finally, I put the scenes into chapters again. Each chapter is a folder in Scrivener’s binder. I move all the scenes associated with that chapter into the folder. Most of the novel will simply go back into their original places, but there are always scenes that end up moving in places that I would have never thought up had I not broken down my manuscript. It is here that I check the chapter’s length and make them all as uniform as possible.

Ready For Self-Editing

So far, all the work that I’ve done in the novel has been for content. Do the story lines flow? Are the scenes all necessary to the plot of the story? Have I removed all those little transition scenes that sometimes clog the pace of a novel? The novel is still not ready to send to the editor. The copy editing stage still needs to be done. However, that is a story for another day.

What are the basic steps you use to prep your novel before you start the self-editing process?

19 thoughts on “Prep Your Novel For Self-Editing in Scrivener”

  1. Interesting process. Thanks for sharing. I tried the trial of scrivener and found the bells and whistles too overwhelming so I’m just editing the regular linear way.

    1. Scrivener is like that when you first start. As you use it, you find ways to integrate it into your writing process. I think that every author finds a different way to interact with it.

    1. The color coding makes a huge difference. It lets you see the trouble spots without having to read the blurbs for each scene. I only use four colors, but it works for me. I feel good when I see all that green on the cork board.

  2. I wondered how to use Scrivener for the rewriting process w/o getting lost along the way. Brilliant idea to start a new “project” so that things don’t get mixed up. And love the color coding. I was hesitant to print out so many pages, because I’m kinda poor, so this whole thing will save me a ton in ink and paper. I know I’m not anywhere near to using Scrivener at its fullest potential, but articles like this one help me learn a bit at a time. Thanks!

    1. I’m glad you like the system. It is far from perfect, but it seems to work for me. Try the original outlining in a notebook. You’ll only write the synopsis there and do the first color coding. It doesn’t use that much paper and the hard copy is handy to have as a reference. 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on Amy Pfaff and commented:
    Reblogging this great article so I can remember to follow this advice with my next manuscripts. Some great ideas on using Scrivener for editing. Thank you Wendy!

  4. Nanowrimo taught me that the gungho method of first drafting never works for me. So, I set each chapter and scene out before I write using Scrivener . I am now half way through first draft, and am revising that before I go on – plot holes arising from new directions . I will then re synopsis each remaining scene and go from there . I aim to perfect the Nicholas monserratt technique, only write 1000 words a day, but those are the right words. All done in one draft.

    1. One of the great things about Scrivener is that it is flexible to accommodate any method of writing that an author might wish to use. Good luck with your draft and I hope you return to Nanowrimo this year with a new project. 🙂

  5. I just found this on Twitter today thanks to Sarah Dahl. How do you take your manuscript if it’s compiled and re-break it back in to scenes? I put it in a new project file as I didn’t write it in Scrivener. Do I need to make another project file and is there a way to cut and paste the scenes in to it, and then do the synopsis bit for the index cards?

  6. I start with a new Scrivener project file, saving the original rough draft in its original form. If I get lost when I’m doing the break down, I have the original to fall back on.

    Then I cut and paste each scene into a separate file in the new project and give each one a short synopsis in the associated index card. I also set up the color coding in the meta data. I like to do the actual color coding of the scenes on paper with ink pens. I write down the scenes by memory in a notepad. The scenes that I “forget” to write down in the notebook become my “forgotten” scenes that are not memorable enough. Once I determine the color coding on paper, then I transfer it to Scrivener’s meta data.

    At that point, it is time to move the scenes around and start removing little scenes that block the flow of the story, add in files for new scenes that need to be added and give extra punch to the forgotten scenes.

    The color coding really helps. As you work with the individual scenes in the project file, slowly all the blues and reds disappear and you are left with greens. It is a satisfying feeling. 🙂

    I hope that this explains the process to you better, Laurie. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by No Wasted Ink. It is good to hear from you.

    1. Hi Wendy! Thank you SO much for this explanation! I wasted all day yesterday trying to figure it out, thinking it was maybe some part of the splitting function. This will take awhile but it can be done and I’m very grateful to you for getting back to me. I love it when writers help other writers. Looking forward to following your blog.

      1. I’m glad that I can be of help, Laurie. 🙂 You can use the splitting function to cut apart your chapter into sceens, but frankly I find the cut and paste method to be easier. Thanks for following along my little blog. I appreciate you being here. Good luck with your book! 🙂

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