Scrivener + Story Grid – Part 1: The Set Up

Hey all, It’s been almost a year since my first post about how to use Scrivener and the Story Grid together to create an incredible writing experience. They were some of my most popular posts! So, after using Scrivener for my editing projects for the last year, I’ve learned a number of new, nifty ways to use the tool in conjunction with the Story Grid Methodology that I’d like to share.

In the following month I’ll create posts to cover these topics:

  • Part 1 – Set Up
    • How I set up Scrivener to edit or write a new manuscript – My Way
    • How I incorporate the Story Grid guidance inside Scrivener
    • How I incorporate other writings methods
    • Using a Global Value Tracker
  • Part 2 – Using and setting up Meta Data
    • A new way to use Meta Data to track the 5 Commandments for each scene
    • Using Meta Data to Track the Literal and Essential Action as well as Value shifts
    • Review of tracking Story Grid Spreadsheet Data using Meta Data
    • And We’ll review the export feature that allows you to export all your metadata into an excel spreadsheet that resembles the Story Grid Spreadsheet Shawn Coyne uses
  • Part 3 – Collections and Keywords
    • Using Keywords to track Sub-Plots
    • Using Collections to Track Main Characters, Locations, and Unique Elements
    • Using synopsis to Track Beats

These topics have been the most frequently asked questions about my method. If you have more questions, please ask them in the comments below.

Now, let’s get started with the most dynamic duo since Batman and Robin, Scrivener and the Story Grid!

Setting Up the Scrivener Binder My Way

The first thing I do is set up the Binder. Here is a screenshot of my template that I use whenever I’m about to start writing a new story or begin editing a new manuscript that someone submitted to me.

Basic Scrivener Set Up

Here, you can see on the top of the binder at the left side of the screen that I have created folders for my Beginning Hook, Middle Build, and Ending Payoff.

I have a Microsoft Word Document with a manuscript that I will import and split into those folders. If you are unfamiliar with that process, check out my post describing how to do this. Since I will be splitting the manuscript into the three acts (Beginning Hook, Middle Build, Ending Payoff), I will use three different Special Symbols to differentiate between the three acts (such as @ for Beginning Hook, # for Middle Build, and % for Ending Payoff – just make sure you aren’t using any of these symbols in your manuscript by doing a quick search). If you use these three symbols, you will have to input three separate times, once for each act, and make sure you have the appropriate folder selected/ highlighted before you import the text (select the Beginning Hook Folder then import and split using that symbol, then select the Middle Build Folder and import and split using that symbol, etc.). It should look like this after the imports.

Using Story Grid Techniques within Scrivener

You also notice that I have a folder about halfway down the binder on the left side of the screen called story aids.

Story Aids

This is where I put all of the information I have discovered about how to write a story that works. The first entry is Story Grid and inside that folder I have the Editor’s 6 Core Questions folder. I’ll explain more about that later. Moving down, I also have folders for the Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat, some notes from a Robert McKee course I took, and Dan Wells’ 7 Point System (I find this really good for tracking sub-plots, you can see youtube videos on his system here).

Opening the Story Grid Folder here, you will see the following documents and in the center, using the Corkboard view you can see some of what is written in each of those documents.

Story Grid Aids

This is where I put the Story 6 Core Questions. For more information on this, see Shawn Coyne’s post on the Story Grid webpage. Since this book is a Thriller, I filled in each document with information from the Story Grid Thriller Article written by Rachelle Ramirez on the Story Grid Webpage which describes the controlling Idea/ Theme, Obligatory Scenes, and Conventions of the Thriller Genre. These become reminders to what I am looking for as an editor as I review the manuscript, or if I’m writing a novel, they become reminders of things I need to include in my story as I write, plan, or revise my manuscript.

As far as the other Story Writing methods listed, I treat them in the same way. I have documents within the folders that break down the Hero’s Journey, for instance, with descriptions of each step for reference. Same for Save the Cat and the others. The Story Grid is a great method that I absolutely love, but I try to add to my toolbox every chance I get, and when I read about another method I inevitably gain another tool to make my story great.

Progressive Complications and Global Values

You may also notice under the Story Grid Folder I have a document called Progressive Complications. When I open this document it looks like this:

Progressive Complications / Global Life Values

I based this on another Story Grid post – Simply Irreversible: Quantifying Progressive Complications by Kimberly Kessler and Valerie Francis. I taper this chart to each work that I am writing or editing. Here is a closer look at the progressive complications for the life/ death Global life value:

Progressive Complications for the Life/ Death Global Value

Using this chart, I can rate my progressive complications to make sure the story maintains progressive complications that get more difficult as the story, well, progresses. This is a number system that helps measure the scenes. The article is very neat, and this is my own adaptation of this. Whichever way you want to use this tool (both Valerie and Kimberly use different methods than mine), having this in Scrivener as a reference is super useful.

Here is my excel template for life values.


So, this is how I set up my Binder. Before I begin writing, I also set up the Inspector, adding in the Meta Data I’ll be using to track different aspects of the story with regards to the Scene 5 Commandments, the Obligatory Scenes, the 15 core scenes that make up the spine of the story, and the other Story Grid Spreadsheet information recommended by Shawn Coyne. Anne Hawley wrote a great article about her experience tackling the Story Grid Spreadsheet called Spreadsheet: The Giant Tamer. I wrote a post about this last year, but I have some new insights about the Meta Data that I’ll dive into in my next post. Subscribe so you don’t miss it!

If anything in this post wasn’t clear or if you need more details, please comment below!

More Scrivener

For More Information on Scrivener and the Story Grid, check out my Scrivener Post Page to see all of my posts on the subject.

I started out learning Scrivener on my own, and I loved the tools I found. I eventually paid for an online course called Learn Scrivener Fast. It was very thorough and professionally done, and I learned even more tips and techniques. I really loved the course, and I became an affiliate, this is my affiliate link to Learn Scrivener Fast. I do receive a percentage of anything spent through that link.

Editing Services

If you are interested in hiring me to edit your manuscript or if you need help writing a novel, check out my editing services. Also, see my Testimonials page for comments from previous clients.


6 Comments on “Scrivener + Story Grid – Part 1: The Set Up

  1. Great post! The Life/Death chart is amazing. I’m going to start using that as a reference for my own action/thriller stories.

    Oh, and totally agree about Learn Scrivener Fast. I struggled with Scrivener for months, but after I took that course I was ready within 48 hours to start using it for my novel.

    • Thanks for your comment.
      I had been using Scrivener for 3-4 years before I took the course, and I realized I was only using Scrivener to less than 50% of its capacity.
      Glad the Life/Death chart helped. I will make some downloadable life/ death charts and worldview ignorance / wisdom charts available next week. They seem to be a big hit.

  2. Randy,

    Thank you SO much! I skimmed through much of this and am now am going through your entire series on using Story Grid with Scrivener acutely and You are a Godsend!!!. Thank you for the clarity of the information you offer.

    I also read The Simply Irreversible… article you referenced here.

    I want to build a Progressive Complication chart for a Western>Transition / Worldview>Disillusionment story. It is my first infographic I am building and I would like to expand on the Value shift Gradations before plotting it.

    What, if any suggestions would you have to best arrive at those grey areas between the Negative and Positive Values on the line?

    Thanks again for these articles I am looking forward to the rabbit hole the next one sends me down!!

    • Hey Jason, glad you found this useful. What I did was begin with the two big opposites (such as life and death) and define the middle (alive but uninjured), then break them down into smaller and smaller categories. Since I’ve written that post, I think 10 divisions, 5 positive and 5 negatives, is a better division for most stories. I would also apply this to your specific story – I’ll use the life/death example – if you have characters tied up, unconscious, wounded severely, needing CPR, etc. – then make those part of the breakdown. If not, then add in the life, death, and the threats that the characters face in your story. I will upload an attachment to this story with an excel example you can use – this evening. Good luck.

      • Thanks Randy! Once again very straight forward and usable advice.

      • And thank you for the EXCEL example as well!!

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