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Scrivener for plotters with Hope Ramsay

For something different—and to celebrate the start of my Scrivener online classes today (it's not too late to sign up)—I thought you might enjoy learning how someone besides me uses Scrivener.

Hope Ramsay4X6Hope Ramsay is the bestselling author of contemporary romances in the Last Chance series. She’s also a pretty savvy Scrivener user. She was generous enough to sit down and talk with me about how she uses Scrivener to write her books.

GH: You write your Last Chance books in Scrivener for Windows. How did you first hear about Scrivener, and how long have you been using it?

HR: A couple of my writing buddies have been using Scrivener for a long time – but they are all Mac users.  And I’m an avowed PC fan.  So I didn’t pay much attention until Scrivener came out with the Windows version.

I read a couple of blogs about the PC version, but I was skeptical.  I just couldn’t believe that a word processing program that cost only $40 could be worth much.  But my Mac friends were all swearing on it.  So, since it was inexpensive, I bought the PC version.  I expected to hate it.

But to my utter surprise, I fell in love with the program within about five minutes’ time.

GH: I had a similar reaction. What features sold you on Scrivener?

HR: The main thing that makes Scrivener so great is the way it allows a writer to break down a big project into its component parts.  Using Scrivener I can organize my work by scene.  I can easily move scenes around.  I can insert scenes.  And I can see the way the scenes fit together.  I can edit two scenes simultaneously.

I compare this approach to the difference between listening to music on a cassette tape, versus an Mp3 player.  To get to a specific song on a tape, I would have to fast forward through a lot of irrelevant stuff.  On a digital player, I can go to the album and song with a couple of clicks.  The cassette tape (and traditional word processing) is what computer geeks call “sequential access.”  But Scrivener gives me “random access” to any part of my project.  The binder allows me to move to a specific scene directly, without having to search through all the other scenes to get there.  That is so incredibly powerful.

GH: Great analogy, and I completely agree. Okay, you’re a serious plotter. Can you give us an overview of how you use Scrivener to support your writing process? (Readers: for a detailed look at Hope’s process, complete with screenshots, check out her post at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood from last September).

HR: I am a serious outliner.  In my pre-S days I used a Microsoft Access database that I developed myself.  (Can you tell I’m a seriously geeky computer person?) In my database I created my own version of the index cards you’ll find in Scrivener.  They were basically database entries for each scene and I tracked POV, scene goal, antagonist and what happens at the end of the scene.  I could compile these database entries into an outline that I printed out and had handy whenever I was writing.

But I kept losing the damn papers.  And while the database was powerful it wasn’t user-friendly.  And making changes in the outline on the fly was practically impossible.  So my original outline would get filled up with penciled in notes.  My database was great for starting out, but once I started writing, it was no help at all.

But with Scrivener, I can create scene cards at the beginning, and then I can amend them on the fly.  I can add scenes as they occur to me.  I can move scenes around.  I can keep notes about what’s supposed to happen in a scene (using document notes attached to the scene).  I can use Scrivener’s meta data tags to keep track of which story arc (or arcs) a scene fits into.  I can use labels to tell me what story step the scene fits into.  (I talk about this in my September Ruby Blog post.)

Every book starts out with eleven or twelve scenes and turning points, right down to the black moment.  But of course I add scenes as I go.  Because I am a plotter, but I’m also open to new ideas that occur during the writing process.  So the outline changes as I write.  But every day when I sit down at the computer, there’s my outline staring me in the face.  The binder along the left side of the screen just keeps me focused and on track, and it helps me capture and organize new thoughts.

Basically the cards are my life!

But there are other nifty things about the program.  The split screen allows me to make sure that something I’m writing in one part of a book is consistent with something I’ve already written.  I can see both scenes simultaneously (and edit them at the same time, which is so cool.)  I use the document and project notes options extensively as I write a first draft.  So when I’m finished I usually have a whole list of things I need to think about as I polish and revise.

I also use Scrivener’s project and session goals.  They motivate me.  Each morning I open that session target window and it stays open until I make my 2,000 words for that day.  It’s amazing how just watching the words pile up (and the status bar turn from red to green) can motivate me.

GH: That's a great overview of some of Scrivener's best features. What do you wish you had a better grasp of in Scrivener?

HR: I wish I understood how to build templates better.  Also, I’m never entirely happy with the way Scrivener compiles a document into Word.  It always requires some fiddling to get it all formatted right.  I don’t know if the problem is me or the program.  But since I don’t compile documents very often, I haven’t invested a lot of time in figuring out templates and such.

GH: Templates and Compile are the two things I get questions on most, so you're not alone. Do you use Scrivener for anything other type of writing?

HR: No I don’t.  Most of my other writing for business is very short stuff that Word can handle.

GH: Do you have any thoughts on how Scrivener could be better?

HR: I have two things on my wish list for Scrivener.  First, I’m waiting not so patiently for an iPad version of the program.  I’ve heard that it’s in the works and I can’t wait.  If I could use Scrivener on my iPad, I could stop lugging around a lap top when I travel.

I’m also envious of my friends who use the Mac version of Scrivener because their version integrates with the Mac text to speech program.  The PC version does not.  I always have a text-to-speech program read back my first and second drafts.  But I can’t do that in Scrivener.  I have to either compile the draft into Word where I can use my text to speech program (but I will lose any edits I make in Word), or I have to cut and paste back and forth between the text-to-speech program and Scrivener.  It’s a pain for the first draft.  Not so much for the second draft because once I compile the second draft, all the rest of my edits will be done in Word.  The only reason for that is because my publisher uses Word for copy edits.

GH: Tell us about your most recent book release.

LastChanceBookClub_hi resHR: My next book is the first in a new, three-book Last Chance series that features members of the Last Chance Book Club.  The first book in the series is about Savannah White, a single mom, who returns to Last Chance to restore her grandfather’s movie theater.  Savannah is immediately adopted by the community and becomes a member of the book club, which is reading Pride and Prejudice.  And lo and behold, there are some parallels between Savannah’s life and Lizzy Bennet’s life.  Savannah is being pursued by Rev. William Ellis, who does not make her heart sing,  And she’s forced to spend time with Dash Randall, a man she has despised since she was a little girl.  Meanwhile, Dash is a wealthy man and the matchmakers in town have decided that he’s definitely in need of a wife.  But will it be Savannah or Hettie Johnson, the CEO of the Chicken plant in town?  You’ll have to read it to find out.

Last Chance Book Club is not a complete retelling of Pride and Prejudice.  It’s more of a sideways adaptation where I’ve borrowed heavily from Austen.  What makes it fun is that the book club members are actually aware of the parallels, so there is a lot of Austen trivia thrown around.  I’m a big Jane Austen fan, so writing this book was a lot of fun.  Last Chance Book Club will be in stores this April.

GH: What’s next for you?

HR: I’ve got a shortstory entitled Last Chance Summer that will be out in e-format this summer.  The next full-length novel is Last Chance Knit & Stitch.  Molly Canaday, a member of the book club, is the heroine of this one.  And she bears a striking resemblance to Josephine March, the heroine of Little Women, which just happens to be the book the club is reading.

GH: Thank you so much for joining me today!

It was my pleasure.  I am such a fan of the software I welcome any and all opportunities to sing its praises.  And I’m happy to answer any questions about Scrivener or my seriously OCD writing process.

Hope Ramsay is an award-winning, bestselling author and two-time Golden Heart finalist.  Her series of heartwarming romances, published by Grand Central Publishing, have won critical acclaim.  Hope is also a member of the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood and regularly blogs about storytelling and plotting.  She is married to a good ol' Georgia boy who resembles every single one of her Southern heroes.  She has two grown children and a couple of demanding lap cats.  She lives in Virginia where, when she’s not writing, she’s knitting or playing on her thirty-five-year-old Martin guitar.

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  1. Reply

    Great post, Hope & Gwen! I, too, fell in love with Scrivener very quickly and love the way it allows me to navigate among scenes easily. Hope’s analogy of an MP3 player is perfect. And I agree – the compilation and transfer to Word is what is slightly irritating. I still have to go in and tweak the format to get things just right. But it’s a small irritation compared to the perks of using Scrivener.

    • Reply

      Hi Anne Marie, thanks for stopping by. Do you find yourself writing scenes out of order now that you use Scrivener? This is one of the things that surprised me a lot. I’m a linear kind of writer, but sometimes I find myself jumping ahead and then backtracking because the software makes it so easy to do.

      • Reply

        I’m still a rather linear writer, but I think part of my mind is freed up to be more creative when I know that, while I’m working on a scene, if I realize I’m missing something, I can quickly add a place holder where that scene will go, with a couple of quick notes about what needs to go there, then go back to the scene that’s flowing. Works great!

  2. Reply

    I only recently started using Scrivener, and I’m in love. LOVE, I tell you. And I only know less than a 10th of its features. I know there’s a ton of cool features I don’t know about.

    I know about the notecards, but haven’t even used them, although I have no doubt I’ll love them.

    But the reason I’m a Scrivener convert is because of the compile feature. I’ve now started writing exclusively in Scriv (each chapter a different “scene”) so that I can easily compile to the ebook formats I need with a perfect TOC. For $30 (PC version with a 25% discount code), I can now do all my own formatting for self-publishing for as many ebooks as I need, as many times as I need to make changes (if I want to change out the back matter, I can without paying the formatter to do it for me), as opposed to $30-50 per book when paying a formatter.

    One of these days I’ll take the time to sit down and learn the cool features. I just haven’t had time yet. But even if I use it for nothing but formatting, it’s still a bargain.

    I also really like being able to move scenes around. I didn’t think I would, since I’m a super linear writer, so imagine my surprise when I suddenly started writing out of order with this most recent book. And I LIKED it!

    • Hope Ramsay


      Hi Amanda,

      Thanks for coming by. I had no idea Scrivener was that useful for self-pubbed authors. But this is really interesting stuff. I’ve felt for some time that I wasn’t getting everything I could out of the compile function. But it just goes to show you that sometimes the best product isn’t the most expensive. Honestly, this program really changed the way I write in a lot of ways, and made it so much easier. And yeah, I’m really linear, and I find myself able to jump around when I write in ways that surprise me, but also make me a better author.

    • Reply

      Hey, Amanda! Scrivener is fabulous for self-pubbing. In fact, my workshop at RWA National this year is on using Scrivener to create e-books. Compile is a bit overwhelming, but if you take the time to learn the key features, you can make it do just about anything you want. 🙂

      I’m a pretty linear writer too, but I love being able to capture ideas for scenes that come to me out of order. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Sarah Andre


    I am as far from a plotter as a writer gets, but in reading your book I realize all it’s advantages and hope I can set part of the day aside to be all right brain creative and then end with left brain organized.

    Nice to meet you Hope!

    • Hope Ramsay


      Hi Sarah,

      The interesting thing about this program is that it allows me to be so flexible as I’m writing. I am a plotter by nature, but my books never turn out exactly as they are plotted. I always learn something new that takes the plot somewhere different. I can keep track of that in my left brained way and it makes me feel in control even though I’m pantsing my way through. I imagine that Scrivener would be great for someone who writes a book in bits and pieces (not linearly) because it allows you to stitch the pieces together like a quilt when you’re done. So I think the program works for both pantsers and plotters. And the world is big enough for both kinds. So, really, organization is sometimes highly overrated. 🙂

    • Reply

      Great to see you, Sarah! I plot very loosely and then grope my way along a dimly lit path, changing direction as I go. Scrivener is flexible for all kinds. 😉

      • Reply

        I couldn’t let this go by without saying that I love this description of how you write. I’ve got to admit, I feel pretty much the same way, even though a part of me wants to be a real plotter. Who knows, maybe someday 🙂

        • Reply

          Thanks, Dave! I keep trying to be a better plotter, but so far I do better if I plot a little, write about 15K words, realize I don’t like it now that I’ve gotten to know the characters, and then start over with a new loose plot and try again. It’s annoying, but I’ve been pretty consistent in my process over the years. 😉

  4. Kim


    Thank you both for a great post! It’s interesting to see Scrivener from both a “pantser” and “plotter” perspective. I tend to be an “organized pantser”, relying heavily on chapter folders and having each scene be its own text document.

    I grabbed the Windows version with both hands as soon as it came out, and I agree about the (slightly) wonky Word export. I also wish that the Targets and Stats function equaled the Mac version. I loveloveLOVE this program! As someone who works a more-than-full time job, Scrivener helps me stay organized and focused, so that I can make the most of my limited writing time.

    Regarding text-to-speech – if you have an older Kindle (I have a Kindle Keyboard), you can covert your manuscript to ebook format, shoot it over to the Kindle and have the Kindle read it to you!

    • Reply

      Kim: Organized pantser is a good way of putting it. I like to have the basic structure mostly figured out, but the rest comes as I write.

      And don’t worry. The Windows version is catching up. Did you get the latest release from February 6th? There’s some good stuff in there. Like images in full screen mode, for example… Thanks for dropping in!

    • Hope Ramsay


      Hi Kim,

      Thanks for stopping by. I have a very cool text-to-speech program called Natural Soft that works right in word as an add-in. And this is much better than using the Kindle where editing is practically impossible. So once I compile a project, I can have it read back to me in MS word. But inevitably, when I have the voice read the manuscript back, I end up making edits. And the minute I edit the project in Word, I’m stuck there until the final project goes off to the publisher’s production line.

      That’s not a problem with a second draft, because usually all the major rewrites are done. But it’s a big problem with the first draft. I know I’m going to have major edits of every first draft. My editor has never ever not wanted changes made. So to preserve the project in Scrivener, I have to cut each scene, paste it temporarily into Word. Have the voice read it back and make edits, and then cut and past it back into Scrivener. It’s a royal pain. I’m so jealous of my Mac-user friends who don’t have to go through that.

      • Reply

        Hope, can’t you leave Scrivener open and make your edits in Scrivener when the need comes up? Using the Project Search box makes it a snap to find the spot you’re looking for, and you can take a Snapshot of the scene to keep the old version before you start editing, if you want.

        I’ve also found it helpful to have two screens–though a really large one would also work–so I can look at edits in a Word doc (from my CP or an editor), and then have Scrivener open in the other window to make the changes. Of course, I realize not everyone can pony up for an extra (or larger) monitor. Ours was left over from an old desktop PC, and it’s been working for ten years!

        • Hope Ramsay


          I actually do have two screens. So I’ll have to try this. The thing is, when I make an edit I usually reset the voice software so it reads my new edits. I have a tendency create typos when I edit. So really, I’d probably have to make the edits in two places. Cutting and pasting seems easier to me. Although I have to admit I’ve managed to lose parts of manuscripts that way until I realized how useful the snapshot feature was. 🙂

  5. Reply

    Hope, I am loving Scrivener (for PC), but I am having troubles saving to Dropbox so I can use on either laptop or PC. Can you lead me in the right direction?

  6. Pingback: Scrivener for plotters with Hope Ramsay | Everything Scrivener

  7. Reply

    Thanks for this awesome post Hope and for pointing me in the right direction for the Scrivener for dummies book. I’m going to pick that up today, Gwen!

    I had a quick question. Can you use the PC and Mac versions interchangeably? Or would they be two different projects? I ask because I have a PC desktop and a Mac laptop. I already have Scrivener on both, but have never used it. Could I start a project in Scrivener on my PC and then use the same file on my Mac laptop? I’m guessing not since the features aren’t all the same, but I thought I’d ask just in case.

    • Reply

      Sarra: Thanks for buying the book! You can use the two versions interchangeably with a single project. Just make sure you close the project on one computer before trying to open on another. Dropbox is a good way to do this, but a flash drive works as well. And make sure you’re backing up to somewhere separate from where you’re keeping the file.

      The fact that the features aren’t the same shouldn’t cause much trouble. As far as I know, anything you save in the file in the Mac version that the PC version can’t use, like custom meta-data, et cetera should still be in the file, just not visible when on the PC. Make sense?

      • Reply

        Wow, this is great news! I just ordered the book from Amazon, so I’m going to dive in and start learning the program. Tools Hope mentioned like being able to set goals and skip around to different scenes sound like amazing tools. Thanks for the information.

        • Reply

          No problem, Sarra. While you’re waiting, you might check out my Scrivener Tips page (link above) for quick introductions to many of those features. Have fun!

  8. Reply

    Thanks for this great post! I’ve been using Scrivener for about a year and a half and I’m in Gwen’s class right now – so delightful to be opening new doors in a program I already love. Thanks much for your thoughtful interview, both of you.

  9. Pingback: No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links | No Wasted Ink

  10. Reply

    “…I compare this approach to the difference between listening to music on a cassette tape, versus an Mp3 player. …”
    That really said it all for this Scrivener user. I can brainstorm, I can plot, I can index card and/or outline, tag, categorize, and do all the things needed for a screenplay, novel, or short story.
    Thanks for the interesting interview!

  11. Reply

    It’s an interesting article and a good read. Writing is like trudging through deep snow without snowshoes. I am not much for plotting. As for scrivener. I sometimes create a blank project and start from there.
    As a saying goes. Never plan out a story. It has a way of expanding.
    Let’s say that you wanted to write a short story, and you hit the 7500 word mark, and decided to continue onward. Expanding to a novella. Reach that mark. And decided to go on, by saying to yourself. The hell with it, let’s get this puppy rolling. A full length novel.

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