Creating custom short story project templates in Scrivener

Anyone who uses Scrivener for fiction-writing will soon come to discover that all of its wonderful features are geared toward one primary goal: allow you, as the writer, to focus on writing without having to worry about formatting, layout or any of those other troublesome tasks. This simple idea is what sets Scrivener far apart (and in my opinion, above) all other word processing tools.

Over the years that I have used Scrivener in my own fiction-writing, I have found that customizing a template for my short fiction has made the process of writing the story, collecting feedback on the story, revising the story, and producing a manuscript so much easier–because I can focus on the content.

I use a custom short fiction template and I thought I would describe the template and my process for creating it in case anyone else out is interested in how useful this can be. This template evolved over time,  and I imagine it will continue to evolve going forward, but it works well for me and from a process standpoint, makes writing all about writing  and creating as opposed to formatting and preparing.  Here is how I created my template:

1. Create a new document based on the Short Story template.

You can find the short story template by clicking File->New Project. In the Project Templates window, select the Fiction tab. Click the Short Story template and then click the Choose… button.

When prompted to save the project, give it a name and save it in a convenient location that you will remember later. (I have a Templates folder in which I save these projects.)

2. Customize your First Page Header document

The default Short Story template comes with a first page header document that contains the information that would go on the top part of the first page of a short story that is compiled in standard manuscript format. I made the following changes to my First Page Header document:

  • Added my name, address phone number and email in the address portion.
  • Two lines below my email address, I added the words, “Active Member, SFWA” to indicate on my manuscript that I am an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
  • Added the word “about” in front of the word count variable.
  • Replaced the story title with <$title>. This will automatically replace this with the title of my story when the manuscript is compiled.
  • Added my name to the byline.

Thus, my First Page Header document looks like this:

Scrivener Templates 1.png
Click to enlarge

3. Add critique and revision folders

My template includes two folders that are not part of the story manuscript itself:

  1. Critiques
  2. Deleted Scenes

To created these folders, I go to the Project menu and click New Folder. I give the folders the corresponding name. To the Critique folder I assign a star icon and to the Deleted Scenes folder I assign a Caution icon.

The Critique folder is used to capture the results of written critiques that I receive from people in my writers group. The Deleted Scenes folder is used to keep stuff that needs to be cut from the story, but that I don’t want to lose forever. The latter, incidentally, is a great way for me to stay productive. I have often found that I refuse to cut something from a story because I like it and don’t want to lose it–despite the fact that it doesn’t belong in the story. Now, I never lose it, I simply clip it out of the story and move it into deleted scenes. It is easy to do and I feel much better about cutting.

4. Remove unused folders

Scrivener 2.0 introduced some other useful folders: character sketches and places. However, with short fiction, I typically don’t work this way so I don’t find these folders as useful in my projects. So I deleted these folders, as well as the Template Sheets folder from the project to keep things as uncluttered as possible.

5. Custom meta-data

Next, I go through the various custom meta-data for the project. This includes the various status labels for documents, and markers for what the document represents (a scenes, a description, etc.). In my short fiction template, I’ve left these with their default values, but in building your own template, this is a good place to make changes to the meta-data as it will be carried through to projects you create based on your template.

6. Add my final draft checklist file to the project template

I have a text file that contains a checklist of things that I go through when proofreading a final draft. These are things that I have learned to look for over the years that regular proofreading doesn’t always catch (because I read too quickly). The list includes things like:

  • Their / there / they’re
  • Its / it’s
  • “Very”

In each case, I will do searches of all of the manuscript documents for the items in my checklist and for each one that is found, I make sure that the word is used in the proper context. For an overused word like “very” I’m mostly checking to make sure that I’m not overusing the word. There are about 10 things on my checklist and it grows and gets tweaked over time. But it is convenient to have it contained within a project so that when I’m ready to do my final proofreading, I don’t have to go hunting for the file.

7. Configure my compilation settings

Next I go through the various compilation settings for compiling the document that will result from the project. I tweak those settings for the formats and overrides that I prefer. For instance, I make sure that if there is a scene break at the bottom of a page, the # symbol is put there to make sure it is clear that this is not just a page break, but a scene break.

8. Save as a template

When all of the above has been done, I can save the project as a template. To do this, select the File menu and choose the Save As Template… option. You are prompted for the name of the template, the type of template, and a description. I called my template “SFWA Short Story”. I gave it a “type” of “fiction” and provided a short description.

Setting up a template like this means that for each new project, I don’t have to worry about doing any of this stuff. I go to create a new project, select my SFWA Short Story template and my project is created with all of my header information, custom folders, checklists and various other settings all in place. I can spend my time focusing on writing the story as opposed to futzing with folders and formatting issues.

It’s what I love most about Scrivener: they give you great features and all of them are centered around improving your productivity by focusing on writing.

ETA: Since writing this article, I have made available for download a version of the template described here.

11 thoughts on “Creating custom short story project templates in Scrivener

  1. Is there a way to set it to put headers on the other pages as well, for instance, “Surname / Story Title / Page #”?

    I’ve been playing around with it for a week or so now, and I can’t seem to find a place where the page headers can be modified.

    Thanks!

  2. 🙂 If you go to the compiler settings, there will be an arrow next to the “Format As” Dropdown menu. Go to Page Settings, and You can change it under the “Header” settings 🙂 Hope that helps!

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