A Scrivener Template to Help Structure Plot and Story
For me, the pursuit of a perfect tool set is the same as the pursuit of becoming a better writer. Your scene structure, the completeness of your characters and arcs… it all depends on some level of organization, whether it be folders on your computer, index cards on a cork board, or a spreadsheet. Luckily, Scrivener exists to provide some extra scaffolding for organizational needs.
It is very difficult for me to plot inside my head, or intuit decisions about where a story needs to go. So structural concepts like Dan Harmon’s Story Embryo and Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid are very appealing to me because they give order to the chaos of my brain. It’s these two concepts in particular that have informed the template I’m sharing here today.
My hope is that you might save yourself some of the confusion I experienced when I first tried Scrivener. Even if you don’t use my template, perhaps some of the ideas I’ve accumulated might work for you.
Edit (10/10/21): The links were dead for a few months after I switched to a new computer and organized my local and cloud storage stuff. Everything is on Google Drive now, let me know if something isn’t working.
Edit (4/11/19): There were some problems with the older download links for users on Windows, so I’ve moved everything to Dropbox!
If you just want the template for OSX Scrivener (latest), download your preferred template file:
- JoshWorlds Template (no styles) v1.0.scrivtemplate
- JoshWorlds Template (with styles) v1.0.scrivtemplate
If you are on Windows:
- Download JoshWorlds Template v2.scriv.zip
Note that the Windows version is a project file, so you’ll need to make a copy of the file/change its name to establish your own.
I’ll be updating this page as I continue writing my current book and learn new things that can be helpful for plot structure.
Let’s start by looking at the folder structure.
The primary location for your written work.
- [Act] — Optional. I tend to write in a 3-act structure, so I keep my chapters in Act folders.
- [Chapter] — Chapters need to be folders in order to collect multiple scenes, few or many. Skip these too, if you’d like, just make sure your scenes are still separate files.
- [Scene] — Where you actually write. By keeping your ‘scenes’ as the basic unit of written work, it’s easier to move them around, and to look at holistically later when story gridding.
- Characters — A repository for all your characters. Use the index file as a master list, and make new character folders for any prominent characters who need more detail.
- Locations — Repository for your locations; same as characters, the index will be the most comprehensive thing here, but if you need further detail, dive deep with more!
- World Building — This is to collect world-level decisions about things like geography, physics, name conventions, whatever you may qualify as world building. (Be sure to let the plot build out the world for you when it can!)
- Research — Even in fantasy books, it’s helpful to know how the real world works. This is for notes on real life research into history, the natural world, trade skills, or whatever you may need to know to write an informed book.
- Inception Outline — ‘Inception’ is the starting point of your idea. This outline is here to get messy. It comes with 3 Act folders and some Scene cards. Note that the Outliner view of this folder works best if your distinct scene ideas stay as separate index cards.
- For Another Book — Scene didn’t work, but you still love it? The idea was too out-of-left-field? Don’t chuck it! Dump it here, and sort it out later.
- Cut Scenes — No sense in throwing out good words, even if you don’t want to save them for later.
- Outdated Ideas — My notes constantly become out-of-date as new ideas come along. Drop those older ideas here and either update them later, or let them die like the darlings they are.
- Writing Craft Reference — Here’s some of the more pertinent notes and instructions on the structural considerations of this template.
You should really watch the Story Grid videos before trying to work with these features of the template. I’ve also provided some links in the template to the most pertinent reference points to help you navigate those concepts.
Story Grid is an editing/revision tool. Write your story, preferably in its entirety, then go back and try this out. There’s some stuff you get for free with Scrivener, like word count, and then there’s stuff you’ll need to add as metadata in the Outliner view.
I’ve provided spreadsheet templates for the shortened ‘Foolscap Grid’ and the lengthier ‘Story Grid’ concepts as presented in those videos. By using the metadata fields in this template, you can set up the entire Story Grid pretty quickly. My spreadsheets will also attempt to plot your grid as per the methodology, but some of that work is part of the fun, so… good luck!
Looking into story structure, you’re likely to hear a lot about the Hero’s Journey, the Monomyth, and/or the Hero with a Thousand Faces. The guy who came up with all that is pretty smart, Joseph Campbell, but he’s not a writer of fiction, and his work is often theoretical, or just difficult to interpret.
That’s why I love Dan Harmon’s Story Embryo, a great distillation of the Hero’s Journey with actionable lessons for writers. Once again, I would encourage you to read his entire series of articles before using these features of the template.
I kind of hated the spoked wheel diagram in his original articles, though, so I made my own, pictured left, and inside the character templates.
Basically, every primary character should have one of these. It represents the distillation of the internal journey we all go through as we grow. This is the basic template of every story because without these steps, no change has taken place. No story has occurred worth telling.
It’s not necessary to follow this path strictly, but you will find that any successful story you write will inevitably be able to be projected onto this wheel.
So that’s in there.
Within this template, there’s MORE templates. Talk about Inception, wow.
- [Character] — The basic character description file. Let this be the only summary you need most of the time. It loosely follows the Snowflake methodology for character analysis, and gives you some basic ways to get to know your character.
- Story Embryo — You’ll find that handsome wheel here, along with some space for you to define this character’s checkpoints along it.
- Character Stats — Brainstorming is hard, and it can be helpful to start looking at deeper aspects of your character. This file has tables for basic details (age, hair color, etc), social status (politics, relationships), personality (with fun metrics like MBTI and D&D class), and personal and family history.
- Marcel Proust Questionnaire — There’s this guy. His name is Marcel Proust. He figured out a pretty clever way to get to know your characters, and these are the questions he devised.
- Board — Pinterest is a really great tool for figuring out the “feel” of a character’s personality, appearance… mood. So here’s a local folder to act as a mood board, for those times when you don’t want to open yourself up to the distractions of Pinterest.
- [Location] — Basic description file. Get a short summary in, then go nuts.
- Board — Same as the Character template, here’s a spot for a location’s mood board.
I’ll be writing more soon about the process of… writing. I’ll let you know when that happens on Twitter!