Author Toolbox: Scene Lists and Corkboards

Are you an aspiring or established author?  Are you looking for tips and tools to make revisions easier and more thorough?  Welcome to my inaugural Author Toolbox article about revision and editing tools and processes that I am using to get my novel ready for publication.

This article is part of the incomparable Raimey Gallant’s Author Toolbox Bloghop.  The bloghop was announced on my birthday and just before the April 2017 Camp NaNoWriMo.  How could I resist?


I’m in the midst of what I hope to be the last round of editing my novel The Gideon Effect.  As I went through the story again for the umpteenth time last fall, it saddened me to find plot holes that I’d identified before, or that my very first rough outline addressed.   Despite finding them at least once, I somehow didn’t fill them, didn’t write them, and missed them over and over again.

“Obviously, I’m a terrible editor,” I thought last year after I tackled the revision and edit of this novel yet again.  But, I’ve learned from beta reading and proofreading other writers’ work that I’m actually a decent editor of someone else’s writing.

So, what went wrong?  And, how do I correct it now?  And, how do I prevent such a long and disorganized editing process in other stories hereafter?

I have found a combination of tools that together are at least a partial solution, and possibly a full one.  In my recent article about how to complete a Camp NaNoWriMo project, I touched on one of the tools I’m trying this time — a scene list.  I’m using the spreadsheet template that Monica M. Clarke describes in her blog article here.  I’m also tracking my editing plans and progress in Scrivener (a specialized word processing application for large writing projects).  This dual process involves some duplicate effort.  As I work on a new section of the story, I am breaking up chapter-sized chunks into scenes, putting the relevant details about each scene in the scene list spreadsheet.  I record new scene ideas with an estimated word count in the spreadsheet and create an empty file folder for the scene in Scrivener.

Scene List for The Gideon Effect

The corkboard view in Scrivener, with color coding for the unwritten scenes, doesn’t give me quite as much information at a glance about the planned scene as the spreadsheet does.  But, I’m not sure if the extra information is actually necessary for my editing work.  I’m keeping up both processes so I can evaluate their relative merits after this edit.

Scrivener has been a much easier platform for making edits than Microsoft Word is.  I’ve been using Scrivener for a little over a year, and have imported two novels originally written in Word into Scrivener.  And, during NaNoWriMo 2016, I wrote a first draft novel in Scrivener for the first time.  It was a completely natural-feeling process to break the new novel down into individual scenes as I wrote it.  But, my first novels had been written in one huge draft.  I’d broken the stories into semi-arbitrary chapters as I wrote them, and that’s how they were broken down by Scrivener when I imported them.  Breaking them further down into scenes now that they live in Scrivener was a non-trivial exercise, but going through that process did give me a good overview of how the story flows and helped me pinpoint where the plot holes could best be filled, and where the missing scenes belong.

The Gideon Effect Corkboard View of Chapter 1.

The scene names are for my convenience.  They won’t be part of the final manuscript.  I’ve customized the default labels for this project.  Green indicates a revised scene. Blue indicates a scene I’m adding but haven’t written yet.  Yellow indicates a scene I haven’t finished revising.

My advice to writers who are converting a story from a more traditional word processor to Scrivener is this:  Take the time to break your story into individual scenes when you import it.  Having the story broken down to that level of granularity will make the revision and editing processes much easier.

In a few weeks, I’ll be ready to compare and contrast the pros and cons of the Scrivener corkboard versus a scene list spreadsheet.  My current impression is that the corkboard alone would work fine for this editing project.  But, I have more work to do and some of the more involved revising lies ahead.  Stay tuned for the final report!

What tools have you found most useful for organizing your revisions and edits?  What is most difficult about the process to you?  Do you plan to approach editing differently the next time you do it?

Scene Lists & Corkboards Pinterest Image

For more great articles on tools for authors check out Raimey’s Author Toolbox Bloghop post.

47 thoughts on “Author Toolbox: Scene Lists and Corkboards”

  1. Great idea!! I love Scrivener, and it has helped my writing immensely. It makes it so much easier to manage your work than by combing through a bear of a Microsoft document. It is a miracle worker.

    1. I love Scrivener too! I would hate to go back to using Word for large WIPs. I like being able to keep all of my research, character sketches, settings, etc. in the same document. It makes looking up a detail I suddenly need so much easier. And the ability to break the story down into individual scenes, reorder scenes, drop something new into the story with a click and drag is priceless.

      I remember talking to a writer years ago who planned her novel using MS Powerpoint. I think she must have been using the slide view in much the way I use the corkboard view in Scrivener. When she told me how she worked with Powerpoint I thought it sounded silly.

      Now I get it!

  2. I’ve been thinking about getting Scrivener for a while, I think I’ll have to try it now! I’m three quarters through my second draft and your system looks really thorough, I love the idea of separating scenes as well as chapters for the editing stages ☺️

  3. Your system looks great! I use whiteboards (real ones on my wall) to map out the scenes for editing (also colour coded). It gives me the feeling of working on something entirely new. I’ve also found that printing out the manuscript and reading through it like it isn’t my own (marking it up with red pen as I go) makes editing a little easier and lessens the pain when I kill my darlings 😉

    1. I wish I had room for a real whiteboard! I’m so comfortable working via a laptop that I’ve never put together and kept up a process that depended on paper. One of these days, I’ll do it!

  4. Wow. I never knew these kinds of tools existed! I’m a steno notebook kind of girl…but this is worth checking out. Thanks!

  5. I know lots of people who prefer to work this way, but I personally like working in big master files, with a single “deleted scenes” and separate “scenes to add” document. The big thing for me is doing a really detailed outline between drafts, which is basically a scene list but in a paper binder because I’m also a big fan of paper.

    Thanks for the interesting post, enjoy the blog hop!

  6. I’m interested to hear your final thoughts after keeping track of your editing process both ways. I use Scrivener as well, and am still learning all it can do. Thank you for the idea of color coding scenes by finished state. Will you post your final thoughts?

  7. I’ve been using Scrivener for a non-fiction book outline, but eventually reverted back to Word. I think at the moment it was just easier for me to have two separate linear documents (the text itself and the proposal/outline) and once I get into it a bit deeper the pinboard option will be more useful.

    1. I’ve been slowly expanding my use of the various features in Scrivener. This is the first real effort I’ve put into exploring and using the corkboard. I’ve talked to non-fiction writers who use Scrivener, but I’m not sure the features I like most are as useful for non-fiction.

  8. I have used Scrivener since I decided to write a novel. I am not to the editing phase but I have been sending my work through critique. I add the big-idea edits that come from feedback to the notecard in Corkboard. That way I have a note stored with the scene it is related to.

    The notecards pull a lot of weight for my planning too. As I am planning the novel, I add what I want to accomplish in the scene to the notecard. I then write the scenes, paying those goals no mind, but I refer back and make sure I managed to complete everything I needed the scene to do. If one of the goals wasn’t completed and won’t work anymore I make note of it on a new scene’s notecard or as an edit to an existing scene’s one.

  9. I’ve had Scrivener for a while, but I’ve yet to work out how to make it work for me. At the moment, it’s little more than a glorified version of Word, but without all the pretty bits. So thanks for the tips!

    1. There are a quite a few Scrivener tutorials out there on youtube. Sometimes I get some good tips from watching one.

      Mostly, I’ve found it easier to just poke around and see what helps me and what hinders me. I’m one of those people who don’t read manuals.

      Initially the Scrivener interface bothered me because it was so different from Word. Now, it’s Word that looks strange to me, especially when I’m working on a document with more than a handful of pages.

      Good luck with Scrivener! I hope you settle in and find some pretty bits and helpful bits too!

  10. Thanks for this post 🙂 I love the idea of a spreadsheet for scenes. Until now, I’ve written them all down at the top of my current word document, but it’s not particularly organised. (I don’t have Scrivener, since I am still torn over whether it is worth the money.) I will use a spreadsheet in future though 🙂 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

    1. Louise, you can probably get a good discount on Scrivener if you participate in NaNoWriMo. I bought mine with the NaNo discount and I think it wound up being half-price.

  11. Great post! I find that I’m similarly myopic about my own work, and that I find editing other people’s stories often much easier than editing my own.

    I don’t use Scrivener myself, though I have downloaded the free trial and played around with it. It’s an interesting piece of software with a lot of powerful tools, and I can see how the corkboard can be useful for at-a-glance scene overviews. I’d be interested in the results of your experiment! Personally, I think that redundancies can actually help with organization and editing. It’s like you’re building in time to revise and refresh your memory, building neural pathways that will help organization and editing become more like second nature. (In general, repetition is the best way to learn — here’s a great link explaining this:

    But anyway, great post! And best of luck editing!

  12. Hi MC. I loved reading this post and I have to tell you why. I used to use a spreadsheet and Scrivener. My spreadsheet ended up being 85 columns wide. That may sound like a lot, but it was everything I needed to check in a scene to make sure I’d thought it through. I still use Scrivener, but I’m also building a app called Feedback to do this work for me. The first prototype is ready, and the app will be released this summer. It was a thrill to see my novel imported and have the scene list break out for me with the characters all tagged to a scene. And that’s just the beginning. I just needed something faster and more organized than a spreadsheet so I decided to build my own tool.

  13. I couldn’t live without scrivener. I love the corkboard and the outline mode. I color code the POV with scene labels and add the word counts to make sure the two main characters have nearly equal time.

    Thanks for the tips

  14. I have never used Scrivener, but this makes me want to check it out! I have some authors in my author group that rave about it, and others that do not like it. Guess it is time I decide which camp I fall into.

  15. I love working with Scrivener. I don’t use the corkboard, but I do color-code scenes by character, so I know if I’ve been out of their POV for too long.
    I’ll check out the spreadsheet scene list, cause I love to use spreadsheets when I’m writing (not for math, though) 🙂

  16. You know, I’ve always heard about this method for editing, but never tried it. I’m such a pantser, even the idea of reverse outlining makes my skin crawl. But your post really inspiring me to give it a chance for my next round of revision!

    1. I’m closer to the pantser end of the spectrum, myself, which is probably why it’s taken me so long to try organizing my edit process. I think I’d still be wandering in the wilderness if Scrivener didn’t hand me a high level view of my story without any real effort on my part. It’s helped to meld the visual-thinking me with the wordsy me.

  17. I’m wary of scrivener, especially since someone on Twitter announced that she’d twice lost her work. I don’t know if the error was hers or if Scrivener’s backup system is flawed. I tried the spreadsheet approach, I tried the wall map approach, and then I took it back to basics. In one document, I use in-document links in Microsoft Word to navigate between my different character builds, and the same thing for scenes in my outline document, and the same for chapter in my actual manuscript. Many don’t realize this, but you can actually use Microsoft Excel functions in Microsoft Word tables, so I track my chapter and daily word counts in Word as well. I might move my word counts into Excel, because there is added functionality in that program, but I enjoy having everything in fewer documents. I’m so happy to read about your process though, because I’m always reconsidering mine. 🙂 And thank you for sharing in the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. #amscheduling a pin and a Facebook post for this next!

    1. That’s horrible!

      I’ve never had any problem with Scrivener losing an autosave. I’m paranoid about my work vanishing into the ether though, and I am religious about making frequent backups and copying them to offsite locations. Only once have I had to restore from a backup, and it happened on my blog after big wordpress update triggered numerous major plugin updates, too. The plugins cratered the site, making in it inaccessible to browsing. I was able to restore from a 20 minute old backup on my own, do some research, and reinstall everything piecemeal successfully later that night.

      That one crash made all my paranoid backups over the year well worth the effort.

  18. I don’t use Scrivener and have had to come up with all my own ways to work on my plot. After a book is written, I map my story out scene-by-scene, and before a book is written, I plot using the Hero’s Journey and a spreadsheet. Both have worked out beautifully. It’s all about finding what works for YOU 🙂

  19. I’ve previously always worked in Word with a new document for each chapter and a new folder for each draft. Means I end up with a lot of files but it does break things up a bit.
    I keep thinking I should invest in Scrivener. I did try it on a 30 day trial and liked the features I found, although I’m sure I barely scratched the surface. I’ve kept putting it off because there always seems to be something else that requires a little extra money but perhaps it’s time…

  20. I love your post and the use of your spreadsheet. I used to use one. I may go back to it once I really get into my new story I have started. Currently I have an bulleted outline I am using on google docs with pa purpose, setting, day and weather line and the top. Have a great rest of your day 🙂

  21. Scrivener is my best friend!!!

    I am my own worst editor. I think part of the problem stems from the fact that I see it as I want it to be versus what it actually is. I know what I meant to write so my mind assumes I did it right the first time.

    So, along with using Scrivener, I also take breaks between writing and editing to put some distance between my story and my brain.

  22. I use Scrivener to organize and write my works, but I haven’t gotten to a full editing process yet – I’ve been wondering how I’d tackle it, and your method seems like a great one to try when I get there! Thanks for the post and the idea!

  23. I love the idea of having everything on the computer, and I even own Scrivener, but I find I work best with paper and pen. The cork board idea work well with physical note cards, as well, but some parts of the process are smoother on Scrivener. If only my creative brain functions agreed!

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