An Effective Use of Templates in Scrivener

Here’s the basic introduction to templates if you don’t know how they work or how they could help you in your outlining/prewriting:

In your project Binder, there are a number of folders you might be managing.  The obvious defaults might be just Draft and Research.  You can add a Characters folder to join these, or inside of Research, whatever suits your fancy.

But do you find yourself duplicating a lot of work when you do multiple Character sketches or Place profiles?

What scared me away from templates at first was the idea that a single document was supposed to hold all of the templated info.  I may as well just duplicate some other existing character file and change the values.  No big deal.

But templates are way better than that.  You can make a template folder that comes with all the broken out sub-documents you want.  Combine this with the “Default New Subdocument Type” option for folders, and you can do some really great things.

Setting up your Templates folder

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-2-17-02-pmStart by adding a regular old folder to your project.  You can name it whatever you want, but Templates is a pretty reasonable choice.

I let this folder exist at the root of the project alongside Draft and Research because once I set it up, I’m probably not going to drill down into anymore.  You can make this folder live wherever you want, though.


Now designate this folder as your source for all Template files/folders.

This will give the folder a unique icon to show its special status.  You can only set up one of these folders.  The menu option shown here will change to “Clear Templates Folder”.  It’s not the end of the world if you clear it and re-set it, even if you’ve already started building out your repository of templates.


I’ve now added a Character folder within Templates, and I gave it the icon I like to use.  Notice the small “T” added to the icon to represent that this is serving as a template.

For a basic template, you’d make this a text file instead of a folder, but I want it to be a folder so that I can throw in a bunch of default sub-documents that I like to have when I make a new character.

So let’s add a few documents (with fancy icons!) that give me the big picture view of this character.  I’ll want to add notes on the fly once I’m working with a real character, but this is the just the template, so I’m creating just the stuff that all characters hopefully have in common.

Let’s step away from our Templates folder for just a minute to explore how to put this to use.

Make a Characters folder in Research, and make sure it’s actively selected (that is, the Binder has application focus, not the writing area of Scrivener or something else).


Using the Documents menu, you have an important option available: “Default New Subdocument Type”.  That’s fancy talk for “What happens when I push [Enter] when I have this folder selected?”

The answer in this case is that we want the Characters folder to spawn new Character templates instead of basic old text files.


You’ll notice that hovering over the Character template shows us the sub-documents we made, but you should ignore those.  You can actually just click on Character directly and it’ll move that little checkmark from the default “Text” choice to “Character”:



So now, when you have Characters highlighted in the Binder, pushing [Enter] will create a whole duplicate of the Character folder, complete with all of the sub-documents!

There is one hitch about the way Scrivener handles templates that you’re probably going to run into at this point:

Even though your brand new Character folder says its default sub-document type is a standard “Text” file, highlighting the new character or one of its sub-documents and pushing [Enter] again will yield something that is probably not all that helpful: a nested character template.


Yuck.  I want to be able to push [Enter] inside of my character folder to create new blank text files for notes, ideas, stuff that I like to see in the expandable list rather than actually opening a notes file and skimming for text in paragraphs.

If you check the “Default New Subdocument Type” for your new Character, it’s actually already set to Text, so what happened?

At the time of this writing, Scrivener treats Text as the lack of a more specific choice on your part.  It’s Text because you’ve provided no override.   But this folder consequently inherits the setting of its parent folder (and maybe that folder inherits from its own parent, all the way up the chain).  Once it finds an override, that’s what it’ll use.


So here’s what you do.  Back in Templates, add your own template file called Text—I’ve left mine empty, just like a default text file.

Delete that Character folder you made in Research, because we want to update the template and recreate it from scratch.

Now you can set this “custom” Text document as the default sub-document for our Character folder template:

Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 2.50.07 PM.png


Now make a Character in your Research‘s Characters folder, and push [Enter] again inside of that Character, and you’ll see your Text file appear instead of a nested Character.


Once you spawn a copy of a template, Scrivener doesn’t track where it came from, so old copies won’t get updated if you alter settings on the original template.  This is why you should either trash the broken version of the Character that we made before we realized this mistake, or you should go back and set the Character‘s default sub-document type to the new Text type.

Nested Templates as default sub-documents


You can set sub-documents for sub-documents!

Here, I’ve built out a World template because in my story there are going to be a few of those, and I want to track some basic info about them.  In addition, I need to list the cities or points of interest, and each of those places might have any number of notes, from “This is the capital” to “So-and-so died here”.

So we have an empty Places folder in the World template.  Rather than loading a handful of blanks to get it started, I leave it empty, then make a lonely Place template (green flag in the image above) outside of the World template.

Now you can do what you’ve done before: Set the Places folder to use Place as the default sub-document:

Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 4.38.14 PM.png

Make sure for both World and Place, the default sub-document is our custom Text type so that we don’t accidentally make nested Worlds in Worlds, and Places in Places:

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-4-43-17-pm screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-4-41-33-pm

And finally, you can create a proper Worlds folder in your Research and set the sub-type to spawn World templates:


Each World comes with set of skeleton documents for notes, and a Places folder which spawns Place templates.  The Place templates are empty, but you can generate as many notes as you want.


To the left is the final view of the templates and example research that I built.

The best way to make the most of templates for faster project construction is to use them as default sub-document types, like we’ve done here.

This may seem like a time-consuming effort, but I highly recommend that you save a stripped down version of this as a custom project template.  Even if you find yourself customizing it for each project, this can be fun to tinker with and can ultimately save you a lot of fiddling.

I have a workflow for my Draft as well, which is to create Chapter templates that spawn simple Scene text files with a name pattern that I like, such as “City: Location”.  It’s a tiny thing, but it makes working in the Binder completely effortless.

When you save a Scrivener project a new project template, you should keep things like our Characters and Worlds folder, but make sure they’re empty and have the right template set as their default sub-document type.  This will let you start a new project and immediately get to work!


And now you’re a template power user!

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