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How to use Scrivener Templates the Right Way

The easiest way to explain scrivener templates.

Before we delve into how to use Scrivener templates, it would be nice to know what they are.

As simple as the Scrivener manual itself puts it, Scrivener project templates are just customized projects. Think of them as base settings that you can build yourself or use free templates that other writers have built to learn from.

How to use Scrivener Templates Car Analogy

But if that isn't enough, here's an analogy:

Picture yourself sliding into the comfy seat of your brand new car. Not one of those base model versions, but a top of the line sports car with​ every button, knob, dial, and feature you could imagine.

You spend about ten to fifteen minutes setting up the radio stations, adjusting your luxury leather seat just the way you like it. Then you point the air vents perfectly, getting the temperature just so. Finally,  you adjust the mirrors so you can see perfectly.

You're locked and loaded and ready for the most exquisite ride of your life.​ And it is the smoothest and most spectacular ride you've ever owned.

The best part about it, is that this model is so awesome it has a button that saves all of that preset information.

So the next time you get into your car, you simply press that button and all those settings are programmed and set automatically, saving you tons of time.

Wouldn't that be nice?

Those preset “buttons” that remember everything about your writing environment? Those are Scrivener templates.​

Why you should create a project template.

An example:

Let's say you're going to write a three-part novel series.

Each book will be roughly the same length, use the same physical book size, use the same fonts and chapter headings. They'll contain the same character outlines, scene and setting descriptions, too.

Also, the front matter and back matter documents will be virtually identical with a few minor changes. Most importantly, the workflow you use to write, edit, and self publish them will be the exactly the same.

To make sure you don't duplicate all of that work for each book, inside a Scrivener project file, you could create custom:

  • Scrivener character templates: documents with an outline of a character's traits in them.
  • Custom folder, document, and story structure outlines in the Binder
  • Custom scene settings and descriptions
  • Custom labels and status: color-coded and personalized tags that you can use to identify a document's type and status.
  • Compile settings: how you organize and output your book or ebook file to the different media formats that the different online publishers require.
  • And virtually anything that you don't want to have to recreate for each book...

I know that sounds like a lot of work. Luckily, Scrivener ships with some built-in templates.

Why Scrivener's built-in templates fall short.

The Literature and a Latte—Scrivener creators—have done a great job of providing you with a few built-in scrivener project templates to help you learn how to use scrivener templates.

  • Fiction novel templates
  • A Short story template
  • A Scrivener non fiction book template
  • And more...
How to use Scrivener Templates Screenshot

The templates that ship with Scrivener do have some custom items in the binder, and some settings tweaks and changes.

The trouble with all those free scrivener templates is that they're too generic to do you any good.

Beyond the basics, you're better off learning how to use Scrivener templates, and then creating your own.

As I mentioned before, customizing a project template to your workflow, and then tweaking it to make the process of writing, editing and self publishing your books easier... That's the real power behind Scrivener templates.

A cheat sheet on how to use scrivener templates.

Let's create your first template. Now, you could sift through the 526 pages in the Scrivener manual...

But here's all you need to know about how to create your own template file.

5 easy steps to creating a template:​

  1. Create a blank Scrivener .scriv project file
  2. Customize everything you want to inside that file: Binder folders and documents, Label and Status presets, Compile presets and settings, and any other meta and formatting customizations you can think of.
  3. Then select the menu item File>Save As Template...
  4. The “Template Information” box will come up. You need to fill in:
    • Title (what will appear beneath the thumbnail in the template browser)
    • Category (Which section of the Project Templates dialog box to add the template to in the browser)
    • Description (A description of the template.
    • The “Icon” box on the right gives you options for setting the appearance of a template thumbnail.
    • All this information helps explain the template to other users when and if you decide to share it with the author community.
  5. Click OK, to save your template as a .scrivtemplate file

Your newly created template is now ready to select in the Project Templates dialog box and use.

3 simple steps to making a template you downloaded available for use:

  1. ​Open Scrivener and click the menu item File>New Project...
  2. ​​In the Project Templates dialogue box, select the Options drop down menu item and click Import Templates...
  3. Select the .scrivtemplate file you downloaded and click Import

Your new template is now in your Project Templates dialog box. Any time you decide to create a new project, you can use it as the basis.​

Why you shouldn't create your own template.

If the steps in #3 sounded like a bunch of “blah-blah-blah,” chances are that you're still at the beginning of the Scrivener learning curve.

What we need to do is get you up that learning curve, faster than just learning by doing or reading the manual. And that leads us to the best way to learn about templates...

Use free Scrivener templates to start your next project.

Not every template you find on the Internet is awesome, far from it. The awesome ones you do find, however, will not only give you a great basis to start your next project, but they'll also teach you about self publishing in the process.

Here's what to look for in a free Scrivener template:

  • ​If you need help outlining your characters, look for Scrivener character templates that have detailed questionnaires to help you define your characters’ traits.
  • If you need help plotting a novel, look for Scrivener novel templates that focus on the four part, three act story structure, folder and document details.
  • If you're a non fiction writer, search for a Scrivener non fiction book template. Make sure it has detailed chapter and subchapter sections.
  • Searches on Google include writers looking for Scrivener blog, academic, dissertation, journal, thesis, and ebook templates. So the types of templates are limitless.

But we'd like to help you skip the painstaking job of sifting through templates.

The best place to find free scrivener templates.

The Internet abounds with a stunning variety of free Scrivener templates. Some are awesome but some, unfortunately, are a waste of your time.

So we've surfed the web to find and detail as many worthwhile free templates as we can find.

We've catalogued the good, the bad, and the awesome of each one so you can skip the tedious “download, install, and check out the usefulness” phase.

You can find and learn how to use Scrivener templates we've reviewed by clicking the button below.

(If you've got a FREE Scrivener template that you'd like us to share with our readers, send us an email with the contact form. Provide a link to the template and we'll review it as soon as we can. If we think it can benefit our readers, we'll write a post about how to use your Scrivener template and link back to your site.)

The real difference between templates and projects.

In my “first” life, as an IT Director, my engineers had a favorite support acronym: RTFM (Read the fu—friendly manual) But seriously, user manuals are packed with great information, buried between the lines of all that techno-babble.

And Scrivener's manual​ is no different. Here's what it has to say about templates and project files.

“Since the built-in templates are just starter projects...”


There are a few differences (mostly pertaining to how a template is loaded and the description and thumbnail that can be saved with it), but for the most part you should consider a template no different from an ordinary project.​

And there it is right there in black and white. How you open them up and a thumbnail image? That's the difference?

But that got me thinking. Why couldn't I just create a Scrivener template as a preformatted-with-all-my-settings .scriv file to open and then Save As whenever I wanted to start a new novel?

As it turns out, I could, so I did. And that file became our most popular free Scrivener template download: 4PSS (Four Part Story Structure) Scrivener novel template.

It'll teach you more than just how to use Scrivener templates, it'll also give you a crash course in fiction four part story structure plotting and pacing.

How do you use Scrivener templates?

Now it's your turn.

If you have any suggestions on how to use Scrivener templates or favorite templates you'd like to share, let us know in the comments below.

Mike Thompson

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