How to Create a New Character Sketch Template for Scrivener

The default character sketch template in Scrivener works well enough if you want to track a few key details about the characters in your novel. It can also be edited to add more information or take it away. But have you ever wanted to just start from scratch and create a brand-new template of your own that works exactly the way you like it? This post will show you how.

The first thing to do, of course, is consider what you want your new template to look like. One thing I knew starting out was that there were many things I didn’t like about the Scrivener default template. For one thing, it has headings in bold, which seems just fine until you try to add text and find that it also appears in bold. For example, if you type “Protagonist” after “Role in Story:”, it appears in the exact same font and formatting, meaning headings don’t look like headings at all! For a while, I went to the trouble of highlighting the text I’d added and manually readjusting, but that’s a hassle I don’t need in my life. I decided the best thing to do was to have bold headings on a separate line, with secondary headings beneath it in the same font I would use for adding information. Now I have a bold header for “Identity” with lines beneath like “Name:” and “Gender:”. Much better.

One tip I did take from Scrivener’s default, though, is that you can set the Synopsis section to display a picture instead of text. While this section might typically display an overview of events in a particular scene, here it can be used as a reference photo. For those wondering how to do this, simply look for the up and down arrows in the Synopsis section and click the image as opposed to the notecard.

The synopsis section of Scrivener, showing the option to select an image to display instead of text.

Additional reference photos, documents, and links can be added in the Document References section below, so it’s important to consider what you’d like in the main section of your template as opposed to what could optionally be added here. If you’re not sure how to do this, click the plus sign with the downward arrow. I used the “Look Up & Add External Reference” option because I had images saved to my hard drive. “Create External Reference” can also be used to link to a web page, but I prefer not to use this for anything I can download because websites can change or disappear. I tend to use it instead for links to sites I often use for writing purposes, like favorite baby name sites.

Here’s an example sheet for one of my characters that includes an image of her favorite hairstyle on top and reference photos for the uniform she wears below.

An example of a character sheet in Scrivener, showing character information, synopsis image, and links to reference photos

To open the linked references, I like to right click and use “Open in Default Editor” so that the image comes up in a separate window I can close when finished.

If you want more tips about how to come up with categories for your template or to see a full sample of my template, check out my previous post on creating character sheets for fiction writing.

Once you’re ready to create the template, go down to the Templates section and create a plain document. After that, you can name it, change its icon, and style it up however you want.

Creating a new text document in Scrivener

It’s just that easy! Now, whenever you want to use it, you can create a document as “New From Template” and select the one you made. Use it for as many characters you want and enjoy!

Character Sheet Template for Fiction Writing

Character sheets can be a great way of brainstorming and organizing information about characters. Especially in a book or book series in which there are many characters or certain characters that appear infrequently, it can be an extremely helpful reference for maintaining continuity. In this post, I’m going to lay out some tips for designing your own character sheet and also provide mine as a sample to use if you would like it.

I recently took some time to develop a template that’s specifically tailored to the fantasy/sci fi series I’m writing. Whereas in the past, I had looked up and copied from other examples, making adjustments on an as-needed basis, this time I really sat down and thought about my characters and what’s important to know about them. Because I had a number of characters already well-fleshed out, thinking about how I would describe them really helped me come up with categories I could use more broadly. One of my characters, for example, is left-handed, which is important to a particular scene, and writing that on her character sheet made me realize the dominant hand of other characters could make a difference in certain action scenes and would be helpful to note down.

I use character sheets both as a way to remember information about a character (what color were those eyes?) and as a way to ask myself questions about a new or underdeveloped character. Because of this, it can be really helpful to have categories for everything I want. Because I reference them often, however, it also helps to not have categories I don’t often make use of.

I find it also helps to have the information I search for most often display at the top. I arranged it so that in Scrivener, my preferred word processor, I can see it all without scrolling. Once I do scroll, I see the sort of detailed information that I might need to reference but that I more often use when fleshing out a character. Finally, I have references to their relationships with other characters, which can be a jumping off point to another character sheet. These are all good things to consider when making your own sheet.

…but if you want to copy mine, feel free to do so. You will notice that the last two sections are very specific to my particular fictional world, though. You may also notice other information that you won’t be filling in very often for your particular characters, like political party, which matters more in my story because it has characters deeply involved in politics.

I recommend using my template as a jumping off point, something to get you started as you think about what would best suit your particular needs. Everyone has a name, gender, age, and so on, but beyond that, consider your book and your characters. What do you want to know about them? What details do you often forget when writing a scene with a character you haven’t depicted in a while? What character traits are important in your fictional world that wouldn’t be in my template at all? These are the questions that will truly help you create the character sheet of your dreams. Good luck!

My Template

Identity
Name:
Reason for Name:
Nickname/Alias/Code Name:
Reason for Nickname:
Gender:
Orientation:
Religion/Moral Philosophy:
Political Party:

Current Situation
Job Title/School Level:
Lives:
Economic Class:

Appearance
Age:
Hair:
Eyes:
Skin color:
Height:
Weight:
Face:
Body:
Dominant Hand:
Favorite/Most Common Outfit:

Background
Hometown:
Cultural Heritage:
First Language:
Historical Events Witnessed:
Important Life Events:
Regrets:

Skills
Professional Qualifications:
Talents:
Languages:

Qualities
Disabilities/Allergies/Chronic Illnesses:
Strengths:
Weaknesses:

Desires
Primary Yearning:
Goals:
Wishes:
Dream Job:

Favorites

Other
Fears:
Secrets:
Habits:
Hobbies:

Family
Parent 1:
Parent 2:
Siblings:
Children:
Other:

Relationships
Friends:
Enemies:
Significant Other/Partner:
Crush:
Exes:

Magic
Tier Level:
Specialty Spells:
Amount of Allied Magic:
First Spell:
Arrested For:

Tech
Implants:
Genetic Modifications:

Creating a Custom Dictionary for Microsoft Word

As a sci-fi and fantasy writer, I do a lot of world building. I create new words for fictional creatures, places, and concepts. I keep track of them to ensure I’m using them consistently. And I appreciate when the software I’m writing in can help with that, at least in terms of spelling. You probably know that Microsoft Word has a built-in spell checker. You may know you can choose to have the program ignore a particular error or add words to the dictionary when prompted. But did you know that you can create a custom dictionary for each of your fictional worlds and swap them in and out whenever you’d like?

To do this, all you need is a list of your desired words and a program that can create text documents. I recommend Notepad, which came free with my computer and more than likely is on yours as well if you have Windows. On my computer, it can be found under Windows Accessories. Otherwise, I can find it by typing Notepad into the search bar at the bottom of my desktop.

From here, all you need to do is add one word per line, select Save As, and save it with a .dic at the end of the file name and an Encoding of UTF-16 LE. Make sure you’ve changed the “Save as type” to All Files.

Now, in Microsoft Word, go to File and select Options. On the left side, there’s an option called Proofing. Click on it to see a button for Custom Dictionaries. From here you can click Add and select your custom dictionary to have it added to the list.

The windows shown when adding a custom dictionary in Microsoft Word

Any time you want to use your spell checker on a document unrelated to your novel or you want to use a different custom dictionary on a second novel, you can come back and use the remove button. Simple as that!

Once added, you can also use the Edit Word List button to add or remove words without having to open the dictionary file separately. From this same window, you can even add autocorrects for custom words if you’d like them. If there’s one in particular you’re always misspelling, you can pop it right in and Word will fix it for you after you type it incorrectly.

Personally, I find that every little thing like this cuts back on my annoyances substantially. Every time I don’t get a little red line under the name of my fictional country is a time my focus doesn’t get interrupted, and every error the spell checker can catch for me is one less thing to worry about when preparing my final draft to be sent out. I really value putting in a little time upfront to prevent headaches in the long run. If you’re a user of Microsoft Word, feel free to try it out and see if it works for you.

Showing or Hiding Chapter Titles in Scrivener Compiles

One of my favorite things about Scrivener is being able to have a folder for each chapter and a text for each scene. I love being able to drag and drop for easy reordering, and I especially love being able to identify which scene or chapter I’m looking for based on the title I gave it. For that to be useful, though, I have to give each one a title that completely gives away what happens in it. In my finished manuscript, I don’t want there to be chapter titles beyond “Chapter 1” and “Chapter 2”, so how do I hide my spoiler-filled titles when compiling?

Luckily, this is pretty easy once you know where to go. When you click on Compile, you’ll probably see something like this the first time.

A test document in Scrivener, showing a minimized Compile window

Looks pretty simple. You can pick a format and a document type to save as. But if you click the blue downward-facing arrow, you get a lot more options. If you click over to the Formatting tab, you’ll see a lot more options. It can be difficult to figure out what the types listed mean, but luckily when you click on one in the list it will highlight an example of that type. Using this method, I can see that “Level 1+” is for my chapters and their titles, while “Level 2+” is for my scenes and their titles. From there, it’s easy to make sure the “title” box for both is unchecked.

A test document in Scrivener, showing a maximized Compile window open to the Formatting tab. Title is unchecked for Level 1+ and Level 2+.

Now when I compile, my finished manuscript will look like this:

A sample compiled manuscript, showing CHAPTER ONE on top and the text of Chapter One beneath

Instead of this:

A sample compiled manuscript, showing CHAPTER ONE on top, followed by a chapter title, a scene title, and then the text of Chapter One

I hope this helps you out if you were trying to figure out how to accomplish this. Otherwise, I hope it gave you an idea of something to try out if it would be helpful for you to organize things the way I do. You will want to keep chapter titles showing if you created them intending readers to see them, of course, but if you actually want scene titles showing and they weren’t before, this method could help you as well. I imagine it could be useful for rotating point of view novels, where each scene could be titled with the name of the character whose viewpoint you’re jumping to, or perhaps for books that jump around in time and want each scene to start off with a date. Whatever the case, I hope you’re able to accomplish the effect you’re going for with a minimal amount of headaches.

How to Change Indents and Line Length in Scrivener

Today I’m going to talk about a little thing that annoyed me for a while when I was learning how to use Scrivener. I had trouble finding other help articles online for this, so here you go!

The problem, in short, comes when I copy text from Microsoft Word. No matter how little I copy, it seems to change the length of every line, such that it doesn’t match what I have in the rest of the document.

A Scrivener document with different line lengths. The first paragraph wraps at a length much shorter than the second.

The first paragraph here was copied in from Word, while the second was written in Scrivener. The difference is obvious, but how do you fix it?

Luckily, it’s pretty easy to do. You just have to go up to the top menu and click Format, then Ruler. There’s also a keyboard shortcut (Control + Shift + R). Either of these methods will give you a ruler to play with.

A Scrivener document with a ruler displayed at the top.

Now you can see that the length of the line is being controlled by the little arrow that shows up right where all the line breaks are. To fix it, all you have to do is highlight the section, the click and drag the arrow to the place where you want the line to break. Problem solved!

As a bonus, this is also how you can add or remove an indent at the start of each paragraph (using the downward facing arrow at the start of the ruler) or indent each line after the first (using the upward facing arrow at the start of the ruler). Behold your options!

A Scrivener document with different ruler settings applied to the first paragraph than the second. The first line is indented half an inch. Subsequent lines are indented a sixth of an inch.

I hope this helps you get the formatting you’re looking for! It definitely saves me from quite a bit of annoyance.

Word Counts and Progress Tracking in Scrivener

One of the features I use the most in Scrivener is the word count functionality. Sure, Microsoft Word and Google Docs will both tell you how many words are in your document, but Scrivener really takes it to another level. I’m going to be showing off my favorites and giving suggestions for how you can make use of them yourself.

Scrivener's Project Statistics, showing word counts for the manuscript and the selection, as well as the page count for each

Here in Scrivener’s Project Statistics (accessible under the Project menu), you can see word and character counts but also the page count in two different formats. Under Options, you can change how many words should be counted as a page, as well as what should be counted as part of the manuscript. This means you can have extra sections, like a reader’s guide for pronunciations and definitions of fantasy words, without having to manually subtract the word count for them while trying to determine how long the actual text of your novel is. You can also easily highlight a selection of scenes or chapters to see how long just those are, which can be particularly helpful if you’re trying to find chapters that are longer or shorter than the others or find out if you’re spending too much time on the exposition, a particular sub-plot, etc.

Scrivener's word count target for the document, showing 981/1000 words in this case

You can also set word count goals for each scene, which you can set ahead of time if you’re writing a first draft and have an idea of how long you want it to be or after the fact if you’re revising. Personally, I use this to set a maximum number of words because I have a problem with expanding while I revise. Having something like this helps me keep the writing under control, by forcing me to go back and take out the sentences and words that aren’t really serving a purpose. This can be edited at the bottom of every text by clicking on the little circle at the bottom right-hand corner (shown beside the green progress bar in the image above).

If you like goal setting, you can really take it all the way with the Project Targets window, one more option to be found under the Project menu. Here, you can set a target word count for your entire manuscript, as well as for your session (which starts when you open the program and continues until you close it, unless you choose to click Reset). For everyone who likes to target a certain number of words per day, this is an excellent option. For people like me, it will even count backwards as I try to push my manuscript back down to 120,000 words or less following my latest round of revisions!

All of these are little things, but I find that they really improve my writing experience. If you have Scrivener and haven’t explored it fully, I hope I’ve helped you find some new features to try. If you have, feel free to leave a comment about how you make use of these. Everybody has a different process, but I’m sure we can all learn something from each other.

Happy writing!

How I Use Scrivener for Novel Writing

I’ve used a few different types of writing software over the years. The first program I used was simply the only option available to me at the time: Microsoft Word. It was the early 2000’s, and my family had one desktop computer and no internet access. Microsoft Word was the program I’d been taught to use in school, and I still use it often. It has the advantage of familiarity, which leads to ease of usability, but it also has some disadvantages when it comes to working on a novel.

As I began working on long form fiction more and more, I found myself getting into the habit of saving multiple versions of the same piece. Towards the end of my time using it this way, I had taken to a naming system reminiscent of software versioning. I had Working Title 1.0 and Working Title 1.1 and Working Title 2.0 and so on for as many different rewrites as I had wanted to create as separate documents. I didn’t want to delete my first draft, especially because I often wanted to just experiment with changes. I often created a version 1.1 in order to try a new approach, only to abandon it because it didn’t pan out. Later, when I did a full rewrite, it became version 2.0, but I didn’t want to delete my experiments either. They often had something about them that I still wanted to find a way to incorporate, and sometimes they had helped give me a better understanding of the characters or the world that I wanted to be able to go back and reference. The problem, of course, was that it became annoyingly difficult to keep track of which version was which, especially when returning to a project after a long break.

Another annoyance was that the files became so large that it was difficult to find the part I wanted to edit. Search functionality exists in Word, but often I couldn’t remember the exact wording of a specific phrase, and searches for character names or other commonly occurring words brought back many results to sift through. It certainly didn’t prevent me from working on my novel, but it did make the process more cumbersome.

Eventually, I shifted into using Google Docs, which has automatic version history, as well as features for easy collaboration. I still use this when I’m seeking feedback from a beta reader, but I no longer use it for versioning. Automatic is nice, but it results in so many versions that it again becomes difficult to keep track of which is which. I realize that it is possible to name certain versions, and I probably could make better use of it if I made the effort, but even then it would be inferior to the versioning capabilities that I found in Scrivener.

Version history in Google Docs, showing time stamps for each version of the document

Here in Google Docs, you can see that the document has been saved each time I’ve made changes to it. Times and dates are saved by default, and I can choose to name any that I choose to.

Version history in Scrivener, showing time stamps with titles for each

Here in Scrivener, on the other hand, I choose when I want to save a version. The time and date are filled in automatically, and I am prompted to add a title.

The biggest difference, however, is that Google Docs saves off a version of your entire document. Scrivener saves off a version of your individual chapter or scene. This particular image shows the versions (called snapshots) that I’ve taken of just chapter two of my current novel. The first snapshot shows me trying out a different character perspective. The second shows me keeping track of the version that I had sent to a beta reader as part of my official third draft. Any time I want to do so, I can restore an old version or click into it for reference, and it will affect only the one small part of the novel that I’m looking at. This is very different from Google Docs, in which I would often find myself scrolling through the entire document to find the changes when comparing to an older version. I also find that having to create the snapshots manually ensures that I actually do it when I want to start some major changes, rather than saying, “Ah, it’s saved off automatically, let’s just keep going.”

Since I started using Scrivener, I’ve actually been surprised at how much easier and more pleasant the writing experience has become simply because of having each chapter and scene split out into separate pieces that can easily be compiled together into one whole. I don’t just title my snapshots. I title my scenes, labeling them with the most important thing that happens in them. That way, when I get an idea for an improvement I could make to “that one part where…”, I can find it within seconds. I can keep even better track of things by adding keywords, labels, custom meta-data, and more.

An example of a chapter in the corkboard view of Scrivener. The chapter is shown as a notecard with labels and text.
Chapter One of my current novel, as seen in Scrivener

Here you can see my preferred setup, in which every chapter is represented by a folder and each folder contains one or more scenes. In this view, you can see each scene in the chapter visually represented by a notecard, which has a short synopsis of events, a label that I created to show which character the scene is focused on, a status that lets me easily find the parts I have flagged for updates, and keywords that I use to show which character’s perspectives are included. Because my book is told by an omniscient narrator and has many characters, I often find it helpful to be able to pick out the one character I’ve made a change to and hop through every part he or she is included in to make sure they’re consistent. Features like this make it easy to do exactly the kind of revisions that I want.

Another advantage to this format is that rearranging scenes and chapters is just as easy as a click and drag. No more scrolling through and highlighting multiple pages just to cut and paste. This is another thing that’s saved me more time and effort than I ever would have thought of, and it’s the little things like this that really add up. Since making the switch, I’ve found that every little annoyance I’ve taken out has increased the time that I spend working on my novel, simply because I’m enjoying myself more while I’m doing it.

Another thing that has increased time spent working on my novel is the fact that there are so many things related to my novel that I can work on from within the same file. From labeling, planning, and organizing to creating character sheets and notes related to worldbuilding, even when I’m not in the mood to write I can be making progress on something. And the real secret? Sometimes just working on a character sheet is enough to put me in the mood to write, and then the novel is right there, just one click away. Conversely, if I’m working on the novel and can’t remember how tall a particular character is compared to another or what the name of so-and-so’s second child was, I can pull up the character sheet with just one click and get right back to what I was doing.

A character sheet in Scrivener. Seen on the side are other types of notes.
A character sheet that I created in Scrivener

Scrivener lets you create different categories for your notes, create templates for things like character sheets, and generally store anything you want to keep track of. I have notes on all my characters, lists of magic spells and enchantments, a complete timeline of events, a family tree, a reference for a complicated plan that some villainous characters have in secret, and more. I even use this as a place to store the query, pitch, and synopsis that I created for querying agents, which is very helpful.

Honestly, I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the things Scrivener is capable of doing. It takes some time to learn, but I found that I was so excited by each new feature I discovered that the process felt like playing more than anything else. If you pick up on software really quickly the way I do, I think you’ll love how robust it is and how many options it gives you. I was wary to spend the money on it at first, especially when options like Google Docs are free, but I really have not been disappointed in it. It fits exactly with my writing preferences, and I would really recommend it to anyone who has a similar workflow to mine.