Why Scrivener Isn’t WYSIWYG

There’s a Very Good Reason

I started re-reading “The Compile Format Designer” chapter in the Scrivener Manual (Scrivener, Help -> Scrivener Manual, chapter 24) today.

Note: The steps and screenshots that follow are for Scrivener 3.2.2 on a MacBook running MacOS Big Sur 11.2. If you have a different version or platform, some adjustments may be needed.

To facilitate experimentation, I created a dummy project with two chapters and a couple of gobbledegook scenes (Project -> New Text) and, in Compile, duplicated one of the manuscript Formats (naming it DeleteMe so I’d remember this compile style was a playground where the neighborhood cat has probably pooped in the sandbox).

Eureka Moment

“Aha!” number 1: The format of text (and headings) is determined twice, first when you are sitting in your chair and typing it in, and then for a second time when you compile to generate a particular output (such as docx, PDF, or Print), and for a particular shape (6-9 paperback, manuscript, Proof Copy, etc.).

The first format, what you see on the screen, is set BEFORE you create a new scene. It’s in Scrivener -> Preferences, Editing, Formatting. (NOTE: Previously created scenes used whatever format was in effect at Project -> New Text time. To change them, you’ll need to select all the text therein and change font, etc. to what you want.)

Bobble-head: There’s a “this project only” override in Project -> Project Settings, Formatting. As above, however, it needs to be set BEFORE adding the New Text file.

The second format, what you see in the compiled output, is set in the Compile, Format AND ALSO DEPENDS ON the Compile For setting.

What this means is that there isn’t a setting #2 but rather settings #2 through maybe #100 , one for each COMBINATION OF output file type (Compile for: rtf, docx, PDF, Print) and output shape (Formats: 6-9 paperback, manuscript, Proof Copy, etc.).

Eureka #2

Microsoft Word is fixated on the WYSIWYG world. What you see on the LCD is what you’ll see on the paper. That sounds good but if you intend to publish your work in multiple formats–say, a hard cover book, a paperback, and an ebook through Kindle–those will be three different formats.

In Microsoft Word, you would have to re-do the formatting for each version.

But in Scrivener, you just use a different compile on your (same) text.

Notice that, if your only experience of document formatting is Microsoft Word, the much larger world of publishing (and Scrivener) may seem befuddling at first.

Yes, Bunky, the real world is more than Microsoft Word.

The 900 Pound Gorilla

Publishers want Microsoft Word files because it’s the lowest common denominator. Everyone has it, and they know how to re-format it for what they want. They have people on staff who get paid, hour by hour, and day by day, to sit there and mouse, highlight, and apply the style they want.

Microsoft Word is the 900 pound gorilla. Like it or not, we have to deal with it.

And Scrivener knows how to generate the necessary Microsoft Word files, and it knows how to import them back into Scrivener when you need to do that, too.

Scrivener Understands Publishing

Scrivener supports the complexity of the publishing world.

Depending on the (compiled) output combination of file type and shape, the number of characters on a line, the font, line spacing, paragraph indents, and so on are all determined by your choices. A WYSIWYG view of your text is not possible until you choose both file type and shape.

Consider, for example, an e-book. Scrivener can generate an e-book output of your text. An e-book, unlike other outputs, has NO inherent font. Instead, the person who downloads and reads your e-book sets the font THEY LIKE. They also choose the point size as preferred for their eyes. And, depending on how they hold their tablet or cell phone while reading, the “page” on their display is formatted by their app into Portrait or Landscape, and then changes to the other if they rotate the device in their hands.

Scrivener understands (supports) the real world authors must navigate. If you’re only experience is writing in Microsoft Word, get ready for a mind expander!


EDSkinner.net began in 2023. Fiction and non-fiction publications are included as well as (blog) posts and supplemental materials from flat5.net (2004-present).

Comments submitted on individual pages are subject to approval. General suggestions may be sent via the Contact page.

© Copyright 2024 by E D Skinner, All rights reserved