Novel Structure

This section covers the structure of a novel project.

It concerns documents under the Novel type root folder only. There are some restrictions and features that only apply to these types of documents.

Importance of Headings

Subfolders under root folders have no impact on the structure of the novel itself. The structure is instead dictated by the heading level of the headers within the documents.

Four levels of headings are supported, signified by the number of hashes (#) preceding the title. See also the Markdown Format section for more details about the markdown syntax.


The header levels are not only important when generating the exported novel file, they are also used by the indexer when building the outline tree in the Outline tab as well as the Novel tab of the project tree. Each heading also starts a new region where new references and tags can be defined.

The different header levels are interpreted as specific section types of the novel in the following way:

# Header1
Header level one signifies that the text refers to either the novel title or the name of a top level partition. The latter is useful when you want to split the manuscript up into books, parts, or acts.
## Header2
Header level two signifies a chapter level partition. Each time you want to start a new chapter, you must add such a heading. If you choose to split your manuscript up into one document per scene, you need a single chapter document with just the heading. You can of course also add a synopsis and reference keywords to the chapter document. If you want to open the chapter with a quote or other introductory text that isn’t part of a scene, this is also where you’d put that text.
### Header3
Header level three signifies a scene level partition. You must provide a title text, but the title text can be replaced with a scene separator or just skipped entirely when you export your manuscript.
#### Header4
Header level four signifies a sub-scene level partition, usually called a “section” in the documentation and the user interface. These can be useful if you want to change tag references mid-scene, like if you change the point-of-view character. You are free to use sections as you wish, and can filter them out of the final manuscript just like with scene titles.


There are multiple options of how to process novel titles when exporting the manuscript. For instance, chapter numbers can be applied automatically, and so can scene numbers if you want them in a draft manuscript. See the Exporting Projects page for more details.

Unnumbered Chapter Headings

If you use layout types for your documents, the automatic numbering feature for your chapters is controlled by whether you use the Chapter or Unnumbered layout type for your document. However, if you have a different document layout where this isn’t practical, you can also switch off chapter numbering for a chapter by making the first character of the chapter title an asterisk (*). Like so:

## *Unnumbered Chapter Title

The leading asterisk is only considered by the Build Novel Project tool, and will be removed before the title is inserted at the location of the %title% label. See the Exporting Projects page for more details.


If you need the first character of the title to be an actual asterisk, you must escape it: \*.

Tag References

Each text partition, indicated by a heading of any level, can contain references to tags set in the supporting notes of the project. The references are gathered by the indexer and used to generate an outline view on the Outline tab of how the different parts of the novel are connected. This section covers how to set references to tags. See Tags in Notes for how to define tags the references can point to.

References and tags are also clickable in the document editor and viewer, making it easy to navigate between reference notes while writing. Clicked links are always opened in the view panel.

References are set as a keyword and a list of corresponding tags. The valid keywords are listed below. The format of a reference line is @keyword: value1, [value2] ... [valueN]. All keywords allow multiple values.

The point-of-view character for the current section. The target must be a note tag in the Character type root folder.
The character that has the focus for the current section. This can be used in cases where the focus is not a point-of-view character. The target must be a note tag in the Character type root folder.
Other characters in the current section. The target must be a note tag in the Character type root folder. This should not include the point-of-view character.
The plot or subplot advanced in the current section. The target must be a note tag in the Plot type root folder.
The timelines touched by the current section. The target must be a note tag in the Timeline type root folder.
The location the current section takes place in. The target must be a note tag in the Locations type root folder.
Objects present in the current section. The target must be a note tag in the Object type root folder.
Entities present in the current section. The target must be a note tag in the Entities type root folder.
Custom references in the current section. The target must be a note tag in a Custom type root folder.

The syntax highlighter will alert the user that the tags and references are used correctly, and that the tags referenced exist.

The highlighter may be mistaken if the index of defined tags is out of date. If so, press F9 to regenerate it, or select Rebuild Index from the Tools menu. In general, the index for a document is regenerated when it is saved, so this shouldn’t normally be necessary.

Novel Document Layout

All documents in the project can have a layout format set. These layouts are important when the project is exported as they indicate how to treat the content in terms of text formatting, headings, and page breaks. The layout for each document is indicated as the last set of characters in the Flags column of the project tree.

Not all layout types are actually treated differently, they also help to indicate what each document is intended for in your project. The Book layout is a generic novel document layout that is formatted identically to Chapter and Scene layout documents, but may help to indicate what each document does in your project.

You can for instance lay out your project using Book documents for each act, and then later split those into chapter or scene documents by using the Split Document tool. Scenes can also be contained within Chapter type documents, but you lose the drag and drop feature that comes with having them in separate documents if you organise them this way.

Some layouts do have implications on how the project is exported. Documents with layout Title Page and Partition have all headings and text centred, while the Unnumbered layout disables the automatic chapter numbering feature for everything contained within it. The latter is convenient for Prologue and Epilogue type chapters.

The above layout formats are only usable in the Novel root folder. Documents that are not a part of the novel itself should have the Note layout. These documents are not getting any special formatting, and it is possible to collectively filter them out during export. Notes can be used anywhere in the project, also in the Novel root folder.

Below is an overview of all available layout formats.

Title Page
The title page layout. The title should be formatted as a heading level one. All text is centred on export.
Plain Page
A plain page layout useful for instance for front matter pages. Heading levels are ignored for this layout format, and so are formatting options like Justify Text. The page is exported with a page break before it.
This is the generic novel format that in principle can be used for all novel documents. Since the internal structure of the novel is controlled by the heading levels, this layout will produce the same result as a collection of Partition, Chapter and Scene layout documents. However, it does not provide the functionality of the Unnumbered layout format by default, but this can still be achieved by prefixing the chapter title with an asterisk (*). See Unnumbered Chapter Headings for more details.
A partition can be used to split the novel into parts. Partition titles are indicated with a level one heading. You can also add text and meta data to the page. The Partition layout will in addition force a page break before the heading, and centre all content on the page.
Signifies the start of a new chapter. If the text itself is contained in scene documents, these documents should only contain the title, comments, synopsis, and tag references for characters, plot, etc. The heading for chapters should be level two. If you need an opening text, like a quote or other leading text before the first scene, this is also where you’d want to add this text.
Same as Chapter, but when exporting the project, and automatic chapter numbering is enabled, documents with this layout will not increment and apply a chapter number. It also has a separate title formatting setting. This makes the layout suitable for Prologue and Epilogue type chapters.
Used for scenes. This document should have a header of level three. Further sections can have headers of level four, but there are no layout specifically for sections.
A generic document that is optionally ignored when the novel project is exported. Use this layout for descriptions of content in the supporting root folders. Notes can also be added to the Novel root folder if you need to insert notes there. Note headers receive no special formatting when building the project. They are always exported as-is.


The layout granularity is entirely optional. In principle, you can write the entire novel in a single document with layout Book. You can also have a single document per chapter if that suits you better. The Outline will show your structure of chapters and scenes regardless of how your documents are organised. So will the novel tree.


You can always start writing with a coarse layout with one or a few documents, and then later use the split tool to automatically split the documents into separate chapter and scene documents. The split tool will try to select the correct layout for each of the new documents.

Novel Layout Automation

When a document is saved from the document editor, novelWriter will check if the level of the first header of the document matches the selected document layout. If the header level is inconsistent with the layout, the layout will automatically be corrected if it can be unambiguously determined.

This means that for instance saving a document with header level three, when the layout is set to Chapter, the layout will automatically be changed to Scene. If, however, the layout was set to Book, no change will be made because the Book layout is not associated with a specific header level.