How to get the most out of Scrivener Composition Mode

It has so many features that it’s hard for anyone to pick their favourite part of Scrivener, the writing software that has been adopted by everyone from amateurs to professional authors. But one popular feature is its “Composition Mode” — a full-screen, distraction-free view that aims to allow the user to concentrate solely on getting their words on the page.

Yesterday, Twitter user @Alvesang posted a photo of his Composition Mode, and it was lovely. Since it took me a little while to figure out how to tweak the default options to achieve the same thing, I thought I’d write up how to do it.

Step 1: Choose a background

The first step is to choose your background image. If you’re artistic you could make your own, but Google Images is an easy source of suitable photographs. Search for something like “white landscape” for some appropriate backdrops.

Changing Google Images size search

The only restriction here is that Scrivener will not change the proportions of the image to suit your screen dimensions, so it’s a good idea to use Google’s Search Tools to limit your search to images that are the same size as your screen. (You have a problem if you regularly switch between an external monitor and a laptop screen, as their dimensions are rarely the same. In that case, you’ll need two images.)

Once you’ve chosen or created a suitable image, open Scrivener and go to View > Composition Backdrop > Choose… to select the image .

Select Composition Backdrop

Step 2: Adjust your Composition Mode settings

Enter Composition Mode, either by clicking the icon or hitting the appropriate key combination (Cmd+Alt+F on a Mac). You will enter the full-screen view, with a blank page in the centre of the screen, and display options on a bar hidden at the bottom of the screen. (Move your mouse to the bottom of the page if the options are not visible.)

Composition mode right side

To achieve a nice effect against the background, we want to get rid of the paper. Move the slider on the far-right all the way to the left (or click on the icon) to make the paper invisible so that the text appears to sit directly on the background.

Composition mode left side

You can also adjust the size of the text (Text Scale), whether the text is centred or against the edge of the screen (Paper Position), and the width of the ‘page’ (Paper Width). In general I’d recommend a combination of page width and font size that gives you the same number of words per line as a standard book.

The last thing is to get rid of the ugly default scrollbar. Open up Scrivener’s Preferences (Scrivener > Preferences, or Cmd+, on a Mac) and go to the Compose panel. Change the Scroller type dropdown to “No scroller” to get rid of the scrollbar altogether:

Scrivener Preferences pane

If you prefer a dark background, you can also flip the text colour via that panel — under Customizable Colors, select Text Color, then tick the ‘Override text color with color:’ box and use the colour picker widget to change the text to white.

Final result

Scrivener composition mode full screen

And that’s it, you’re done! Enjoy your distraction-free, immersive writing experience, thanks to the awesome flexibility of Scrivener.

18 thoughts on “How to get the most out of Scrivener Composition Mode

  1. Love Scrivener and love composition mode. Some awesome tips here! Also, I really appreciate the time you spent to put together the graphics and layout of the post. It’s a small thing but I noticed. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks so much for explaining this so clearly. I use composition mode but didn’t realise you could do fancy tricks like this with it. Love it :)

    1. Hi guys,

      thanks for the effort. I am using Scrivener for Windows version 1.6.0 and it seems it is not possible to fade the paper against the background. It is possible to fade the background but not the paper. Looks like I only can change the color of the paper but not the fading. Or have I overseen something?

      Best regards,

  3. Hey,

    Falling in love with Scrivener as we speak. Love the side-by-side page view in page layout mode. Is it possible to have the same thing in Composition view?

    Thanks for a great collection of info on your site,
    Mike C

  4. I have Scrivener for Windows and when I put the image in I want to use for the background it tiles it… It’s not one big picture of it, it’s a whole bunch of the same pic… How do I change that?

  5. Hi, I am using Scrivener on windows. When I go to the compose mode to set up a black screen with the green text (like the classic computers) there is NO OPTION to override text color with the green compose text color. When I go to compose mode, the background is black, the cursor is green, but the text is black and not green. Is there anyway to fix this? Thanks for your time :)

  6. Hi! Fixed it :) I just uninstalled it and then installed it again. I guess I wont update it unless I have to! Have a nice weekend!!

  7. I love composition mode, but find it to be distracting that I have to keep exiting composition mode every few minutes because I need to italicize or underline something. It pulls me out of my writing, and I lose my train of thought. But composition mode helps me to focus on my story, so I want to use it. Is it possible to have access to the formatting bar in composition mode?

  8. Caroline – why not just use the keyboard shortcuts to apply formatting? Double-click on a word and then press Ctrl+I for italics or Ctrl+U for underlines.

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