Can I do this?

I’m starting some research for a pretty big project, and I’m wondering if Scrivener is the right tool. I’ve been using the program since it was first released, but never for something as complex as what I want to do now. So I’m wondering how others have used for what I’m going to describe.

With the goal of writing about a historical figure, I need to record notes for a number of things:

  1. Events in the person’s life. They need to be sorted by year, so I can easily find events chronologically.
  2. Secondary people related to this person. The same, I’ll need to store information about people this person came in touch with during his life. They will need to be marked by year, but the chronology is a bit less important.
  3. Notes from letters and journals of the main person. This person left behind a huge corpus of material, and I’ll want to take notes, recording not only dates, but volumes and pages of his letters or journals for each note. I won’t need any strict bibliography (this research is for a novel), but I will need anchors so I can go back and find something when I want.
  4. Other people, events, texts, etc. relative to this person. My subject was involved with many other well-known people, some of whom left behind large numbers of letters and journals. I’ll need to record this information as well.

Now, I could do all this in a flat text file, but organizing would be difficult. I’m trying to figure out the best way to store all this information yet have it easily accessible. My first thought was to use a snippet-collector, such as Yojimbo, which can use tags, allowing me to sort by name, year, etc. But I use Yojimbo to store a lot of stuff already, and it doesn’t allow for separate databases. I’ve looked at a few other programs, but then I came back to Scrivener, and I’m wondering if this will do the trick.

So, has anyone successfully used Scrivener to store and organize this kind of information? The thing is, there will be a lot of it before I can start writing…


Keeping the advice Scrivener related:

This could be done by creating a new index card for each event. Create a folder for that character, perhaps put some character notes on them in the folder text, and then start adding cards for each event. The trick is to make sure they are named in such a way that they will sort alphanumerically. So probably put the date first and then a descriptive title after the date. You can feel free to just add stuff whenever you think of it, and whenever the lack of order gets annoying, Documents/Sort/...

I can’t think of a really good way to do this just with Scrivener. Some ways, yes, but they might not be pretty in the long run.

That would all be pretty easy to do in Scrivener naturally. The latter part could be done either in the References pane or with Scrivener links in the Notes pane.

Same goes for here. Scrivener is already great at managing lots of little pieces like this, and has built-in capabilities for cross-referencing them. If you want journal entries to link to a specific person, they can be linked to in the References—like wise with the event index cards. The way Scrivener lets you use index cards—and then expand into the main text area later if necessary, makes it efficient to build up huge quantities of items without feeling bad about it. Just make a new card for every discrete thing.

DevonThink Pro would be best for this kind of data, though in some cases, you could make simple tables in Bento (or Word/Excel) for sorting by year or person. But item 3, those will be longer text fields, and DTP is ideal for searching strings, making concordances, and revealing patterns in usage.

I’m afraid that DevonThink might be the only tool that really works. I am allergic to that program; every time I’ve tried out a demo, I’ve gotten so confused that I’ve given up.

I’d like to use Scrivener, but I’m wondering if having thousands of tiny documents - because ideally, each quote or note should be a discrete element - would be too hard to manage. Also, I’m thinking of how I can later organize them, find info, etc. The tagging concept - as in Yojimbo - would seem to be a good one for this.

Ah, how I regret that Mailkeeper died back in the day. That would have been perfect.

A genealogy program might be best for this. I’m working on a trilogy whose main and secondary characters are members of an extended family, and I used MacFamilyTree to enter all the characters, their relationships, important dates, and notes. This allows me to easily run all manner of reports and see how everyone fits together. I’ve even been able to add links to images and other files pertaining to each character.

If you think DevonThink is too complex for this task, you might try MacJournal. The advantage of MJ over Scrivener is that it has date fields that you can adjust to whatever date you want. You can have separate “Journals” (which are basically folders) for each aspect of your research.

Then again, Scrivener might work just fine using Ioa’s suggestions.


I’ve actually been trying out Bento today. It seems like it might work well. Since it seems that what I need is more a database, I’m leaning in this direction. In addition, there’s an iPad app, and it might be easier, in some cases, for me to enter data from the iPad.

Also, it allows for sharing databases over a network (as long as the computer with the database is on and Bento is running), which would give me more liberty to work with either my desktop or laptop.