Help with massive project w/ scores of characters?

Hello, all!

I hope I posted this in the right place in the forum, since none of the other topics seemed to pertain to my scenario. If someone at L&L feels compelled to move this to another forum, please do so. I’ll understand.

I am embarked on a massive and absolutely daunting history project, which I hope to have finished and ready for submission for publication sometime around the mid 2020s (the project so far has been a part-time endeavor). That target date is very important, since the next window of opportunity for such a publication won’t come around for another 50 years after the deadline above, by which time I will be deceased. Thus, I’ve given myself roughly 12-13 years to complete this project. I already have about two years of research and structural development into the project as it settles into an evolving organizational approach, which I will eventually settle on as the final structure.

The project will cover an historical period of time of roughly 30+ years, and almost every character plays heavily throughout the entire project. The number of characters involved will certainly grow beyond the present number (likely growing to hundreds in all), and this brings me to my question.

My binder has a timeline, broken down by year, then by month, then by individual events within that month. There will also be events whose dates intersect with other events, which ultimately contribute to the overall plot and storyline of the project. As the number of characters grows, I’m finding it difficult to refer to my characters (stored in the Research folder in the Binder) without losing track of my place in the project timeline (organized in a hierarchical manner in the top section of the binder).

Does anyone have your own way to manage such a project in a way as not to interfere with your writing workflow? I’d like to be able to vertically split the binder so my characters remain somewhat stationary in the bottom binder view, while my timeline/outline remains in the upper binder view. This would help tremendously by keeping my place in my working documents above while the characters remain stationary below. I think having a vertically-split binder would help solve my problem and make my workflow much more efficient.

Having said that, I also have another frustration with my bibliogrpahical citations. I maintain a single document within my project a for a bibliography. I would like to have some means of taking my existing bibliography and duplicate it into another type of layout, such that for each bibiographical entry, I would display each quote or item supported by that given work listed in the bibliography. This way, I will always know when I have already included an item from a source, as it would be listed beneath each entry in the bibliography.

I’m nearly certain that what I’ve just described is less coherent than the way I envision it, but what I’m asking for is whether any of you have any advice for effieciently managing these issues. Any similar usage scenarios would be much appreciated as well.

Thank you all very kindly,

I’m wondering if you perhaps meant to post this in the Usage Scenarios sub-forum? Other users of the software do not routinely come through the feature request area, and so many people may never notice your question. Let me know what you want and I can move the thread for you.

That’s a helpful suggestion, so thank you! I agree, that would be a better location. Can you help me get it moved over there?

Thank you kindly!

Scrivener is undoubtedly the right tool for your writing, but for keeping track of a set of events and characters of that magnitude (or any magnitude, really) I suggest Aeon Timeline. Stop reading right now, click on the link and read through the features page. Then click on the videos section at the bottom of the page and watch both videos. Now. Seriously, we’ll wait.

OK, that should take care of the bulk of your request. Though there is an integration of sorts between the two programs I haven’t really used it; I’m a very visual person when it comes to something like the timeline, so it (the integration) just didn’t work for me too well. YMMV, of course. What I’ve done is to do all of the timeline editing and maintenance in Aeon Timeline itself, and then just bring back pieces of it into Scrivener. In particular I’ve found the image export and HTML exports to be useful (though to make the HTML export really work for me I have to go into the resulting file and remove a few columns; I wrote a Perl script to do it). So far, that has worked tremendously, though more often than not I just find myself with both programs open at the same time, not even looking at the stuff I’ve imported into Scrivener.

As for the Scrivener project itself, I would consider making serious use of the keywords for each chapter/scene, to track which characters are in which scene. This way you can easily filter the text to just include stuff involving one or more characters (e.g. “Cory, Jake and Harri” or “Cory or Jake” – stuff like that). You could even do up locations or objects like that, too, to help filter through the text (sounds like there may wind up being a lot of it).

re: Vertically split binder – that sounds like a great idea, but I don’t know how to do it, sorry.

re: the bibliography request – have you tried links? Select a word or phrase and right-click and select Scrivener Link. The rest should be obvious from there. The linked-to document will have a back-reference link to the word or phrase you originally selected. I think in your case you’d want to link from the bibliography document back to the main text, but I’m not 100% sure. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a step in the right direction, I think.

To expand on the bibliography with links idea a bit, you could also consider a new card for each source. Since this can be easily combined into a single document later if need be, it shouldn’t be a problem to keep each source on its own card. Then if something uses a source, you just open up your bibliography folder, and drag the source card into that item’s References list in the Inspector. Now you have a link to it from the referent, and as with Scrivener Links, an automatically generated back-link from the source card to the referent. Hence, you can click on any source card in the future, check its Reference list and get a complete listing of everything that refers to it.

NorthboundTrain and Amber, those are some fantastic ideas! I paticularly like the Scrivener links. I’ve used them before, but as with any large project, sometimes the content overwhelms the tool and gems like these can be easily overlooked or forgotten. I also like your note card suggestion for the bibliography! These give me some great starting points to force into habit before it’s no longer practical.

I did check out Aeon Timeline as well. That looks promising, since often a history is written chronologically, and is a bit like solving a crime. Time and money permitting, I will add this application to my arsenal, where I trust it will remain in good company with the likes of Scrivener.

Thanks again!

Upon reviewing your suggestions, I have two more questions. Should I place the note cards I created from the bibliography at the top level of a given topic’s hierarchy (say, attach them to the folder containing a chapter’s documents)? And if I change the original card attached to the bibliography, does that change automatically propagate to the ones I’ve copied into the chapters?

Second, based on my original questions, would collections be a suitable option for what I’m trying to accomplish? While keywords will no doubt be helpful, they seem to me to be a means by which one might quickly locate those keywords. Not knowing much about collections, perhaps they are more amenable to my organizational needs beyond what one can do with keywords.

Again, thank you all kindly.


I haven’t played with Collections too much, but they seem to me to be a way to save a filter or set of search results for later use. They’re not so much a list of things as they are a set of criteria which define a list of things. The results of the criteria set are dynamically generated each time you click on the collection (though maybe there’s a way to lock that down; not sure).

The main point for your purposes, though, is that you still need a way to define the criteria for the collection to work, and therefor you still need the keywords.

Again, I’ve not played with collections much, so this may all be garbage, but I think it’s a bit on the correct side.

Thanks for your reply. Looks like I have a lot of keyword entry and tagging to do.

There are two types of collections: search collections, which are what you describe here, based on criteria like a label or keyword and dynamically updated whenever the collection is loaded; and arbitrary collections, which are just lists of whatever documents a user decides to put in the collection. These later are managed manually; too add a document, just drag it from the binder onto the collection’s tab (or choose Add to Collection from the binder context menu or the Documents menu). You can delete or rearrange items in the collection as well. Arbitrary, also called standard, collections are static, so if you want to preserve a search collection’s results at a certain time, you can convert it by choosing View > Collections > Convert to Standard Collection. Once it’s converted, you can add, delete, and rearrange items in it just as with any other standard collection.

For such a massive project with many things to keep track of, I think that keywords are going to valuable, but you do have some options for how to deal with the collections at that point, so play around to see what works for you!