I'm a muttonheaded nincompoop! Does Scrivener have a button for that?

Hey Scrivies (Sorry. Is it alright if I call you that?)

First, thanks for this magnificent tool, and the community as well. I have a fair number of children that I love a great deal less than I love Scrivener, and while I have all the writing talent of a pickled halibut, this tool has helped me tremendously to hide this truth from readers.

Question: Is there a toolset in Scrivener to help me track and replace unanswered questions in a novel?

Here’s what I mean. Say I’m writing a very intricate passage when I suddenly must write the name of a mechanized war duck, but I have not given this character a name yet. Typically, I arrive at this moment and…drift off for twenty five minutes thinking of possible war duck names instead of getting the ruddy work done.

Lately, when this moment happens, I’ve tended to insert “[Need: Name of the war duckie]”. Then later I search for "[Need: " to sift through the copy for these tags. It’s a somewhat chimpish solution in that it relies on me to chimpishly implement it. Today I encountered Placeholders, which I now realize is not at all related to the question I’ve posed. But! I momentarily thought that placeholders would allow me to organize all the many unnamed faces and places, characters whose total number of arms was undecided, all the essential bits. I was very excited to have incorrectly thought this, then disappointed myself tremendously when I informed myself of how I’d misled myself.

How do you all use Scrivener to manage this problem?

Is there a keyword/tag/meta approach to keeping track of these and I’m so green I didn’t know? In my fantasy world, there is a list where all undecided bits are housed, and when I edit an item in that list, that tag is replaced in all instances throughout my forty book series on The Complete Military History Of Ducks. I mean…er…asking for a friend.


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Wrapping your “Need” questions in an Annotation field will highlight them and make them easier to find. You could also use an Inspector Comment. It’s a bit easier to work through a list of comments because they’re pulled out into the sidebar, and also comments allow a little more room without making the underlying text unreadable.

Searching will be easier if you use a marker that isn’t likely to be found elsewhere in the text. So maybe:
%%Need: MechWarDuck, linking to a comment with any immediate thoughts you have about the name.

You might find it helpful to use the Label or Status field to flag documents that have unanswered questions associated with them.

For more complex questions – “What’s the power supply for a mechanized war duck? And how long can they operate on a single charge/tank?” – you might throw a note in the Research folder (or wherever) and bookmark that note from whatever document needs the information. You could of course do this in parallel with a simple %%Need: WarDuckPower in the text.


PS Moved to Using Scrivener forum, as this isn’t a Mac-specific question.

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I would say that placeholders might not have been as bad of a direction to head as you thought! Though, I would qualify that to say: making your own custom placeholder is probably the best way to handle this problem. Here’s an example:

  1. You hit a spot where you don’t have a noun yet, so you type in “!duck” or something equally unlikely to be intentionally typed in.
  2. Open File ▸ Compile…, and on the right-hand side click on the Replacements tab (looks like ‘ab’ to ‘ac’ in the icon).
  3. Insert a new row for “!duck” and put “[Need: Name for war duckie]” into the With field.
  4. Hold down the Opt key on your keyboard, and click the Save button to close compile without actually compiling.

Now you can keep writing in peace, and keep using “!duck” wherever you need to. When you compile, it’ll print out with this warning phrase instead. Or, later on when you settle on a name, you could replace the warning phrase with that name, and now they will compile correctly. Either way you have your central list maintained in the compile settings.

That’s a useful technique for handling long proper nouns you don’t want to type in by hand every time as well, by the way (though auto-complete may also do just as well).

So that’s one approach, but another might be to skip the Replacements setup and just go on using “!duck” informally. Once you reach a point where you know the noun, use Edit ▸ Find ▸ Project Replace to fix all the old references in one big operation.

If you wanted to fix them in a more considered fashion, which might be a good idea, you could also run a project search for “!duck” and work through the list in the sidebar. Similar to what you’re doing, but without the extra clutter to fix when editing.

No matter what you do, the key thing is to use a phrase that wouldn’t type in accidentally or for some other intentional purpose.

One last trick is to save your project search for “[Need:” (or whatever), as a saved search collection (at the bottom of the project search option menu). That is your global list of documents that have placeholder text, which can help you find those cases you missed.

I use a very similar technique for jotting down editing notes, using inline annotations to hide the notes when compiling. A collection for “TODO//” or “NOTE//” automatically gathers everything I flagged at some point in the past to look into when I had time to do so.

Whoa! Thanks so much, AmberV and Katherine. Suuuuper helpful!!!

I also feel I should cop to this: my partner chimed in just now. She’s a prize fighter and motorcycle mechanic and has never seen Scrivener. But she googled for 11 seconds and said “Try Inline Annotations maybe?”

I rolled my eyes at her and replied, “Duh! Ptshh. I knew that. Everyone knows that. I was talking about a different, much more complex thing that only sophisticated writerly types know about.” But I didn’t, and they do, and I wasn’t.

Now I can never use Inline Annotations. She’ll know.

HA! I’ll try all of your suggestions as well. Thanks again!

If you want to cheat the system, you can use Styles instead of inline annotations. The trick? In your compile settings you can set up a style to delete the text. :laughing:

Very nice! Thank you, Lamplighter, Katherine and AmberV. Oh, you just gave me an idea to tinker with: what about using Collections to gather these so you can see them all together? (Click on the Search icon (magnifying glass) in the Search space, and Save Search as Collection at the very bottom.) Collections are nifty beasts: you can collect by Search, or choose documents yourself.

Compile is an amazing process, but I’m still not on the easiest terms with it.

I tend to use brackets ("[") only for questions/comments, so just searching for that finds all these documents. (Hooray!) Since of course (of course) I’ve changed my ‘system’ countless times, sometimes, but not always, I’ve used “TK”. I have comments/questions in both the text and the Scrivener Comments section–and Search very kindly finds both (I selected “Search In:text”). This is very nice: I’ve worried I’ll miss something important.

You could get more granular, too and make a Collection for your designated code and keyword (say, %%Name or %%Weather). You can also reorder the list of Collections–move, say, all revising/TK Collections to the bottom. I’m thinking I’ll try a general one for brackets, then limit myself* to a few more specific ones: names, gestures, replace far too many “snorts”.

*I must have been a squirrel in a previous life. Though apparently they’re quite systematic and actually have impressive memories. So maybe not. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: