Making a List of Characters

Hi all,

Sorry if this has been answered elsewhere; I’ve been looking and couldn’t find an answer close enough to my needs.

Basically, I want to have characters associated with chapters, and be able to see them quickly in Outliner-view. It’d be extra-sexy if I could choose a name from a pulldown list.

How do you recommend making a database-style list of character names? Keywords seems a little clunky, and I’d be worried custom meta data wouldn’t separate each name very well.

Any ideas or best practices would be great.


I tend to use the outliner itself for stuff like this. In my mind, most meta-data is for binding objects together through a non-linear mechanism (a keyword search can bring dozens of items together, no matter how scattered apart they may be in the Binder), but should not be the object itself, as that is not really what it is designed for. To put that into a practical example, it would be inefficient to make a singular entry in the Binder called “Characters” and then assign fifteen keywords to it, one for each character. The characters are the objects in this equation—if anything “Characters” is the binding principle between them, and more deserving of being the keyword assigned to multiple entries, than the character names themselves—although, if it is unlikely for character lists to exist all over the Binder, then one needn’t use a non-linear binding mechanism like keywords, and could more easily use a folder instead, the simplest form of binding meta-data there is. :slight_smile:

Thus, a “Characters” folder, with fifteen individual character items inserted into it, one for each person or aliens, would probably be the easiest way to make a list of characters. Since each character would have its own slot in the project, that means you can cross-reference to them individually from various scenes involving that character, using References. It means you can assign keywords to characters to bind them with other objects in a non-linear fashion—perhaps along a particular plot line. It means each character can have its own index card and notes. It also means they will come up in project searches. And since everything in Scrivener can be its own folder, that means you can tuck away portrait sketches, research documents and other notes “beneath” the character entry.

And of course, you get your primary wish, this list shows up in the Outliner—as well as corkboards, collections, and whatever other tools you prefer to use.

Thanks, Amber!

I think I’m following you, but I must be missing something. Could you give me a step-by-step example, or point me to one? I just searched through the documentation and watched the video on References, and I didn’t see how to make this work.

I’ve got a folder of character profiles together (the default folder in the novel project template), at this point with about five profile documents. I’ve dragged one character profile into a chapter document’s References area, and can see the internal link. I don’t see a way to pull up References in the Outliner, though. Is that what you’re suggesting?

Thanks, and I’m sorry for my thickness,

Perhaps I’m not understanding what it is you are going for. You are looking for a list of characters involved in the scene, so wouldn’t the References list suffice for that? That is how I handle things. I use References specifically to make lists of documents that are pertinent to the section in question. Why would you need this list in the Outliner—I guess that is where I get confused.

Well at any rate there is no way to do that. References are by design tucked away into the item they are assigned to, so as to not clutter up the other views. It would be confusing to blend them in with the main editor views, or to put it another way, to use the main editor views for anything other than item management. Well, I suppose there is one circuitous way: drop the References into an arbitrary collection and then view that collection in the Outliner—but, importantly, you are no longer viewing the references but the original items.

That’s fine; I can live without the list as a quick reference in the Outliner.

I’d like to make it easy to pull up a list of all chapters a character appears in. (Likewise with other variables, like plots & subplots, and locations.) I’m just trying to figure out the most useful way for my needs to get that done. Is that clearer?

I’d stick with keywords. What makes them clunky for you? There might be a way of applying them that isn’t quite as bad as how you’re using them.

You might try simplifying the character-data process, and make one document containing all your characters, sorted in a way that makes sense to you, with a truncated version of the pertinent information–eye color, hair, tendency toward diaphonic flatulence–for each character, and Scrivener links to the full character file where you expound on why his hair is that color and why she’s so flatulent.

Float this in a Quick Reference window, and it’s always easily available, no matter where you are.

Then all you need do is tag each scene with who’s in it.

The problem with a large array of in-depth character files is that the immediately pertinent bits of each character seem always to be buried. This method (burgled in part from David Hewson) kind of edges around this.

@robertdguthrie, they’re already starting to get kinda lengthy. I just wondered if there’s an easy way to link particular characteristics (locations, plots, characters) that’s germane to Scrivener. Basically, I just want to work from someone else’s best practices.

For keyword management, I tend to sort them into groups. Even if I don’t collapse the groups, the indenting helps me a lot. Of course being able to keep clusters of like keywords together rather than having the whole mess alphabetically sorted is nice, too.

Another thing I will often do is use the same colour for each keyword of a particular type, if it isn’t so important to know what the keyword is, and rather just that it has a keyword of that class. A good example for me there is a workflow keyword. I don’t really care if the keyword is “Rewrite” or “Needs research”, all I care about at a high level, when looking for things to work on, is stuff-with-problems. So one single colour as represented on the corkboard works good for that. Once I get into the item and have the keyword in the sidebar, then I can worry about the specifics.

As for “linking” together documents that are similarly keyworded, you can just use the Project/Project Keywords tool to click on the keyword you are interested in, and then click the search button at the bottom. For keywords you do this a lot with, saving that search as a dynamic collection can be useful. If you have three principle characters are always flipping between them, try making three collection tabs bound to their keyword (you can save a search into a tab using the magnifying glass icon in the project search tool).

Groovy: keywords it’ll be.

Is there a way to batch-apply them? Same with statuses, actually. I have hundreds of documents in there now, and each seems to require individual attention.

Yes! For keywords, select the lot you wish to mark, and then drag the keyword onto that selection. For Label and Status, right-click on the selection and use the contextual menu to set these values.

That’s awesome. Thanks so much, everyone!

I just started using keywords for characters and came to find out if it’s sensible. Apparently it is.

So far it’s been not the best way I can imagine, but it’s pretty damn good.