Organizing all-over-the-place notes for a fictional series

Hello everyone! As the topic suggests, I’m trying to organize notes for a fictional series that I’ve been “working on” (i.e., writing lots and lots of random and unorganized notes about - in Word Documents, notebooks, on scraps of paper, etc.) for nearly six years. As you can imagine, it’s a nightmare. I’m really excited about Scrivener (even though I’ve had the program for years, I just read the tutorial and discovered how amazing it is), but I’m not exactly sure what the best way might be to apply its many amazing features to my notes. I’m thinking about giving each separate thought its own “index card,” but certain thoughts apply to many different categories (like theme, plot, a particular character, etc.), and I want to be able to have those thoughts on hand whenever I want to know everything I’ve ever thought about a particular category. I was thinking I might create collections for each category, and then use keywords to label the index cards with all their relevant categories so that I could “find” one index card/thought in multiple collections, but I’m wondering if there is a better way to do this, and I would love to hear any advice you might have on organizing notes like this in general, because I’m very determined to do it but am pretty hopeless at it. Thank you very much for your help!

The approach you’re suggesting is pretty much what I’d recommend, assuming your keywords are relatively few <30 or so in number. After that I find the scrivener interface gets a bit unwieldy. Also be aware you can’t use keywords in IOS.

When I first read your description, Keywords is the feature that popped into my mind. They are very easy to assign on the go as you work, easy to batch assign to many old notes (select the lot, drag the keyword onto the selected cards from the Project ▸ Show Project Keywords pane), can be “fuzzy” in that one note can have multiple categories and importantly they are easy to search for from the aforementioned pane. Searching means they are thus easy to turn into lists with saved search collections—for those groups you need quicker access to than manual searching.

Another approach that Scrivener 3 makes viable is the concept of a “nexus note”—that is a note that intends to gather a topic of other notes together without the use of metadata, rather purely through the use of Bookmarks. The Bookmarks panel in the sidebar gives you quick access to any item bookmarked to another, so if an item exists chiefly to gather a list of bookmarked items, well it serves as a “notepad” of sorts in the inspector.

Considering you can stash something you need semi-permanent access to in a Copyholder (try Option-dragging the “nexus note” to an editor header bar), and by clicking into a Copyholder pane view its Bookmarks list in the inspector—you can even use these notes while working on other things in the editors.

And of course the whole concept of freely being able to Bookmark items that are important to what you’re working on means these notes can be easily referenced to any chunk of text you need, not just the nexus notes. Load your nexus note, select it, ⌘C to copy it, and then hit ⌘[ to jump back to what you were doing and ⌘V into the working section’s Bookmark list to paste the note reference.

Bookmarks are also interesting in that by default when we link to things, they automatically get a bookmark linking back to the thing we linked from. Hence, each note, in its own Bookmark pane, would have a record of which items considered this document to be a notable resource. We are thus only one step away from getting to a nexus note from there, and from that the other related notes in that category.

Interesting as that approach may be, I’d say overall Keywords are probably going to be a better option—but do keep in mind Bookmarks, Keywords and Collections are all on very friendly terms. A search result for “Topic” can be selected en masse and dragged into a bookmark list to stash it so you can go back to working with the binder.

Using Collections as the principle organiser is of course possible as well, that’s what the feature is for—but I myself prefer to keep my collection list as small as possible, only using those tabs for the really present-tense stuff. Since collections can be “backed up” to bookmark lists at any time, there is little downside in working that way, and it keeps me from having hundreds of tabs to scroll through. It depends entirely on your topic quantity, whether tab proliferation is an issue.

Thank you both for your help, I really appreciate it!