Referencing the same files instead of duplicating them?

I’ve recently run into a big problem in Scrivener with managing/planning/brainstorming, while working on an epic multi-book series, and I’d like to know if there’s a solution for it.

The problem I have, is that when I’m planning character arcs, I use the outliner to create individual text files for each important plot point and scenes for the character’s arc. These aren’t meant to have actual texts inside the text files–I"m just using the Title and Synopsis fields. For every important character, I have a folder called “So-and-so’s Arc,” and inside the folder are the text files being used in the outliner view.

In the actual manuscript section of the binder, I’m also using the outliner to plan the series of plot points and scenes, and there’s a lot of overlap with what I have already done for the individual character arcs. Right now, I’m just duplicating the text files in the character arc folders and then moving them to the manuscript section, or simply copy&paste the title and synopsis from the outliner fields to a text file in the manuscript section.

As you can see, that redundancy is not ideal. Also, sometimes multiple important characters are in the same scenes together, so that means in their individual character arcs, I’d have to duplicate the same text files multiple times for each of their character arc folders. That is also not ideal and creates lots of redundancy.

I have tried using collections, but it’s not ideal because in order for that method to work, I would have to choose a “master set” of files, and the manuscript section is the logical choice. Then I would use metadata to create collections for each of the character’s arcs, so I can focus on looking at each character’s arc one at a time.

The problem I ran into with the collection method, is that often there are back-stories in a character’s arc that I don’t necessarily want to appear in the actual book, but I need to have records of them in the character’s arc, so I will remember them, and maybe in the future write them into the story. If I were to use the manuscript section as my master set of files, there wouldn’t be any place to put those “orphan files” that are necessary for the character arc planning but shouldn’t appear in the manuscript. And if I were to do it in reverse and use the individual character arc folders as the master set, and then use the collection to create the actual manuscript, that just becomes very convoluted and messy. Also, using collection to create the manuscript section means I can’t use the outliner view to look at the manuscript (I’ve tried but there doesn’t seem to be a way to do that). This is a problem because I do need the title and synopsis and progress fields in the outliner view when working on the manuscript.

So what I’d like to know, is if there’s a way to easily reference files without duplicating them, so I only need to create a text file once, but then can reference it in multiple locations in the binder, as if it’s been duplicated in those various locations. Also, I would need to be able to arrange the referenced and the original version in whatever order I want without them messing up each other’s ordering (which I think already works in the collection view).

I don’t know if there’s a more advanced way to use the collection view to achieve what I’m asking about, or if what I need is outside the scope of the collection view’s capability.

Have you tried making use of the “Include in Compile” checkbox in the Inspector? Scrivener is in fact designed around the concept that authors may very well want much more elaborate outlines for their book than what strictly gets used to create the book. This is one of its primary points of departure from outlines such as seen in Word and OpenOffice, which are strictly document outlines. The outline in Scrivener can be much more conceptual and organic, and can include large sections of background, general notes, whatever you need to make a section make sense to you. Anything without that checkbox in the Inspector will be omitted when you compile. (Note you can add this setting as a column in the Outliner.)

Now something that may help with this approach is the Document Templates feature, documented in §8.5, Document Templates, pg. 72 onward. In short, you could give your special “note” style documents a custom icon (documented in the following section) so that they are visually obvious from the Binder/Outliner level—or even from Collections, and disable the “Include in Compile” checkbox from the template. That way you don’t have to remember to uncheck notes yourself.

And one nice thing about this technique is that it sounds like from time to time these sections may become book material—since it is already “in place”, at that point all you need to do is flip the “Include” switch on and it’s in.

So I think that may help you out with some things, at least the duplication aspect where you have important story information that you want to have closer to the draft. But it sounds like Collections may still be a useful tool for you as well—especially if you want to experiment with alternate scene arrangements and such. As you note, what you do in a Collection does not impact the Binder (though of course these are references not duplicates, so changing their content or names will have that impact on the originals).

Keep in mind it doesn’t matter where stuff comes from in a Collection. You might know that, but it sounds like you were feeling constrained to only being able to choose material from Draft or elsewhere in a Collection. In fact that’s the one place where absolutely everything can play together. So you could string together background material and research with book material in the same Collection—but you are right in that these are flat lists, so if the hierarchy is an important part of how you visualise things, the interleaving method I described initially, where portions of your Draft outline are “off the record”, may be best.

To answer your main question: no there is no way to create outline “clones” such that two items in the Binder share the same information. There are no plans for that either, it has been suggested in the past, and Collections was the answer to that request.

Thank you for the suggestions and explanations. I’ll give them a shot and see if I can come up with a good structure/workflow.

It looks like I’ll have to use a combination of what you suggested, along with my current brute-force method of redundancy, in order to get exactly the kind of arrangement I need. I’ll have to do some thinking on how I can achieve the simplest and most efficient workflow.

One other tool: References in the Inspector pane can be handy for binding two or more items together, regardless of outline structure. It’s a list of links, simply drag document A into document B’s list to link to it. Once done, you can double-click the link to load it in a split view. Each document can have its own list of links, and the whole project itself has a Reference list. That’s more of a tool for association though, almost like each item having its own personal collection.

The main problem with the referencing tool in the Inspector pane and the Collections for me, is that they cannot give me what I really need, which is to look at the information in the Outliner view with the fields I need such as title, synopsis, status, etc. Those are absolutely crucial for planning plot and character arc–especially the synopsis field. Without the synopsis field, Scrivener loses a huge chunk of its usefulness to me since I rely on it so heavily. This is the main issue I need to find a solution to.

If only there was a way to have one set of master files and then just reference them in various other locations I need to also use those files, but still be able to view them in the Outliner view even when they are in other locations besides the original master set of files. You said others have asked for this feature and the Collections was the answer. So does that mean I should put it on the wishlist to allow viewing collections in the Outliner view so all the fields are available?

Ah, I see better what you’re asking for now, hopefully! If I am clear now on what you mean, you can already do this in a sense right now. If you click into the Collection file list and hit Ctrl-A to select all, your selection will appear in the main editor, which if it is in Outliner mode, will display these items along with your preferred columns. Same as in the Binder, even though Collections have their own list, it’s more like a focussed version of the Binder where you choose the parts you want to see. In other words the way you click on things in the Binder works the same in Collections. Select three non-linear things with Ctrl-click, hit Ctrl-1 to switch to Scrivenings mode, and you can read the selected texts back to back. It’s not too fancy yet, but if all you need is to see these items in columns, then that should suffice.

Keep in mind that if you do want to manipulate the Binder outline from a collection you absolutely can do so. Just include the container item in the list. Now when you click on it individually, you can manipulate the Binder outline directly through that Outliner view. Again, the same as clicking on that very folder in the Binder, it’s literally the same thing.

No need to post a wish request for what you’re asking for though, because that is already in the plans for the next major upgrade. :slight_smile: All of this is going to become more integrated and natural, as well as powerful. For example you’ll be able to click a button and view the Collection in the main editor as an object, just like when viewing a folder. You’ll even be able to lock that Collection’s view mode to Outliner, so that it always uses it when you load it, even if you otherwise use Scrivenings. There will be lots of cool enhancements in time.

Yay! Looks like I’ve got the problem solved! Thanks!

That Ctrl+A inside a collection is a real killer–it makes all the difference in how useful the collection can be.

So what I’ll do is this:

In my manuscript folder in binder view, I’ll create the scenes in the book, and the scenes will be added to various collections for the character arcs.

The scenes and background stories that should appear in character arcs but not necessarily in the manuscript, I’ll simply create those files in the individual character folders (using the character profile sheet as the folder), and then add them to the character arc collection.

So now I only need one set of files (placed in manuscript folder and character profiles folders), and they’ll be referenced in collections to create individual character arcs.

If this suggestion sets your head to spinning then just ignore; it requires understanding keywords and saved searches, which I’m not going to detail in case you get it without the extra verbiage…

If you add a keyword for each character to every document that pertains to that character, then you can do a keyword-only search (using the search tool in the Scrivener toolbar) that will result in a list of files with that keyword. It’ll be in the order they are in the binder, so if that’s a deal-breaker, then stop reading now. The big advantage to this saved search (it appears just like a regular collection), is that as you add or remove the character’s keyword to documents, the documents will automatically be added or removed from the saved search results.

Here’s a nice article that gives some important details for using and searching for keywords in Scrivener: … -keywords/