Smart character table

I am aware that this may appear as far fetching, but a cool feature would be a character table automatically bringing up small portions of text where each character’s name is mentioned. A sort of autosaved name search, that would be helpful in controlling each character’s consistency,in fiction as well as in nin fiction writing. What I have in mind is Amazon’s Your Notesa & Highlights page for each book I read on Kindle.

Keeping in mind that Scrivener has no feature level comprehension of what a “character” is, if you think about your problem in more general terms, you are looking for something that can automatically gather documents that contain certain words—to perhaps highlight those words for you in the main editor, and make it easy to jump from one instance to the next. Or maybe even find things that do not use that word in the text itself (perhaps a scene from the POV of the character), but have otherwise been tagged in some way as being associated with that word.

From that point of view, Scrivener does have the ability to set up these kinds of lists. In the upper-left corner of the toolbar, click the magnifying glass icon to open Project Search, and type in the name of the character you want to monitor. The sidebar will update to a filter, showing only those items that use that word—by default anywhere. It can be in the title, the synopsis card, the main text area, as metadata, etc. You can choose to narrow that down by clicking on the smaller magnifying glass icon in the left of the search field itself.

From that option menu, note at the very bottom the option to save the search as a collection. Try that, and then use the View ▸ Show Collections menu command. You can click on this character’s tab whenever you want to pull up a list of items relating to them. Click on “Binder” to return to the normal view.

Whenever viewing a search result or saved search collection in the binder sidebar like that, you can jump from one hit to the next in the main text area with ⌘G. That’s just a shorthand for the regular ⌘F Find panel’s “Find Next” button—but you don’t need to load up the panel or even set it up when using project search.

Lastly, one nice thing about collections is that you can view them as groups of items in the main editor. Click the hook arrow button in the collection header bar to do so (or right-click in the editor header bar and use the Go to Collection command to jump straight to any tab at any time, you don’t have change from the binder). With a group of items in the main editor, use View ▸ Scrivenings (⌘1) to read all of the text related to the character in a linear fashion.

So it’s a bit like the Kindle reader note browser, only you can make as many of them as you need. And with regular collections you can even control which items are in them and in what order.

I’d recommend the following material from the user manual:

  • Using Keywords, starting on page 238. Keywords are a great way to tag binder items with lists of topical words, such as character names.
  • §10.2, Using Collections, pg. 216.
  • §11.1, Project Search, pg. 248.

And from the forum:

Thank you Amber. I realise that I an far from familiar with collections. I was always overawed by this function, whose purpose I didn’t feel the urge to explore.

Understandable! When I first encountered a similar feature in another program (I think it was Ulysses II, way back before it went iOS hybrid) it took me a good while to figure out what was even going on, let alone adopt it in any meaningful fashion. It’s an unusual approach.

With Scrivener, saved search collections are just “smart folders”. If you’ve ever used one of those then you know how they work. You click on them, and whatever matches the search stuff you stored into the smart folder will be found and listed in the window. We use a slightly different metaphor, because we also wanted just plain old arbitrary hand-crafted lists of items as well as dynamic smart lists, and we wanted it to be something you could focus your whole project window on—replacing the full binder so that the list is all that matters.

It’s one of those features where there isn’t a whole lot to it, but it changes just enough about how you think about a project that it can add a lot of depth to how you approach your work.