Tracking Characters - How do you do it?

How do you track your characters using Scrivener? I want to know, preferably at a glance, what characters are on-stage and off-stage in each scene. I’ve played around with a combination of key words and custom metadata but the fact that the “field” has multiple values (i.e. several characters in a scene) is complicating things. I can set up a “Char Name - On” and “Char Name - Off” keywords for each and every character but that seems very cumbersome. Can you share how you track which characters are in which scenes in your novel?

I tweaked the metadata for this thread to better match what it’s about.

One way to find offstage characters is with an inverse keyword search: search for the character’s keyword using the Project Search, but choose the “inverse” option to find all scenes that do not include the character(s).

Collections. I add the document/scene to a collection for each character. (Also do the same for each location too.) Easier to see via the binder than by using keywords which can only really be seen in the inspector when the document is selected.

Why not both? You can use keywords to generate a Collection.

Because I find Collections more visually appealing.

I would recommend this if you’re looking for a Scrivener-specific solution. Add a keyword for each character present in the scene, then create Saved Search Collections for the characters you want to track closely.

If you’re looking for an at-a-glance specific solution, Metadata would be the better solution since you can view that in the Outliner nicely. You can create “Characters On Stage” and “Characters Off Stage” metadata columns to see a list that way. This is a nice tutorial for using Metadata for keeping track of novel data.

I rarely use the outliner myself. It joins the corkboard as a feature I never use. The Binder display is my goto feature it is always there so Collections are a natural part of my workflow.

How about Labels? You can only assign one per document, so they aren’t as flexible as keywords, but you can show that one as a color in the Binder. Depending on the size of the cast, you might need to assign a Label to a group of characters who often appear together, rather than just to individuals.

Using keywords and smart collections keyed to them seems like a nice combo, because you could also easily on the fly do a project search for combinations of characters — “Scrivi, show me all the scenes where the lovers/conspirators are together.”

One strong reason for making use of collections (smart or ad hoc) is that calling on the collection shows all the scenes together in the results binder – no matter how spread out in the text they might be.

And, of course, the technique generalizes. An obvious use case is tracking distributed streams of slow-reveal flashback through your draft.

How would that work for tracking multiple characters?

Not as well as keywords. As I said, you can only have one label per document, so you’d need to compromise between accuracy and convenience.

Thanks everyone. Great ideas! I’ve tested them all, even the combos.

Using collections does not provide me with the overview I’m looking for but it has shown me that I need to use collections more for other things. Labels do not provide enough flexibility for tracking multiple characters.

I’ve decided to bite the bullet and put in keywords for each of the main characters on and off (what I mean by off is that the character is mentioned in the scene but not actually in it). Then in the outline (which I do use a lot), I can see the keyword color chips which gives me a great overview of the characters throughout the novel.

Thanks, everyone. This is a great community. Appreciate all the input.

There are some useful pointers to take into account when using keywords to track characters which you can read about here: Using Keywords to track Characters & Locations

Very helpful. Thank you for pointing me to that post. Conceptually it is what I decided to do. That said, I didn’t understand the importance of not using spaces in keywords. That is very helpful for this context and other search contexts as well.

Thanks again. @pigfender.

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