Scrivener – Keywords and Saved Searches

Hello again and welcome to the next helpful tip for you Scrivener users.

In my previous post I mentioned using Keywords to track scenes and characters throughout your novel. This is a very simple feature but when coupled with Saved Searches it becomes an incredibly powerful tool!

You access Keywords via the third icon of the Inspector panel. (Note: An asterisk shown against any of the Inspector Icons tells you there is information on that panel).  For this post I’ll actually use the Scrivener file associated with my latest novel “To Raise a King” (Currently Available on Amazon) [Shameful Plug!!]


Here is a view of the inspector panel from Scene 1 of Chapter 2 of my novel. A very brief synopsis reminds me of what is to take place in this scene, and below the general meta data are our keywords.

You can start adding keywords immediately to a scene by simply hitting the “+” icon to the right of the Keywords heading. This allows free text entry of anything you want to associate to that scene. Just as simply the “-” button removes a keyword.

Easy – but a little dangerous maybe. Being Freeform, you can enter anything there. So – lets assume you have this amazingly powerful wizard and you name him “Myrlinus”. The idea of the keywords would be to add the keyword “Myrlinus” to every scene he appears in, but with a name like this guy has it would be easy to miss-spell the name. Some scenes may have “Myrlinus” while others have”Merlinus”. One of the reasons for using the keywords in the first place is to perform instant searches against our huge manuscript, but if we type the name wrong we’ll not find them in our search.

Worse yet – what happens if we change this characters name to “Merlin”? We’re going to have to replace that keyword in every scene. Nightmare!

Enter “Project Keywords”.

On the image above you will notice a gear wheel icon to the right of the Keywords line. This brings up a drop down menu allowing you to add or remove a keyword (basically replicating the “+” “-” buttons), and a third option to view Project Keywords.

You can also access Project Keywords from the Main Menu: Project / Project Keywords.

Here is view of the Project Keywords from my novel:


You can see I have a keyword for “Flashbacks” – anywhere in the novel my protagonist experiences a flashback I add that keyword.

Then I have a selection of characters (color coded of course – red for the bad guys, green for the good, gold for supporting). I also have a tree of locations.

Project keywords can be as simple or complex as you like, ranging from a single list, to a more involved hierarchy. The Outline buttons at the bottom of the window allow you to add “sibling” or “child” entries to the keyword list and you can also set the color using the built in color wheel.



So why use Project Keywords?


Firstly – you don’t have to keep typing the keyword on each scene. Simply use the gear wheel icon to bring up the Project Keywords and they will float in a separate window while you work. Now you can simply drag a keyword from the pop-up window directly into any scenes keywords frame. Bam! We’ve eliminated the risk of typing mistakes.

Secondly – what happens if we want to change a characters name? Simple. Bring up the Project Keywords window – double click a character and change their name. You will get a warning dialog as belowkeyword-used

how cool is that? Thanks Scrivener! With a simple click of “Update Existing Documents” all the scenes that had “Myrlinus” as a keyword, now have “Merlin”. You have to love this application for its power and simplicity right?

Ok – so we’ve got a bunch of keywords associated with out scenes by why is that useful? The answer to that is searching! Scrivener excels at searches and it can find anything, with searches confined to a scene, a chapter or your entire manuscript. That’s fine when looking for one off things here and there, but what if you want to identify all the scenes with a flashback? Or all the scenes with Matt? Or all the scenes that took place in the library cos you want to change the red carpet to a wooden floor?


Using Scriveners Search located at the top right hand of the main menu bar note the drop down arrow next to the magnifying glass. Clicking that arrow will bring up a ton of useful search filters for you to apply, and notice right there in the center of the top group is “Keywords”! Now entering a keyword of “flashbacks” will instruct Scrivener to search for all scenes that have a keyword of flashbacks.

Your search results are shown as a set of scenes beneath the binder in the left navigation pane.

Now here’s where it gets super slick. If you check in the search list the bottom option – Save Search As Collection – your search isn’t just shown in the binder under search results, but as implied by the option – a whole new collection is added to your navigation panel.

For this example I searched for Keyword “Flashbacks” and opted to Save my search as a selection named: “Scenes with Flashbacks”.



You can see here we have four scenes that have important flashback moments in them. And because they are now a “collection” they are always available to us on the navigation panel so we don’t have to search for them again.

Important Note: A collection is not another copy of your scenes. It’s a virtual folder that links together scenes from your binder / manuscript under a meaningful header. If you double click one of these scenes and edit it, then navigate to the same scene in the binder you will see the change has applied there also.

I’ve saved the last piece of Scrivener Awesomeness for last. Collections are dynamic, not static. What does this mean? It means that if I add the Flashbacks keyword to other scenes in the novel, those scenes will automatically appear in the “Scenes with Flashbacks” collection! I don’t have to search for the keyword again and rebuild the collection.

If you get into the habit of using keywords as you build your story, you’ll find you are building a wealth of powerful indexes and search capabilities that when it comes to continuity checking, and detailed editing later you’ll be glad you had.

If you decide to use keywords, how you use them is entirely up to you. For the novel “To Raise a King” I tagged each scene with a location, and the characters in it. I also tagged any scenes that had flashbacks, and as this is a novel that covers time travel, I also tagged each scene with it’s period – “PresentDay” or “597AD”. Flashbacks, PresentDay and 597AD were saved as three separate collections, allowing me to follow each flashback as the reader would experience it, and also enabled me to read all the sections of the novel that occurred in the present day time frame.

A longer post this time – so hope I didn’t lose anyone along the way and that you found the content valuable.

As always – please leave comments, likes or suggestions for future posts.

Until next time – keep writing!



3 thoughts on “Scrivener – Keywords and Saved Searches

  1. I’ve been using keywords, but only by dragging them from the Project Keywords list into the keyword list in the Inspector. I had no idea how powerful they are. Thanks!


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