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!



Scrivener – Document References

I’ve received a lot of questions recently on the features in the “Inspector” panel, so this post will focus on the second button of the Inspector – “References”.

inspectorThe “Document References” section allows you to add links to external reference information but more importantly scenes, characters, and locations in your own manuscript!

If you’re looking for a simple way to index which characters or locations are used in specific scenes then the “keywords” inspector (future blog about this) may be a better choice for you, as it’s integrated into the Scrivener search feature. However if your approach to producing a novel is to outline heavily, and flesh out as you go, then the document references is an invaluable tool.

I tend to use both the keywords and the references.

When you create a scene, you would typically add a brief synopsis in the Inspector pane that acts as a ‘reminder’ to you of what is to take place and why. If you’ve already compiled a list of characters, and locations you can then link to those in the Document References section.


To do this simply click the “+” sign highlighted in the image to the right, select “Internal Reference” and then navigate through the tree view of your manuscript to the desired location or character sketch.

Once you reach the stage that you’re ready to actually write the scene, you now have an instant reminder of the purpose from your synopsis, and access to the details of who you planed to include and the location the action takes place.

Why is this useful?

It’s useful in two ways:

  1. Rapid access to your character sketches can make sure you don’t make a mistake with your character – nothing’s worse than the blue eyed hero of chapter 1 gazing at the love of his life from deep brown eyes in chapter 9!
  2. As you write, so you will enrich or develop a character or location. This quick link allows you rapid access to the character or location sketch and makes it easy for you to add to the definition, making more information available to you in future scenes. This helps enormously in continuity issues. Was the gun on the dresser loaded the last time you were in that room, or empty?

If you read my first post on Character Building this use of Document References makes it easy to grow the Character Journey I described as you write your story.

In addition to the ‘Internal References’, Scrivener allows you to reference external data also, and I find this invaluable. I use external references rarely in actual scenes, but use them a lot in location sketches.

If I have a scene taking place in a “real-world” location, then to save copying into Scrivener the wealth of information from the internet I’ll tend to copy pertinent data, things I know I really need, but will use Document References to store links to the actual sites that hold valuable information. This way all my research material, and links to even more of it, stay within my project, right where I need them each time I sit down to write.

Document References are a very powerful feature and eliminate the need for maintaining separate documents of links, or a growing list of “Favorites” in your browser of choice. The developers of Scrivener worked hard to make sure an author has ready access to everything they could need, so we can focus on what we do best – write.

Happy Scrivening everyone – and hope you enjoyed this second installment of Scrivener Tips.

Please leave comments, and feel free to suggest articles you would like covered in future posts.

If you’re interested in my novel: “To Raise a King” written, and formatted in Scrivener then check it out in the Amazon store… To Raise a King

Scrivener – Character Building

So as promised – here’s my post on building characters in Scrivener…

If you’re not entirely new to Scrivener then you will be familiar with the Character section in the “Binder” and maybe even the “Template Sheets” section a little further down. If you haven’t discovered Template Sheets then you really should – they can be a very helpful way to prompt you for things you need to know about any scene, location or character. I find the built in Character Sketch a little limited, but given you can edit pretty much anything in Scrivener this is not an issue – simply create a new one or edit the one provided.

I have re-worked the character sketch template so I have a quick way to jot down the most standard attributes of any character:

  • Name
  • Nickname
  • Hair (color)
  • Eye color
  • Height
  • Build
  • Related to (in story)
  • Occupation
  • Habits / Mannerisms
  • Background

To use your template you can simply right-click on the Characters folder, select ‘Add’, then ‘Add from Template’, fill in your form and then append any details you want to record at the end. Sometimes I’ll change the ‘synopsis’ panel in the inspector to be an image rather than text, and then copy in an image of an actor or movie character that reminds me of my character.

Now here’s where it gets fun! A character sketch is just like any other document in Scrivener – it can act like a folder. So I always create a sub-page attached to my character sketch. I give it the same name as the character but append ‘_journey’ to it.

This journey entry becomes a cameo of my character as the reader experiences it!

Each time I expose a notable trait, or feature it is added to the journey entry (sometimes with a link to the actual scene)

This gives me two valuable character resources to consult as the book is developed:

  • The Character Sketch – provides me with a complete view of my character. Everything is here that I need to know, and in most cases will want the readers to know eventually.
  • The Character Journey – provides me with a running commentary or timeline of the character as it is exposed in the story. This way I can see the character exactly as the reader does. Have I revealed enough at this point in the story or too much?

I find this use of character profiling and journeying very helpful – especially if working on multiple books, or books with a large cast.

I hope that proved useful!

Until next time,


Scrivener – Tip of the week

A lot of folks have asked me how I use Scrivener (for windows) for my writing projects. Over the coming weeks I thought it would be fun to actually post this information in the form of a tip on my blog.

Please feel free to leave comments, suggestions, and requests for features you are struggling with or would like to see how to use, along with suggestions and tips of your own. I’m still finding new ways to use the product.

Tip 1 will be out later this week and covers character profiling and character building.

– Justin

To Raise a King

Well it’s happened! I finally published a book! So what comes next? Write the sequel I guess or one of the many other stories that have been floating around in my head for a decade and more!

This book has been a long journey for me. I began the story years ago sitting in the back of my Aunt’s car as she took us on one of many scenic drives through Scotland. I watched the most amazing scenery drift by my window and thought what an exciting adventure it would be, to just run-away, and survive in that rugged empty landscape. As we wound our way through the twists and turns of Glen Coe I wrote…Matt ran…

I finished that first chapter – handwritten – and decided to write a second. Over the years life continued to get in the way of completing the book. Other stories took shape, and in my spare time they began to be written, yet the more I wrote the more I felt I had betrayed Matt somehow. He had been left buried alive in an old Scottish burial cairn for decades. He was my first character – his story my first novel. I owed it to him to get him out of that dreadful tomb, back into the sunlight and on with a quest that even I didn’t fully understand at the time.

And so, while  other characters and other stories have sat waiting patiently – part one of Matt’s tale has been completed.

You can find it on the Amazon Store –

Enjoy –