Technical fix for keeping track of the many strands of a novel?
December 26, 2014 4:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some type of software that will help me track the events and worldbuilding reveals of a novel. I have just started using Scrivener for Windows, so it might be possible that there's a relevant feature that I haven't learned about yet. My ideal would be something that lets me tag particular scenes with events that happen in them and then look at a cumulative report of all the events (tags) that have happened up till that point in the novel.

I'm also looking for something similar with regards to worldbuilding details. So, for example, you could see that in Scene 2, it was revealed that elves subsist exclusively on eucalyptus leaves . I know that I could easily write in the document notes section of each scene in Scrivener information about the events and reveals contained in that scene. What I'm looking for is a way of compiling those events/reveals by scene. So I could select a specific scene and easily see a list of all the events up to that moment in the novel's timeline.

posted by overglow to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered making a (private) wiki?
posted by Etrigan at 5:49 PM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a spreadsheet with multiple rows per scene. Number the scenes with real numbers (2.1, 2.2, etc.) so that inserting 2.15 or deleting 2.2 will always work. Create a column that says what kind of note this is (e.g. Event or Setting). And add as many rows as you need to create metadata for the scene. You should be able to sort by scene, search only within rows of a particular type, and see the details in proper order. If you don't have Excel, LibreOffice and Google Docs are free solutions.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:37 PM on December 26, 2014

I use Scrivener for Mac, which I should hope is not too different from the Windows version. Perhaps the Keywords function might help if you've got it? If you're organizing your novel by separate scene documents (I have multiple scene docs within each chapter folder) within Scrivener, with helpful document titles (perhaps some chapter/scene designation?) and the keyword search function you could at least amass a catalog of scenes from the entire novel having to do with the keyword of your choice (for instance, "elf culture"). The document titles could then help you navigate the scene order within your novel.

Of course, there's the matter of your preferences for "compiling" a full manuscript document from the Scrivener files. I only include the chapter folder titles when I compile, and so am not overly concerned with scene document titles. You may organize things a different way, and you may not want those pesky chapter/scene designations in your compiled file.

Good luck!!
posted by artful at 6:39 PM on December 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi, might not be exactly what you're chasing but I find Trello pretty amazing for this kind of work. The cards-and-boards layout is great for creative work and there's an extra layer of tagging that will let you have many kinds of categorisations and notes against characters, locations, artefacts etc.

The search function will also let you group things up based on keywords once you have a fair body of stuff in there. The separation between Boards, Lists and Cards allows for a lot of different groupings and perspectives. Plus it's really easy to restructure as things evolve.
posted by zedgoat at 1:48 AM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Lexicon is a world-building roleplaying game played on a semi-private wiki, so I agree with Etrigan that a wiki might work for a single author to track eir own world.

This thread from the 2013 NanoWriMo might provide additional ideas.

There is also this one from

posted by kalessin at 8:44 AM on December 27, 2014

Aeon Timeline is the thing that does what you want. I've never used the Windows version, and it ended up being too complex for my needs - there were tons of features I never touched - but it sounds like complexity is precisely what you are looking for. It integrates with Scrivener (a little klunky when I tried it, but it worked).

I use Trello for outlining, and it does have features that would lend itself to gathering that kind of data, and it's free so no harm in trying it, but if you do that and find it's just not configurable enough, you might jump up to Aeon.

For in between the two, maybe Scapple? Also made by the makers of Scrivener, cheaper than Aeon, I find it handy for all kinds of general mind-mapping application but what I ended up doing with it for my writing turned out to be what Trello does. I'm just very linear and columnar.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:29 AM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

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