Writers in the Storm

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November 16, 2018

Keeping Track of Everything in Scrivener with Metadata

Gwen Hernandez


One of the great things about Scrivener is that it allows you to divide up your work into scene - or chapter-sized “chunks” (usually documents). This means you can tag those documents to keep track of just about anything you want.

What would you like to be able to track about your documents in Scrivener? Here are a few ideas:

  • Point of view (POV) character
  • Storyline (e.g., Main, Secondary)
  • Setting
  • Day/Date/Time/Year/Era
  • Topic
  • Other characters in the scene/chapter
  • Story structure element (e.g., Dark Night of the Soul)
  • Writing/revision status
  • For blog posts/articles: site, status, suitability for publication in a magazine, topic, etc.

Information about an object is called metadata, and Scrivener has several types of metadata you can use to tag, color code, search for, and organize your files. I’ll discuss how Label, Status, and Keywords differ and how to use each.

Labeling Your Files

The Label field is my favorite in Scrivener because it has the most visibility. (Yes, I’m the kind of dork who has a favorite type of metadata.) Labels have colors associated with them, which can be turned on in the Icons, Binder, Corkboard, and Outliner. Label values can also be viewed as a column in the Outliner, or from any tab in the Inspector.

How I use it: During my fiction drafting phase, I like to use labels to track POV (since I always have more than one POV character).

I often switch it to track revision status during edits. Knowing a file’s stage of revision helps me quickly see where I need to start working when I open my project, and serves as a visual progress meter.

For blog posts, I use labels to store which website the post was written for.

Pros and Cons

+ Color can be turned on in multiple locations, very visible.

+ Label values are chosen from a list, thus reducing errors from typos (helps with searches).

+ The Label title can be changed to match whatever you’re tracking (e.g., POV, Status, Stage, Site) and the new title will appear in menus.

- Only one value is allowed per document.

Working with the Status

Despite its name, the Status field can be used to track anything you want. Status is basically the Label field without any color, which makes it less visible. I’d use this one for something you want to track, and maybe search for, but don’t need to see as easily.

The Status value can be viewed as a watermark on the Corkboard, a column in the Outliner, or from any tab in the Inspector.

How I use it: Sometimes I use this for revision status as intended (though I usually change the values), but usually I use it to note the scene’s setting.

Pros and Cons

+ Status values are chosen from a list, thus reducing errors from typos.

+ The Status title can be renamed to match whatever you’re tracking (e.g., POV, Status, Stage, Site) and the new name appears in menus.

- Only one value is allowed per document.

- No color; less visible.

Understanding Keywords

So far we’ve talked about metadata types that only allow one value per document. But what if you want to apply more than one value? For example, if you’re tracking story structure beats, sometimes a single scene may hit multiple beats. Or, if you’re tagging all the characters who appear in a scene, you might have multiple values.

The beauty of keywords is that you can also have multiple sets of values, and even organize them for easier access.

So, you could have a set of keyword values associated with Settings, and another associated with Characters, and you can apply any or all of them to a single document.

Like labels, keywords have associated colors, but they can only be viewed in the Corkboard and Outliner. Keyword values are visible in an Outliner column, or on the Metadata tab in the Inspector.

How I use it: When I use them, it’s generally to keep track of the elements of story structure a scene satisfies.

Pros and Cons

+ You can have as many keywords and keyword categories as you want, and apply as many as needed to a single document.

+ Keyword values can be chosen from a list, thus reducing errors from typos. (NOTE: If you try to add an existing keyword in the Inspector’s Metadata tab by typing it out, and you mistype it, you’ll end up with a new, misspelled keyword.)

- Limited color use and Inspector tab location make it less visible.

Understanding Custom Metadata

Scrivener also has offers Custom Metadata, which I don’t have space to get into in detail. (But feel free to ask in the comments section!)

If you’re already using the Label and Status fields, but still need more single-choice fields, you can create one with custom metadata (List). You can also create text box fields (Text), a single checkbox item for yes/no, true/false, on/off fields (Checkbox), and date/time fields (Date).

You may create as many custom metadata fields as you need, name them whatever you’d like, and even choose an associated text color for text fields. To do so, go to Project>Project Settings>Custom Metadata.


Modifying Label and Status

The process for changing the Label and Status fields is the same, except status values have no colors.

Here’s how to modify them:

  1. Go to Project>Project Settings and choose Label List or Status List.
  2. (Optional) In the Custom Title text box, type a new field name, e.g., POV, Revision Status, Storyline, Site, etc.
  3. Add or remove a value by selecting it and clicking the + or - button, respectively. You can also double-click any existing value to change it.
  4. To make a value the default (automatically assigned when a document is created), select the value and click Make Default.
  5. (Labels only) Double-click the color box to choose a new color.
  6. Click OK to save changes.

Applying a Label or Status Value

Now that you’ve created your values, you can apply them to existing files. Here are two ways to do it:

  • Select the desired document and choose a value from the Label or Status field at the bottom of the Inspector. 
  • Right-click a document, point to Label or Status (or whatever you renamed it) and choose a value. 
  • Make sure the Label or Status column is displayed in the Outliner (go to View>Outliner options to choose), and click on the line for the desired document to add/change the value. 

Viewing Label Colors

Label colors are not turned on by default, so even when values have been applied, you won’t see the colors outside of the Inspector or Outliner column unless you turn them on.

You have several choices for where to display the label color. You can turn on more than one of them simply by repeating the steps below.

  1. Go to View>Use Label In.
  2. Choose one of these options:
  • Binder: In Scrivener 3, this puts a color dot to the right of the file name. In older versions, it puts a bar of color across the line for each file.
  • Icons: Fills in the file’s icon with color, throughout the project.
  • Index Cards: Colors the file’s associated index card in the Synopsis section of the Inspector, and in the Corkboard.
  • Outliner Rows: Fills an item’s row with the color, and is visible even if the Label column is not displayed.
  • Scrivenings Titles (Scrivener 3 only): Colors the title line for each file when viewing a folder in Scrivenings (multiple document) view.
  • Show as Background Color in Binder (Scrivener 3 only): Similar to the older version’s Binder option above, this option puts a bar of color across the line for each file.

(See the first graphic under “Labeling Your Files” for examples of label color display options.)

You can also view label colors in the Corkboard as a bar along the left edge of each card by going to View>Corkboard Options>Show Label Colors Along Edges. NOTE: You must be in Corkboard view for this option to be available.

Displaying Status Values in the Corkboard

Status values can be viewed in the Corkboard as watermarks across the cards. To turn them on, go to View>Corkboard Options>Show Status Stamps. NOTE: You must be in Corkboard view for this option to be available.

Creating Keywords

The easiest way to create keywords is in the Project Keywords panel. To view it, do the following:

  1. Go to Project>Show Project Keywords. The Keywords panel opens.
  2. To add a keyword, click the + button at the bottom left of the panel. TIP: If you have an existing keyword selected, use the leftmost + button to add keywords at the same level. Use the second (slightly right) + button to add “child” keywords, which are indented from the “parent” to create a hierarchy to help keep your different groups of keywords organized. 
  3. To change a keyword’s color, double-click the color box. NOTE: These will not automatically link to Label colors, even if you use the same value names.

Adding Keywords to a Document

To add a keyword to a document, do one of the following:

  • Drag the keyword from the Keywords panel onto the document title in the Binder. TIP: For multiple documents, select the desired files in the Binder and drag-and-drop a keyword from the panel onto any of the selected files. 
  • On the Metadata tab of the Inspector, click the gear button in the Keywords pane, point to Add Keyword, and choose the desired keyword. 

Removing a Keyword

To remove a keyword from the entire project (and all tagged documents within that project):

  1. Open the Project Keywords panel.
  2. Select the desired keyword.
  3. Click the - (minus) button.

To remove a keyword from a document only:

  1. Select the document in the Binder.
  2. Open the Metadata tab in the Inspector.
  3. Select the keyword to remove.
  4. Click the - (minus) button in the Keywords header.

Viewing Keyword Colors in the Corkboard

Keyword colors must be turned on if you want to see them in the Corkboard. They show up as color chips along the right edge of the card.

To turn them on, make sure you’re in Corkboard view, then go to View>Corkboard Options>Show Keyword Colors.

Thanks for sticking with me! What questions can I answer about metadata, or anything else in Scrivener?

 *     *     *     *     *

About Gwen

Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For Dummies and helps authors all over the world find the joy in Scrivener through her online courses, in-person workshops, and private training. She also writes romantic suspense (Men of Steele series).
In her spare time she likes to travel, read, jog, flail on a yoga mat, and explore southern California, where she currently lives with her husband and a lazy golden retriever.

17 comments on “Keeping Track of Everything in Scrivener with Metadata”

  1. I have Scrivener but have not used a fraction of its potential. I also have your book on it. I am just so intimidated by everything and fearful of loosing my work. I'll have to make up a dummy novel and use it as a test to try out all these features. Thanks for laying this all out so well for us.

    1. Irtrovi: You're not alone. A dummy project is a great way to test out things without fear of losing your work. Also, keep in mind that Scrivener automatically backs up your project when you close it, so you should never lose everything.

      My philosophy is to know what all the features are, but only worry about the ones you think would help you with your process. Focus on the basics and add new skills as you need them. Thanks!

  2. I use the corkboard and "scene cards" for sure, but I don't think I've used the labels as well as I need to take advantage of all the color options. I'm going to go through the WIP and try this - at the very least, I need to do this for 3-act structure, but it would be nice to also see POV characters and types of scenes.

    Question: can I assign multiple labels? If so, what is the limit?

    1. Hi, Jenny! Label and Status each allow one value per document. Keywords let you add multiple values to a file. So it comes down to what needs to be most visible. You could use Label for structure, Status for POV, and keywords for type of scene.

      You also have other options, like making a note in the Synopsis card, document title (eg, On the Run-Jane), or Notes section.

  3. Labels (which I use for POV) and Status (which I used for Revision Status) are two of the features I love most about Scrivener. Usually clicking a scene in the Binder and glancing at Revision Status in the Inspector is enough for me, but in one long novel, where I wanted to see Revision Status in the Binder at a glance, I used the Change Icon feature. As each scene reached a certain level, I changed the icon in the Binder. Just picked one of the available ones that stood out nicely.

    Keywords, on the other hand, don't work for me. Maybe if I ever have a need to sort by something that could be marked by keyword I'll change my mind, but the color chips weren't helpful.

    I don't use anything like all the features of the program. When I first saw screenshots that made me think I wanted to use Scriv, I downloaded the trial, imported a old three-scene short story and played with it a bit, and after that just wrote my next novel in it using the most basic features. Every time I wanted to do something more, I looked it up. That way it had no steep learning curve. Admittedly I never struggled to output something perfect through Compile. I use default settings to get the work into rtf and after that it's word processor through revisions, proofreading, and these days Vellum.

    1. Ellen: Changing the icon (Documents>Change Icon) is another great way to basically get an additional "tag" in there. In Scrivener 3, you can even use emojis and text as an icon.

      There are plenty of features I never use, though it seems like each new project brings different needs. Your approach to learning and using Scrivener is smart. I always recommend people get comfortable with the basics, and learn the rest as the need arises. The key is knowing a feature exists in the first place so you can look up how to use it later.

      Thanks for sharing your processes!

  4. Once again, you've given me more tools to try out! Thank you.

    And I love using the label function for POV. It was so helpful in a book I wrote with two POVs, and then I could easily see if I was balancing point of view well. I could look at only those scenes with a particular point of view, determine word count, do the same for the other, and compare. Great info to have!

    Thanks, Gwen.

  5. Gwen, I just bought Scrivener; I dragged my feet for over a year because I HATE learning new technology. Within 5 minutes, I was in love with it! I still have lots to learn, and appreciate the tips you've given here. Question: I accidentally changed a whole document to Script mode, and now it won't let me deselect it. Any tips? Thanks.

    1. Karen: Sorry for the delay. For some reason I'm not getting comment notifications. That's such an easy setting to accidentally turn on via the keyboard shortcuts. You've probably fixed this by now, but for anyone else with the same issue, you can turn off Script mode by going to Format>Scriptwriting and selecting the option with a checkmark next to it to turn it off (usually Script Mode - Screenplay). Glad you're enjoying Scrivener!

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