Character/Scene Tracking With Scrivener Tags

One of the fundamental applications of tagging in Scrivener is one that I haven’t touched on yet, but it’s extremely powerful.

Most writers know the power and utility of character arcs. Readers want to see not so much what happens to our protagonist and stakes characters but what they do about it — but the real meat of the story, what really delivers on the premise and what readers will either love or hate about your story when all is said and done, is how these characters are changed by what has happened to them and what they’ve done about it.

Example: Steve Rogers isn’t Captain America at the beginning of Captain America: The First Avenger. He isn’t even Captain America after Dr. Erskine whammies him with the super-soldier serum. Even after he’s met his original goal of being deployed and is hawking war bonds on stage in his costume — nope, still not Captain America, even with the costume, the shield and the title. He doesn’t become Captain America until he stops being just Steve Rogers in a costume. Not until he makes a conscious decision to become something new.

That’s the power of the character arc. They truly do make the story. I would go so far as to say that the character arc is the reason for telling the story at all — the hook, the action, comedy, romance, all of those things that the reader or viewer thinks are the point? Those are just the sizzle. The character arc is the steak; that’s what either will or will not leave them feeling satisfied that they’ve watched, or read, a really good story.

Now that you’re reminded of why it’s important, let me remind you of one of the easiest ways to manage it. To that, we go once again to Scrivener, the writer’s writing app.

In a previous post, I mentioned tags as one method for creating and managing scene setups and scene payoffs. But the first use I ever put it to was making characters searchable by scene.

For example, every scene that “Joe Blow” is a part of gets tagged with the name “Joe Blow”. Why? So that, later, I can search for every single scene that has him in it to check my progress in following the character arc I want him to exhibit. Easy as pie, right?

But it gets even better. Let’s say good ol’ Joe and his best girl Daisy Dingbat have to have a falling out and then he has to change to win her back? (Cliche, I know, but this is just example time, so bear with me.) By tagging the scenes in which they appear, I can search with this phrase: “Joe Blow Daisy Dingbat” (minus the quotes) and I’ll see only the scenes where they interact, allowing me to filter out everything else and concentrate only on that relationship arc.

And, of course, because Scrivener is created to be as open and flexible as possible, the ways you can use tags with characters, with settings, or with any other component of your story which changes over time is as limitless as your imagination.

So that’s tags in Scrivener. Until next time, please remember to support this blog; do good work, and be good to yourselves and each other.


  • Reblogged this on A Writer's Wings and commented:
    This is a great article on character arc and how to track characters using the novel management software Scrivener (which I use and love, love, love).


  • Sandra Pirtle

    Thanks! Though I have been tagging all my scenes with character names (I use time line to manage my huge cast of characters, so the tags come into Scrivener though the meta data for each scene.) I had not been using the filter system setting for ‘any word’ yet. Thanks for showing me how to do is. It will make it a lot easier for me to edit for story continuity of minor character interactions that take place over a very long time line.


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