Analyze Your Novel’s Scenes with Scrivener Metadata

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Something just wasn’t right. My current Work in Process (WIP) was off. It started out with a bang… a good pace, interesting characters… and then it just kind of fizzled. So how could I determine where and what my problem was?

My writing style is somewhere between a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants) and a plotter (someone who plots out the story before ever writing a scene). My process is to create a broad outline, write for a while, run into a roadblock, assess what I’ve done, plan my way out of it, and continue writing. Then, of course, rinse and repeat.

When I finished my first draft, I was concerned that my story wrapped up a little too neatly and maybe a tad too quickly. So went back to the analyze, evaluate, and reshape part of my writing cycle. However, analyzing twenty-seven chapters and seventy-one scenes was a bit more daunting than my first attempts when the book was much smaller.

So where did I begin? Since Excel is my analysis tool of choice, it was a natural place to start. My writing tool of choice is Scrivener. In this article, I’m going to describe how I used Scrivener’s Metadata and Outliner features to organize my scenes into a story grid to determine pacing, completeness, and attention to plot/sub-plot arcs.

Note: I’m using Scrivener v 3 for Mac and the Mac version of MS Office. If you use Windows or a different Mac version, the process and screens may be or look different in your version.

What is Metadata?

The term metadata describes data that provides information about other data. If you’re talking about a database, the metadata describes information about the tables and how the database is constructed. If you’re talking about a Word document, the metadata describes the attributes of the document… how many pages, who is the author, when was it last modified, etc.

Authors use a variety of devices to help them plot or analyze the scenes in their stories. Below are two popular approaches and how you would set up the metadata fields to accommodate them.

Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

Editor Shawn Coyne developed a tool to analyze stories called The Story Grid. This tool breaks down each scene and analyzes what is happening in the scene. The custom metadata fields needed for the Story Grid analysis include:

  • Scene Number
  • Word Count
  • Story Event (synopsis)
  • Value Shift
  • Polarity Shift
  • Turning Point
  • Point of View
  • Period/Time
  • Duration
  • Location
  • Onstage Characters
  • Number of Onstage Characters
  • Offstage Characters
  • Number of Offstage Characters

As defined by Coyne, most of these fields would be Text fields except for the Polarity Shift, which could be a List field.

(You can learn more about Coyne’s approach at the Story Grid website.)

Building Blocks of a Scene by K. M. Weiland

Award-winning author and writing coach K. M. Weiland uses building blocks to structure scenes and sequels to scenes.

To set up metadata to follow this process, you would need the following fields:

  • Scene Type (list: Scene or Sequel)
  • Goal / Reaction (text)
  • Conflict / Dilemma (text)
  • Outcome / Decision (text)
  • New Goal (text)

(You can find more about Weiland’s approach to structuring scenes described in her blog article.)

Setting Up Metadata in Scrivener

In Scrivener, we find the metadata of a document in the Inspector. The basic metadata types that are provided by Scrivener are the Title, the Synopsis, Labels, Status, and Keywords of a document. (For more information on these, see my previous article about Organizing with Scrivener.) The standard metadata will help organize your scenes/chapters, but we want to focus on the Custom Metadata.

Custom Metadata allows you to create custom fields for information you want to capture for analysis.

Add Custom Metadata Fields

Regardless of what information you wish to capture about your scene, you must set it up in Scrivener via the Custom Metadata section. You can find this functionality by looking in the Inspector (View > Show Inspector) and clicking on the Metadata icon (the tag icon) at the top.

This tab shows three sections: General Metadata, Custom Metadata fields, and Keywords.

screenshot of metadata tab in Scrivener Inspector window

To set up your custom fields, either click the gear/edit icon for the Custom Metadata section or click on Project > Project Settings… then select the Custom Metadata link on the left.

screenshot of custrom metadata settings

The top half of the window is where you add the fields you need (use the + button at the top right), and the bottom half is where you assign the type of fields.

There are four different field types you can create:

  • Text – plain-text field for storing information about a document; can be formatted in different text colors, aligned, and wrapped
  • Checkbox – a yes/no checkbox
  • List – a dropdown list of choices to select from with a default value if nothing is selected
  • Date – a date/time field that can be formatted; allows selection from a calendar pop-up

Tip: One thing that helps me is to assign different text colors to my text fields so they stand out when I’m looking at them in the Outliner.

Once you’ve created your fields, click OK to save. (Nothing changes until you click OK.)

Now that you’ve saved your Custom Metadata fields, they appear in the Inspector of every document in your Scrivener file. I mention this because you may want fields related to your research or non-manuscript documents as well.

Displaying Metadata in the Outliner

Once the fields are set up in Scrivener, we need to configure the Outliner to show these fields. This part is rather easy.

In the Binder on the left, click on the Manuscript/Draft folder. This is the top folder that contains your chapters and scenes.

Change to Outline mode. There are three ways to change to Outline mode:

  1. Click the Outliner Icon in the top toolbar. (Found in the toolbar section labeled Group Mode and looks like a right-justified symbol.)
  2. Use the menu to navigate to View > Outline.
  3. Use the shortcut keys Cmd + 3 (on a Mac).

Once in Outline mode, you’ll see your chapters/scenes listed with columns for basic metadata showing. Click on the > button at the top right of the column headers. This will show a list of all metadata fields. Check the metadata fields you wish to see in your Outline view.

Once you’ve added the different metadata fields, the Outliner view will show those values for each chapter or scene in your Manuscript.

Changing the Display

There are several things you can do to change the Outline view which may help when reviewing your scene data. Here are the ones I use:

  • Resize the columns by dragging the right line of the column header left and right.
  • Rearrange the columns by dragging the column header to where you want it to be.
  • Change Keywords to show the colors (View > Outline Options > Keywords as Color Chips)
  • Show rows by Label colors (View > Use Label Color in > Outliner Rows)
  • Center content in each field (View > Outline Options > Center content)
  • Set the row to a fixed height, rather than based on the synopsis length (View > Outline Options > Use Fixed Row Height)

Exporting to a Spreadsheet

How to Export

Okay, all your metadata fields are now visible in the Outline view. Scrivener has a way to export this information to Excel (or spreadsheet of your choice).

Note: It is important to understand that only the fields showing in the Outline Mode will be exported to the spreadsheet. The field won’t export if you didn’t select that field to show.

To export the Outline data, navigate the menu to File > Export > Outliner Contents as CSV…

In the Save As window, give the file a name and navigate to the folder you wish to save the file in.

When you open that CSV file, it will show all the fields from Outliner in a spreadsheet format.

Why Export?

So why would you do this? For one thing, you can do some analytics on your scenes. If you are spreadsheet savvy, you can set up formulas to calculate information about your story.

In the past, I have set up formulas to calculate the following items:

  • Number of characters/locations in my story.
  • Number of scenes each character appears in.
  • Number of scenes in each plot line.
  • Percentage of completion for different metadata fields so I know where I need to fill in information.

Even without calculations, having this data in a spreadsheet format can help me quickly search for fields that are missing or perhaps incorrect. And while you can do a lot of this within Scrivener using regular expressions and collections, sometimes my brain just works better when I see the data in a table format like this.

It’s completely optional. You may never need to export your data into a spreadsheet. But it’s nice for those of us with analytical minds to know that functionality is available if you need it.

Super Nerdy Excel Formulas

My Outliner Analysis spreadsheet template has some super nerdy formulas and a Visual Basic macro, which are probably way too much for this article.

I am, however, happy to share my nerdiness with you if you’re interested. Drop me a line in the comments below or reach out via the Contact form and I’ll share my formulas with you.

Metadata Wrap-up

That’s it. Those are my tips for adding Metadata to Scrivener and using them in Excel to analyze your story.

What are some of the metadata fields you use in Scrivener and how do they help you write your story?

Happy Writing!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. B.K.

    I write on several different blogs, but keep my blog articles in one Scrivener file. I have a custom metadata field called “Platform” and use it to track which website I published the article.

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