Color Coding Scrivener

color coding scrivener

(This post assumes you’re already using Scrivener. If you haven’t made the leap yet, check out my post “5 Reasons You Should Be Using Scrivener.”)

Color coding Scrivener is one of my favorite little writerly tricks. It’s just so freaking handy. Here’s how it works.

In the binder of your project simply right-click on any item (or selection of items) and move your mouse down the resulting mento to “Label.” You can chose one of the existing labels, or click the bottom option there to edit and create your very own labels. To get the colors to show in your binder, you simply go to VIEW > USE LABEL COLOR IN > BINDER.

Timeline

As you can see, I have my current project set up with days of the week. My story is linear, and takes place over about eight days. I find it helpful to have this visual clue as to what scenes take place on what day. But there are plenty of other uses for labeling. Here are just a few I have heard writers discuss:

POV

You can use different colors for different points of view. There are two main benefits to this. The first is that you will be required to break your scene when you shift point of view. You will be less likely to drift between POV if you have set it in your mind as one. The other benefit will be when it comes time to edit. If you look at your binder and see 90% of your scenes are from one POV, you might question whether you even need that other POV.

Time Period or Location

If you have a story that shifts around in time or jumps locations, color coding in Scrivener can help you keep track of where you are in time and place. Again, this can be useful for big picture edits. If you had a structure in mind that rotates through time periods or locations in a regular order, then you will be able to see at a glance if the scenes you’ve written match the order you wanted.

Status

Some people use color labels to denote the status of a section of writing. While there is an option for setting a section’s status (right there below the Labels option on the menu), the status option doesn’t allow for color coding. Labels like “first draft,” “final draft,” “needs research,” can be given a color. Then, as you work each scene toward completion, you can watch the colors change. Writer Bronwen Fleetwood has a funny post about his own use of status labels here.

Color Coding Scrivener

I’m sure there are other ways people use color coding. Maybe you are sharing sections of your work as your write it and you want to know at a glance which are out in the world and which aren’t. Maybe there is a Major Event in your story and you want everything before it to be one color, while everything after is another.

If you have a creative way you use color coding in Scrivener, share it here. We are all, forever, learning.

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24 Responses to Color Coding Scrivener

  1. Phil Cobb August 11, 2018 at 8:13 am #

    Each of my chapters focuses on a specific character. Color labeling for each character allowed me to rearrange chapters when I found overly wide gaps between the last appearance of a character and that character’s next appearance.

    After that, I used color labeling for each chapter re its editing status to denote “Done,” “Take another look at this,” “Research needed,” etc.

    Overall, labeling is a simple, highly useful tool.

    P.S. Scrivener also has colored flags. I assign a color to each character, and then put a flag beside each chapter to show who is in the chapter. For example, Bob may be blue, and Sally may be yellow. If both appear in a chapter, blue plus yellow equals green, so I put a green flag by that chapter.

  2. Sabrina November 21, 2017 at 2:16 pm #

    I love the timeline idea!
    I usually use color coding for status, as suggested in your article. Additionally, I assign icons for different POVs and use them in the binder, combining that with the color coding.

    • April November 21, 2017 at 5:10 pm #

      Ohhh, I like the idea of different icons for each POV. Great idea!

  3. Rachel Capps June 3, 2017 at 7:58 pm #

    Thanks for this tip. I’m going to try use it to track my MC’s emotional arc/changes. I want to make sure there is an arc.

    Could you do a post on compiling your novel? The selection I use only prints Chapters not scenes. I’m doing something wrong. Just a thought!

    • April June 4, 2017 at 6:54 pm #

      Good thought. Yes, there are so many options, it does take a little getting used to, doesn’t it. I’ll work on that. Thanks for the feedback. Cheers!

  4. Jenny February 14, 2017 at 9:05 pm #

    I use it just for stages of drafting but for the very early stages. Red for not touched. Orange for notes prepared. Green for needs work and blue for first draft. It helps me prioritise scenes that haven’t been touched. As I seem to be both a planner and a pantser (making everything rather slow) it is best I have written every scene before I make amendments as my best ideas happen at the red stage, but they often have implications for other scenes, so until I have all the reds out the way, I don’t work on the greens ‘needs work’.

    I would like to be able to use the colour coding more though.

    • April February 15, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

      Sounds like a good balance of “planning” and “pantsing.” I never get that organized until I’m deep into it. Maybe for my next project I’ll give it a try. It might be nice to skip over that part where I totally panic about having nothing to show for all my hard work, then have to back track and get organized. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Melissa Sugar November 21, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this wealth of information. I love Scrivener.
    I’ve used the color coding for POV and to indicate scenes that need work, are repetitive, as a place card holder for an area where a scene needs to be added during revisions, a marker indicating a time line jump or a scene that appears out of order. I’ve also used the colors to represent my hook, inciting Incident, major plot points, Pinch points, mid point, crisis, dark moment, climax and resolution. I’ve also used color coding for my MC’s character arc / character transformation and to mark scenes that show her wound, the lie she believes, the ghost, why she believes the lie, and scenes that show her struggling with her inner demons and finally overcoming her fatal flaw to reach her desired goal. I’ve also used it to track my different story lines ( major plot line and sub plots).

    I love the idea that one of your readers suggested and I’m going to borrow it- using the color coding for the crime, clues red herrings, investigation, subplot, etc.
    Great Article.
    Melissa Sugar
    http://Melissasugarwrites.com

  6. Tony JP November 16, 2016 at 12:45 am #

    This is a great idea.
    Do you know if there is a way of flagging up which character is in which scene?

    • April November 16, 2016 at 6:45 am #

      Hi, Tony,
      I know you can add key words, and that some authors use that functionality to note which characters are in which scene. In the right-hand panel, click the key icon at the top. Then find the bar below that says “keywords” and click the little settings wheel to add keywords (except instead of words, use character names). It’s not something I’ve actually used, but I would love to hear how it goes for you.
      Cheers,
      April

    • Peter February 14, 2017 at 5:31 am #

      Not sure if it’s what you’re looking for, but try this blog post – Tracking characters with Scrivener:

      http://www.pigfender.com/index.php/2013/03/tracking-characters-with-scrivener-keywords/

      • April Davila February 14, 2017 at 10:54 am #

        I’ve been curious about keywords and tagging in Scrivener. It’s not something I’ve played with yet. Thanks for sharing the link.

  7. Tammy November 15, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

    I use the color coding to tell me what kind of scene it is I’m writing. Investigation, subplot a, red herring, clue, subplot b, crime scene, etc. That way I can see if something should be developed more.

    • April November 15, 2016 at 2:39 pm #

      Thanks Tammy,
      That’s another good one. I haven’t ever written a mystery, partly because I don’t trust that I could keep track of all the pieces. This could could hep. Cheers!

    • Melissa Sugar November 21, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

      I write crime fiction and this is the best use of color coding I’ve heard. Thanks for the tip.

      Melissa Sugar
      @msugar13
      http://melissasugarwrites.com

  8. Anonymous November 14, 2016 at 9:29 am #

    In my actual Story, which is from only one POV, I use the colors to hilight the person who is with my main character. I love this feature very much!

  9. Nancy November 14, 2016 at 7:46 am #

    This is a great idea, I was wrestling with timeline yesterday.

    • April November 14, 2016 at 9:07 am #

      Thanks Nancy! Good luck with the story. Are you doing NaNoWriMo? If so, look me up on their site, we can be buddies.

  10. Dianna November 14, 2016 at 7:19 am #

    Thank you! I’m going to give this a try. I’m new to Scrivener and it gets confusing. This may be the way I can clear a path when I’m trying to find my way back to a scene or an idea I jotted down and can’t find.

    • April November 14, 2016 at 9:06 am #

      Hi, Diana,
      If you’re having trouble finding your way back to an idea while you’re writing in a different section, you could also try the split screen function. I find it super useful. Good luck!

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