Writing, life, politics

Showing Colour-Coded Point Of View (POV) in Scrivener

I’ve mentioned a few times that I use the rather excellent writers’ word processor Scrivener to write all my fiction. It’s now available on both Mac and Windows, so if you’re into any sort of writing, I’d very much recommend that you give it a spin.

One of the great things about Scrivener is the degree to which you can customise it, and the key way in which I customise it is to set it to show the point of view (POV) of each scene. The way I write (and as always, your mileage may vary, there is no one true way etc. etc.) is to break the story down into scenes, and then write such that each scene is from the POV of a single “viewpoint” character. That is to say that each scene is told through of eyes of just one character. I try to establish in the first paragraph of each scene who the viewpoint character is. And if I later need to switch POV, I break into a new scene.

Scrivener is perfect for a scene based approach, as each novel is broken up in a hierarchical format: novel => chapters => scenes. By default, Scrivener doesn’t record the POV of each scene, but if – like me – POV is a important factor in when and why you place scene breaks, it’s very easy to do so.

Here’s how. (Note: all screenshots are from the Mac version of the application, but I imagine the Windows version works similarly).

Let’s take a sample Scrivener project:

We have four scenes written, over two chapters, but as you can see, there’s no obvious way to tell which POV each scene is written from.

But if we look at the right-hand side of the screen, we can see that each scene is given a label, in this case of type “scene”. I personally don’t find these default labels useful, so I replace them with POV tags.

STEP 1: Go to the General Meta Data panel on the right and click on the topmost drop-down (which will be captioned “Label”).

STEP 2: Click on the bottom-most option in the drop-down list, Edit…

This will bring up the Meta-Data Settings dialog box.

STEP 3: Click on the add button to add a label for each of your characters (i.e. use the character’s name as the label).

STEP 4: Use the minus button to remove all the other labels.

STEP 5 (Optional): If you wish, you can double-click on each colour box next to the characters’ names, to bring up a colour editor that allows you to change the colour assigned to the character. I like to make the colours descriptive in some way, so if I have an angry character, a logical character and an emotional character, I might set them to red, blue and green respectively. I often have a catch-all category of “Other”, for minor POV characters, and this I tend to set to grey.

STEP 6: Change Custom Title to “POV”.

It should now look something like this:

STEP 7: Click on OK.

We’ve now given ourselves the ability to set each scene to a particular viewpoint. And the viewpoint will be displayed in the Meta- Data Settings panel on the right. However, this doesn’t help us gain an overview, since we still need to select the scene in order to see whose POV it is from. However, Scrivener allows us to change the display to rectify this.

STEP 8: Click on the View menu, and then on “Use POV Color In” (this will be called “Use Label Color In” if you didn’t rename “Label” to “POV”).

A sub-menu will pop out.

Make sure that Binder and Index Cards are ticked (click on them if they aren’t). You might have to click on the View menu twice, first to check Binder and then to check Index Cards.

After doing this, the left-hand binder will now be colour coded according to POV, enabling you to keep track of who’s getting “screen- time” at a glance. (This is especially handy if each of your POV characters is engaged in a different sub-plot).

The synopsis in the top-right corner will be shown colour-coded. (For the purposes of this demonstration, I haven’t entered any text for the synopsis). This is also the case when using the Corkboard to look at the chapter as a whole.

Scrivener’s a very powerful package, and I probably only scratch the surface of it. There may be better ways to handle POV, but the above works well for me. And if POV isn’t a huge factor in your writing, then you can still set the labels to something that is, and have them appear in the binding.

Like I said, if you do any sort of writing, I’d strongly suggest checking out Scrivener. If you want to learn more about how to use it, I’ve heard very good things about Writing a Novel With Scrivener by David Hewson. And if you’re interested in trying it out, you can download a trial edition from here:

http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

Hope this proves useful!

7 Comments

  1. Louise Charles

    This is great Jonny, having just discovered Scrivener, it is really helping me structure my writing and help with re-writes. And I’ve just finished David Hewsons book, shame I have a PC and not all the benefits are available yet for Windows, but sure in time they will!

    • Jonny Nexus

      Well I think the Windows version is one version behind the Mac one, as it came later. But I started on the previous Mac version, and loved it.

      Glad the post is helpful to you.

  2. Heather

    Thanks for this! I’ve just finished typing up a rough draft in Scrivener, and now I’m learning all the bells and whistles for revision.

    • Jonny Nexus

      Well thank you for reading, and thank you for commenting. I was hoping people might find it useful, but it’s really good to get feedback.

  3. Peter

    I’ve done something similar using the Keywords function in scenes. For example, I’v used keywords for Backstory_(Mike), Backstory_(Liz). As well, characters: Liz_(present), Mike_(present), Barbara_(mentioned). Locations, articles, POV, and many, many other keyword descriptions can be used throughout the scene structure in both Windows and Mac versions.

    The wonders of Scrivener never cease to amaze me.

    • Jonny Nexus

      Yeah, I’ve never got round to using keywords, but it does sound like another very powerful feature.

  4. W. Bradford Swift

    Excellent article on a great way to use an outstanding writing program. I’ve used Scrivener for close to a year and love it. Also love the customer service they provide through their member’s forum. I will never go back to MS Word.
    thanks for taking the time to share this idea and to do so in such detail. I’ll have to give this a try with my next Zak Bates Eco-Adventure Series book.

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