Tags, keys, or both to organize notes?

What I’m trying to do

I’m a self-published writer. I’ve written a series of fantasy/historical novels series with over 400 characters. Besides that there are locations, like cities, rivers, main roads and so on. I also need to keep track of historical (in world) events. Every scene is dated exactly within this world.

A lot to keep track of. Moreover, I need to be able to group characters, and a single character can belong to more than one group.


Obsidian uses tags to organize information. The Dataview plugin uses metadata. As a complete newbie tags and metadata keys seem to have more or less the same function. I understand that both can be used in the Yaml or the body of the note.

I’m now wondering should I use

  1. tags?
  2. metadata keys?
  3. both?

I’d like to have some input from more experienced users what the pros and cons are, and how they use tags/keys in their own systems.

I’d start with tags.

  • They’re simpler.
  • They’re easier to search outside of Obsidian.
  • They don’t require a plugin.
  • DataView can use them, so you can expand to DataView if needed.

On the other, you can get fancier and more specific with YAML metadata; @pdworkman, who unlike me has published many novels, uses it:

My current fiction project is a collection of short stories, so it doesn’t require the kind of tracking that a novel would. But my vault contains >6,000 notes of various kinds and, as neat and potentially useful as DataView is, I haven’t yet felt the need for it. For me, embedded searches work well enough.

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Thanks for your input.

Before I used TiddlyWiki (classic) as my main note taking system. TW is usually described as a non-linear personal notebook used as a single HTML file in the browser. The notes are not stored in folders and can only be retrieved in a meaningful manner by using tags and a few macros.

I migrated to Obsidian because with so many data in a single file I worried it might get corrupt at some stage. Moreover, TW Classic is around twenty years old. Obsidian is more flexible and the notes are more accessible outside Obsidian.

So, I’m familiar with using tags. I’m migrating my notes by hand (and reorganizing/cleaning them a bit). I asked for input because, as a complete newbie, it seems Dataview, and certainly when used in combination with Java Script, is a lot more flexible and powerful.

Then again, I could be wrong and/or Dataview could be overkill for me.

I already write in markdown for the same reasons as mentioned. Before that I wrote in plain text files. For me the writing process and the formatting (I make my own epubs) are separate processes. The added benefit of Obsidian is that now I can search through text and notes at the same time. Useful to find out where I left one of my characters…

Oh yeah, I also use some folders.

DataView does add power (see Workman’s article for details on how they use it), but I think sometimes people underestimate what can be done without it.

Thanks for the ping @CawlinTeffid

If you are organizing all of your world building, basically creating a series wiki or world wiki, then I would use [[wikilinks]] to tag which groups various characters are in, establish relationships between people or between people and places, etc.

So Gandalf and Saruman would be tagged [[wizard]] for example, and looking in your backlinks pane on your [[wizard]] page, you would see unlinked mentions back to Gandalf and Saruman. You could use a formal character template structure where you would list all of the groups that each character was a member of, or it could be a descriptive mention such as “Gandalf was a [[wizard]] known as Gandalf the Grey.”

Then when you are writing your book, you can tag each character present in a scene in yaml front matter, similar to what I do. While your series wiki page for each character will show up an an unlinked mention on your outgoing links pane even if you don’t, I still find it handy to know exactly who was present in each scene rather than who was only mentioned. My dataview query shows me this summary information in a table so I can see it at a glance.

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