Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 3: Wikis

Last week. month. year. ohmygodit’sbeentoolong time, I covered mind maps as a tool for fantasy and science fiction writers can use to keep track of their worldbuilding. And we’ve already covered plain ol’ Word documents. Now we come to what I currently use: personal wikis.

You know Wikipedia, right? Or maybe you have a favorite show or video game that maintains a wiki? Then you’re familiar with the concept.

This method is like creating your own encyclopedia, but trust me–it’s more fun than it sounds! (Or maybe I’m just a big ol’ dork. Probably that one)

Pros

Flexibility. There are different programs out there that allow you to create an online or offline personal, private wiki. Building it online may require some light coding/markup knowledge, but you’ll be able to work on your worldbuilding anywhere you have an internet connection.

personally didn’t want to deal with any of that, so I went for the offline option. With a lightweight program, I was able to create a wiki and upload its folder to my Dropbox. (You can use other cloud storage services like Google Drive or iCloud too).

So while I need to have my wiki editor program installed on the computer I’m using, I’m still able to have almost all the portability offered by building an online version thanks to theeeeee cloooooooud.

Cross-linking is another pro for personal wikis. Each character, culture, continent, other things that start with “C” gets its own page in your wiki. And then the fun part! You get to link–same as you would with an internet hyperlink–between them.

So for instance, if I was making a wiki for The Tethys Chronicles, I’d make a page for all my notes and info about Jacquie Renairre. Then I’d do the same thing for her uncle Serge. I’d fill up his page with everything I’ve come up with for him (things that the reader may or may not ever see). I’d make sure to link his page to Jacquie’s, probably with anchor text that indicates he’s her uncle. Now you’re cookin’ with gas!

You get the idea. This is my favorite way to write down what I know about all the parts of my novel/world and not their relationships to each other without an overwhelming mind map that’s too big to use.

Cons

I already mentioned a potential con if you decide to create an online personal wiki–you’re limited by your internet access. You may be able to download an offline version of your wiki, work on it, and then upload it once you’re connected again. That would depend on the specifics of whichever platform you choose.

Another con–at least for the desktop wiki program I use–is that formatting options are rather limited. You can bold and italicize text, and there are a couple levels of “headers” so you can organize your info. However, color-coding isn’t really an option. This may be an issue for the more visual writers out there.

A Note About Scrivener

I know that some people use Scrivener to write their manuscripts and keep track of their worldbuilding at the same time. Great! That’s a completely valid approach. I’m not going to write about that option at length simply because I have very little experience with Scrivener. I purchased the program, have tried it on a couple of projects, and found it just didn’t fit my writing style. If it works for you, awesome! If it doesn’t then maybe some of the alternatives in my posts will do the trick.

 

Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 2: Mind Maps

Last time we talked about using multiple Word documents as a system of keeping track of your worldbuilding. For some, that system is the be-all end-all. I used Word documents to keep track of the worldbuilding for my first two novels. But over time, as the series went on, trying to work with multiple, often conflicting documents didn’t work.

So what’s another system authors can use to keep track of their worldbuilding? Mind maps.

Maybe you remember using them in school during group projects, probably when your teacher wanted everyone to brainstorm ideas.

Simply put, they’re just a visual way to represent ideas, concepts, and the connections between them.

Pros

So how does this help you keep track of your fantasy or science fiction universe? It can let you group important aspects of your worldbuilding together, color code them, add notes, and then show their connections in a visual way.

There are a lot of free programs out there, but the one I used the most is XMind.

I used a mind map while writing Terraviathian, the unfinished third book in the Tethys Chronicles, an unpublished sword and sorcery novel, a fantasy novel, and partway through an urban fantasy novel. I got a lot of mileage out of my mind maps.

The Song of Siya mind map

With just a little bit of effort I was able to list characters on one side of the mind map while charting all my countries, cultures, locations, whatever on the other.

Plus color coding!! Using color to group certain things together appealed to the organizational freak within me. And it looked pretty.

Cons

It sounds like mind maps are the perfect choice for the budding (or experienced) author trying to keep track of their worldbuilding, right? To that I say “Maybe…?” and offer you a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Personally, my mind maps got more and more elaborate as I used the same file for multiple books in a series. As I added more and more stuff to them, they got too big for me to handle. There were hundreds of entries, and some of them became outdated as I wrote. So I tried to mark them to separate them somehow. Or others were placeholders. And there were duplicates. Plus I wasn’t sure where to put info sometimes. Did bits about the history of a city belong in the “Locations” section or in the “Culture” section?

Maybe you’ll have better luck tackling these issues. Or maybe you won’t put so many entries in a single mind map.

I’ve moved on from mind maps, but maybe they’re just what you need!

Come back next week whenever I get around to writing the next installment about…wait for it… personal wikis!

Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 1: Word Documents

It’s a beast that hounds all writers, but especially genre writers: how do you keep track of your worldbuilding? How do you keep it all straight?

Inconsistent worldbuilding (I’m looking at you Supernatural!) is one of my biggest pet peeves. And keeping everything in order, especially when you’re working in a huge multi-volume universe, can be tricky.

One method that I’ve used before (not anymore) is a collection of Word documents. A file separate from your manuscript can be used to catalog your worldbuilding efforts.

Pros

This method is easy to get started with. You just need to use the same word processing program that you write your drafts in. So you’re already instantly familiar with the interface and capabilities of what you’re working with.

You can write in sentences and paragraphs, or just keep track of everything in bulleted lists.

Cons

To be honest, even though I wrote two novels using this method, it’s not my favorite. No matter how careful I tried to be, I always ended up with a dozen different worldbuilding documents. Outlines, character sketches, worldbuilding bibles, timelines. It was too much. Too many contradictions.

But for some writers this may be all they need! A single file that lists important aspects of their story world. Maybe your book is set on Earth in an era or place you’re intimately familiar with. Maybe you’re the kind of writer who makes things up as they go along and keep it all straight. More power to you!

Alternatives?

For those of us who can’t make this method work, don’t fear! In the next couple of posts I’ll talk about some alternative methods I’ve tried including mind maps and personal wikis.

A Tale of Awkward Handshakes

I’m not a cool person. I like “dad jokes”, puns, portmanteaus, chiptunes, and pretty much everything else that’s the antithesis of youngcool, or hip. Do the kids even say those words anymore? I have no idea.

And yet, I think I have one of those faces that says “Yes, I am down to attempt to a weird handshake high-five gesture-thing in this serious business context.”

This has happened twice now in quick succession, and each time I’ve walked away from the experience cringing and wanting to die from embarrassment.

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