So you want to build a nice detailed setting. You are ready to keep a record of everything so you review and expand your work. You’re ready to dive into this and put your world to pen, keyboard, map, and file.
This raises the question of just how you record everything.
If you’ve ever visited a fan wiki or purchased one of those “world of . . .” books that attempts to distill a novel or series of novels into a record of that universe, you know there is a lot of data. It can be a little daunting because when you want to create your setting in detail, really get into it, and you’re basically creating one of those. On your own. Along with writing your story or stories. It’s a bit daunting
What’s the best way to do it?
Well, that’s actually several questions. So let’s get to them.
The first question is just how are you going to store all of this information? There are a wealth of opportunities out there from text files to full wikis which is really great until you have to actually make a choice. Then it gets kind of confusing.
Really the best option is to find what works for you. Here’s the usual things I see:
Reasons to use text files:
- Almost every computer, operating system, phone, etc. has an free editor compatible with text files (or even RTF files) or you can download one.
- Text files are also compatible with about any viewing system and you can convert them any time to another format.
- Youu don’t rely on any specialty applications, formatting, etc.
Reason not to use text files:
- Highly limited functionality.
Word Processors give us the advantage of having, well, all the word processor tools available. Advanced search and replace, formatting, word counts, and so on. Some of them are pretty powerful to the level of “most people don’t use 80% of this stuff.” They’re even compatible with each other to an extent, though I haven’t found this very reliable.
The advantages here are:
- Far, far more extensive features than your average text editor lets you do a lot more with charts, formatting, etc.
- Better file conversion options at your fingertips – html, text, PDF, etc.
- Reasonably common features and file compatibility.
- If you wanted to publish or convert this information to another format (say . . . a world guide) it’s already partially there.
The disadvantages are:
- Compatibility issues.
- May not need all the features for the limits.
- Not lightweight
This requires a little work on your part, be it setting up the wiki or installing the actual software. Wikis however are powerful for the obvious reason that they let you store search, and link everything. As I mentioned earlier, a fan wiki is often an example of the sheer power of recording world information in a wiki.
Why go wiki?
- Powerful editing, formatting tools.
- Ability to link and connect your information.
- Though it may take some technical knowledge there are options.
- In a few cases you can probably build a fan or public wiki with a quick upload/conversion.
- You need some knowledge to use them.
- You’re dependent on another technology that often lacks support.
- It may be way more than you need.
Other Writing Tools
Any aspiring writer can find a legion of other writing tools to help you craft your next tale. If you subscribe to any magazines, vsit any writer website, and so on you’re probably more than familiar with them due to all the adds you see. TOobe honest, I’m not too hot on these as they seem specialized, work only certain ways, and frankly are kind of pricey. I don’t like the idea of paying money to think like someone else. However . .
Why get these writing tools:
- They are specialized for specific needs.
- Some have interesting or unusual tools you can’t find anywhere else.
- FIle formats may not be compatible with other applications.
- You have to think like the person who created the software.
- Cost – you have to pay for them and they have a specailized use. Buying an office suite is at least going to be usable elsewhere.
So as you may guess, I’m not up on these writing tools.
Finally, you may just use a fusion solution – use several tools. This is my approach, where I usually do all my basics in a text editor and then use fancier stuff as needed.
- A best-of-all-worlds solution.
- A problem “in the chain” can disrupt you.
- You need to be sure you’re not overly dependent on one solution.
So there’s your options as I see them. Once you pick one (or more), the next question becomes “just what do I record from my world and how do I do it?”
How Do I Record My World?
So you’ve picked a method to record your world’s information. What exactly are you going to store in the first place?
Now if you’ve decided to use some specialized software it may limit and/or enable certain ways of recording information. I’m going to assume you’ve elected a more freeform solution. That freeform soluion however means you have to choose what to write down/type up/design to track all of this stuff.
I’ve found the best way to do this is to do a few things:
- Act as if what you’re writing down will be read by someone else. Imagine you have an inheritor, a partner, a friend, a legion of loyal fans you want to read this. This gets you to write things down for “another.” This helps in that you record information in a broader, more detailed, more accessible manner – so when you refer to your worldbuilding records they’re easier to read and recall and use. Frankly, this works because you never remember or relate to your notes and documents as well as you think – especially if there’s a break in your work.
- Look at other books and wikis and resources about worlds. Usually you can see some useful patterns, levels of details, and concepts you can adapt quickly.
- Look at resources that deal with world information – like roleplaying games, atlases, and so forth to see what information is seen as relevant.
- Draw up some basic templates for things you need to record – like characters, nations, etc.
- Wing it and start since you can always modify it later.
You are never going to design the perfect archive for your great worldbuilding because you’ll only learn what you need by doing it – but you can give yourself a pretty good start by seeing how others do it, get some basic forms, and go for it.
Myself, I was most influenced by roleplaying games, writer’s groups (who often involved character profiles following some common patterns), and fan resource books. Some of it’s worked for me for years (some of course, changed).
In the end, I think of #1 as the most important rule of all. Accessibility is important to any record of worldbuilding, and keeping the right perspective ensures that what you design and record is something you can use – since you’re thinking of it being used by others. That acts as a good guide to doing this right – and a way to know when you’re doing it wrong.
Good luck with recording your world. In fact, as a final suggestion . . . share what you learn with others. Share your preferred methods, templates, and ideas. You’ll help others and maybe learn a few things.
A bit like I have . . .
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.