Control your story background: use a Wiki

20 June 2016 16:00

Ever since the decision to focus on an Epic Fantasy book as my next writing project I have been busy writing down background information for this project. World history, persons of interest, timelines, that sort of thing. In the past, I’ve written down these notes either using a paper notepad, or as a big comment block at the start of the novel’s LaTeX source file (I should probably dedicate a future blog post to why I’m using this format again).

One thing I’ve noticed, however, is that I’m not always writing down these notes from the same computer, and copying files between the various computers (even when using Git) isn’t very effective. As such, I decided to keep my notes in Google Drive sometime around the start of the Unbound series, leading to documents of varying sizes describing histories, concepts and such.

It is, however, not ideal.

The thing about story backgrounds is that they’re hard to summarize in a linear faction. Characters are related in various ways, to each other, to story concepts, to events, to places. This is almost impossible to organize in a linear fashion, and gets progressively harder to work with the more information you add.

To paraphrase the Malkavian sourcebook from Vampire: The Masquerade: I needed to stop trying to think straight, I needed to think curved.

Not wanting to waste a significant amount of time building yet another custom piece of software for my writing efforts, I went with a simpler solution: I installed a private Wiki for my writing endeavors, granting me access from various locations and allowing me to order my notes in a completely non-linear fashion, connecting each piece of information through article links. The software I chose was MediaWiki, the same used (and developed by) Wikipedia.

I’ve only had my personal Wiki for a few weeks now, and my time has been somewhat constrained, but whenever I’ve had the time to work on story background, I’ve been actively creating pages for characters, events, places and story concepts, such as the magic system for my upcoming novel. Having separate pages for each of these things allows me to focus on one particular part of the story at a time.

The ability to link to non-existing pages opens up an interesting way of working. As I’m describing a main character, for instance, I can refer to various locations or events by linking to them. Then, by accessing the Wanted Pages option, I get a list of articles I’ve linked to, but not yet written, creating a TODO list on the fly.

If you’re serious about outlining your epic fantasy stories, but are struggling to find an effective means of organizing your thoughts, give this approach a try. If you lack the technical know-how to setup a hosted Wiki for yourself, there are plenty of private wiki providers out there. A simple Google search will give you dozens of options.

Happy writing!