How to Track World-Building in a Fantasy Series

Writing a fantasy series gets a little easier by tracking the details of the world you've created. EJ Wenstrom offers a few easy ways to manage the controlled chaos.
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Writing a fantasy series gets a little easier by tracking the details of the world you've created. EJ Wenstrom offers a few easy ways to manage the controlled chaos.

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When writing an alternate universe for fantasy fiction, world-building can quickly become complex beyond manageability. Going beyond that first novel to write an entire series within that world can be even more challenging—personally, it has been my truest experience of controlled chaos.

By book two, I realized I could not rely on my memory as much as I thought I could. By book three, I struggled to keep straight what version of certain details made it into the final draft. By book four, I was properly tangled within my own creation, wasting time searching madly through my previous books to confirm crucial info, instead of doing the actual writing.

But, live and learn. Now I know: I should have documented my world’s key details from the start.

Luckily, many authors wiser than myself have come up with creative methods to keep track of your world. Here are a few popular ones to try:

Word Document

This is perhaps the simplest and most familiar tool for a writer. A Word document can be a no-fuss way to track notes about your world for later reference.

However, this document may soon grow quite long as your world grows, and become as unwieldy as the world itself—get ready for lots of scrolling. A table of contents with internal hyperlinks can help curb this.

Spreadsheet

Adding Excel to your writing process may feel like anathema, but some authors swear by them. A spreadsheet can make it easier to track key details in an organized fashion—and this means it’s easy to find when you need it, too.

How you set up your spreadsheet is up to you—should it be structured by geographic region? By religion? By social class? It may depend on what drives your unique world. However you go about it, the most important thing is to capture those details.

Wiki

One advantage of creating a wiki for your world is that it automatically keeps your crucial reference on the cloud where it’s safe from the looming threat of hard drive crashes. (Though a Google Drive can fix that in a heartbeat no matter what format you choose.)

Another advantage is that a wiki organizes your notes into sections with an auto-created table of contents, which can be further organized into subsections for several buckets of notes within a category.

Create a private wiki to keep your notes safe, or publish it so your fans can follow along and explore your world deeper.

Worksheets

If you use Scrivener, you already have access to a world-building worksheet, but there are many others out there, too. Just Google it!

If you can’t find one that’s just right, you can also modify a template or create your own. Set it as a custom template in your favorite word processor to start fresh for each new project.

A good world-building worksheet should walk you through the foundational setup of your fictional world in a way that is helpful and inspiring. Additional space to track additional details and updates as you draft can help keep everything straight.

The Ultimate Challenge: Maintaining Your Reference

Regardless of what format you choose to maintain your world-building notes, the biggest challenge is maintaining it as your world expands. Whether you build your world first and then plot, or build your world on the fly as your draft, you’re bound to get caught up in the creative process. No one wants to lose their flow once they get into it! But an outdated world tracker is hardly better than none at all.

To keep up with it, consider setting aside time at the end of each writing sessions to update your tracker with the latest information. It’s a little extra work, but you’ll be grateful for it when you’re suddenly in book four and need to revisit a town your characters traveled through in book one. As you try to search your memory for what’s sold in the market, what the people there eat, and other important details, you’ll be glad to find everything you need compiled in your tracker.

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