If you’re just starting out, you might not have even considered how to organize your world-building. It’s just like any other story, right? Well, this depends; if you’re writing a haunted house story set in our modern world from one character’s perspective, you’ll likely need to do less research and less overall world-building than someone who is writing a high fantasy from several points of view and that spans a long time.
World-building can easily become overwhelming. It’s partially why a lot of fledgling writers are put off by genre writing. However, if you put some organizational tools in place from the start, you’ll be able to control the flow of your information, find things easily when you need to refresh yourself, and keep your research tidy. This will give you an overall smoother writing experience.
Organization for Writers and World-Builders
1. Back Everything Up
This might seem obvious, but it’s the most important thing—if you’re working by hand or in a simple Word file, you’ll need to make sure that you’re also storing your information elsewhere. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard horror stories about people who left their notebook or binder somewhere on accident, or their luggage got lost, or their computer crashed, and the files were irretrievable. Nothing is more demoralizing than realizing that all that hard work has basically been flushed down the drain.
Back. Up. Your. Work.
If you’re not very tech savvy and prefer to have all your writing and research printed and put into binders, that’s totally fine. I recommend that you scan your work and upload it to your computer, even if you’re just storing it on the desktop or a OneDrive account. As long as your work can be recovered if something catastrophic happens to your hard copy, that’s all that’s necessary.
For those working in Word files, the same thing is true; you should either print out your work regularly to keep it handy in case your computer crashes or put it into an online system or jump drive. Prepare for the worst; hope for the best.
If you’re someone who uses an online service, still remember to back up your work. It’s easy to think of the internet as this ever-present entity, but companies go under, servers crash, there are glitches that erase work, etc. It’s always best to play it safe and make sure that you don’t lose any of your hard work.
2. Consider an Online Resource
I used to be the kind of writer who only existed in the realm of Word documents. Don’t get me wrong, Word is a great resource. However, for longer projects, and especially for organizing and accessing larger amounts of data (like the familial history of your kingdom’s monarchs or a language’s structure and development), it’s not ideal.
If you’re interested in keeping all of your information online but aren’t sure where to turn, here are a few that I’ve used and recommend:
A tried-and-true favorite, this is a great way for people to transition from using basic Word and laptop folders to an online service where you can trust your work can be accessed and recovered, no matter what happens to your computer. I use my Drive as a way to keep my works-in-progress in an easy-to-access space. I have the app on my phone for writing on the go, and I use my web browser when working on the computer. It allows me to create many folders which I can nest into each other depending on the topic.
Google Drive is free up to 15GB. I haven’t hit my limit yet, and I’ve been using it for years, so it’s great for storing documents without worry.
I pair Evernote with my Google Drive usage, as it’s more visually appealing as a note-taker. Here, I can store all my various research threads in one notebook, as well as use pre-created templates for timelines, plot outlines, and map-making. I can also store images in easily, accessible places, which makes it a lot more attractive to use than Google Drive.
There’s a premium service available, but from my experience, the free version will be enough to get you through to the writing stage.
Unlike Google Drive or Evernote, World Anvil is a site made by and for world-builders. While it’s used by writers, it’s also used by role-playing gamers. Here, you can easily create maps, timelines, character sheets, and even pages detailing religions, cults, or political groups. You can add images to these pages, which are called articles, making it easy for you to remind yourself about a character’s appearance, background, or morality if need be.
While the basic service is free, the storage and access to various features are locked. To unlock them, you need to pay for their subscription service which gives access to more data storage, worlds, articles, advert-free pages, and more.
If you’re just starting out, this site could be helpful to you. They have various novel and short story plans for plot construction, but I’ve found their World building (detailed plan) outline to be the most useful. Here, you fill out a long worksheet that will get you started thinking about the various aspects of world-building and then save the worksheet at the end for easy access.
The basic plan will allow you to use and save one story plan, but you’ll need to pay for the premium service if you’re interested in further use of the site.
Another mostly-free service, I haven’t yet run into a situation in which I thought, “Maybe I should upgrade to the paid service to get what I want.” Here, they have worksheets for you to fill out (including big-picture things like the genre you’re writing in as well as more minute details like the universe’s history), as well as a place to create and store documents, the ability to add contributors (which is great for multi-author projects), and the ability to connect with other users to discuss aspects of world-building.
No matter what kind of organizational system you find helps your workflow, the important thing is that you enact a plan from the get-go. There’s nothing worse than having to stop in the middle of a great writing session to hunt down information that’s been misplaced or coming across notes about something that you’ve since updated or changed! Keeping your world-building organized is all about giving yourself a solid platform so you can just focus on the most important task—the writing!