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I'm less than ten thousand words into a piece of fanfiction I'm writing, and I have significantly more than that in notes. Such areas covered in separate documents are:

  • General world-building, environmental/culture aspects
  • General character notes
  • General conflict
  • First attempt at combining notes for general reference
  • Timeline of events - YEAR | MONTH | DATE | TIME
  • Specific conflict (grooming of MC by another character, key moments, revelations etc.)
  • Another attempt at combining notes

Worst still, I am constantly taking notes and find myself fighting the desire to spawn another hellish document for other aspects of my story. The world I'm writing for (Harry Potter) is so vast and unexplored that I could spawn novels from tangents of my main story.

I have pruned my notes. I know the key point of my story, what I want to achieve, what I want the reader to take away - but the notes are unwieldy.

Have you any tips on how I can manage these things? So far I'm writing in Notepad for general note taking and transferring that to MS Word organised notes.

Thanks for any help you can provide.

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I use a combination of tools:

  • for timelines, I use Aeon Timeline.
    It's a paid software but it works well and there are developments still being wrought which should make it even better.

  • for organising ideas, networks, processes, hierarchies and confusing relationships between characters, I use yEd (freeware).

  • for organising family trees and large bodies of people which connect either by blood or not throughout several generations, I use Gramps (freeware; powerful genealogy software).

  • for creating maps (of countries, cities, streets, houses... even scenes, to keep track of who is where), I use CC3
    It's a paid bunch of software products. Worthwhile if you need to visualise what you're writing.

  • for organising notes in almost a wiki-like fashion and bring together all my info and notes (including images exported from the previous software programmes), I use Realm Works.
    It's a software programme and online service mostly directed at RPG players, but I've been using it to keep my novels (historical fiction, with a crazy amount of people, plots, locations, specific objects, maps, terminology... all the while having to keep track of what is attestedly historical, likely historical, long time legend and my own decisions). I don't know how I'd manage without it.

It's also easy to import word and pdf stuff into this huge database, which allows for linking anything you wish and establish relationships between characters. One weak point is that you can't print anything out of it just yet, but it's a work in process. They'll get there.

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    @ggiaquin If you use scrivener, aeon timelines syncs with it and helps keep track of characters throughout space, time, and chapters. – Sara Costa Jan 30 '17 at 23:39
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    Great to know. I actually was looking to invest in Scrivener but still not ready to make that kind of commitment to something that could end up being just a fun personal project. I have a couple projects I would like to write, but not feeling confident being that I am a software developer and not a writer. Not to say I am a poor writer, more so, a lack of self confidence that my writing would be good enough. – ggiaquin16 Jan 30 '17 at 23:43
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    @ggiaquin Scrivener is fifty bucks! That's not a commitment; that's dinner and a movie! Pony up the cash and get the right tool for the job. :) – Lauren Ipsum Jan 31 '17 at 1:25
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    @LaurenIpsum aha you are right. Just nervous. – ggiaquin16 Jan 31 '17 at 1:30
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    @SaraCosta I'm a simple person and enjoy simple things. The laughter of children. The sound of rain. A warm bed. – user5645 Feb 1 '17 at 20:29
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Everyone else has thrown in their two bits, so I'm going to try mine.

I completely understand the problem of too much notes (currently I have over fifty documents detailing different notes and like three pages of the fic itself. World-building/exploring before narrative, but I digress) and I have to agree with ggiaquin that folders will help with this quite a bit.

However, one thing that I consider to be my saving grace in the almost year of note building that I have completed, is having a single master reference document. This document lists off all of your other docs in a Bullet List fashion. The bullets can show your folders and your documents so you know what documents are where and what each of them entail. Here's an example from my Master doc (I omitted the contents of the Picture References folders because that's a lot of bullets):

Because formatting the text proper is hard

Also, like shown in the picture. Google docs helps keep everything in one place and you can access it anywhere (also, much less fallible than a USB).

  • "Where Gods Come to Die" Totally want to read! – Baodad Feb 1 '17 at 4:16
  • @Baodad if you want I can send you some of what I have narrative-wise. It's rough, but it's there. – Cyberson Feb 1 '17 at 5:20
  • OK my email is in my profile – Baodad Feb 2 '17 at 18:25
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You could try OneNote by Microsoft. As far as I know it is free. I use it to collect together a large number of notes for work.

You open a new notebook and give a section a heading. For each section you then add as many pages as you want. Pages can be any length. For me, it is a really clear way to organise things.

You can sync your notebooks across various devices, though I prefer just one copy on my memory stick.

If you cut and paste something from the internet, the address is automatically included.

There are various other features, but I don't need to use them. Formatting is a little limited because you can't use tabs, etc. (they automatically make tables), but of course things like bold are easily accessible.

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For me, I love folders. I can't get enough of em. I would create a folder titled WritingProjects, and then within create a folder called FanFiction. Within there, what ever the overall project name you want for your individual project. Within those project folders you can create separate folders such as World building, Characters, Plot, what ever note categories you may have for this specific project.

This would now allow you to more easily go to the desired notes without having to sift through 20 documents of world building to get to the 1 you need for character. You can just go right to the character. Even better, you can have multiple instances of file explorer open so that you can have all 3 folders open at once and just switch to the folder you need. As you work through the story, you can combine documents, even delete documents as they are no longer needed. Maybe even create a new folder for documents that are no longer needed but instead of deleting it and losing those notes, you have them archived just in case you realized, you actually did need something still.

Ultimately, I personally love folders. You know that when you open up the world building folder, everything in there will be related to world building. Of course, if you need to further sub categorize, you can create folders as needed. Say within world building you have a folder for environment, one for culture, one for animals/plants and so on. Just depends on how organized/OCD you want to get with it.

I will be honest, this might seem like a hassle to some with having so many folders to go in and out of, but this is how my brain works the best when it comes to organizing. I compartmentalize everything down to pretty specific categories.

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    I used to do it that way. But I'm too chaotic for it to be useful beyond a certain amount of info, especially when I want to quickly navigate between wildly different topics and have to spend five minutes hunting for that vague idea I know I wrote somewhere on a 100 page long doc. Still +1 if you're the organised sort. – Sara Costa Jan 30 '17 at 23:32
  • @Sara Costa aha yea... Being a software developer, I can totally relate to it getting too chaotic some times, but my brain needs this sort of organization or else I will become very lost. I always organize things compartmentally whether it is organizing items in a video game, organizing my starcraft base, organizing notes, what ever it is, this is what I do and I can't see myself being able to stay organized in any other way. – ggiaquin16 Jan 30 '17 at 23:35
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    The sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote that from time to time he would take a big stack of manila folders out of his filing cabinet and dump the contents on the floor of his office. The random reordering helped him come up with new ideas, new ways of looking at things, and new questions. Apparently this was a source of creativity for him. I don't mean to say folders aren't helpful. They help me find specific information I need. (File Locator Lite also helps a lot with that.) But once things are filed neatly, perhaps you would sometimes enjoy perusing a random selection from your notes. – aparente001 Feb 1 '17 at 4:54
  • @SaraCosta If you are too chaotic to order your notes into folders, then you are too chaotic to order it into the software you list, too. And if you can use that software in an orderly fashion, then you can create a similar structure with folders and place your individual text files there. I don't see the difference. – user5645 Feb 1 '17 at 20:23
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    @ggiaquin A structure of folders is no more complex than a structure of information in a file or wiki or anywhere else. Today's graphical interfaces allow you to expand the folder structure and see all the files ordered into it at once. All you need to do is give your files telling names, and then there is no difference between folders in files and any other way to organize information. – user5645 Feb 1 '17 at 20:26
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Love all the answers above. I rely on Scrivener for poetry, short stories, longer works, blog entries and other factual writing. Also Aeon Timeline, OneNote and others mentioned.

One thing I have found useful for organisation are wikis. There are various wiki host services but you can also use one of the personal wiki solutions. Basically this is a single file held on your own computer which runs using javascript in your browser. The one I've used before is TiddlyWiki. It is brilliant for creating ad hoc documents simply by creating a wikiword in another document (I say 'document' but mean sub-documents of the one file). You can organise as you wish. Check it out. (Caveat: not used it for some years and it looks to have changed but would assume for the better.)

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Scrivener is a great piece of software that keeps track of all your writing, notes, and images. It's definitely a matter of preference but I really like using it.

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I'm using online folders of Google docs and spreadsheets.

Pro:

  • No cost,
  • Accessible almost anywhere,
  • easily searched,
  • easily shared (read only, comments, or fully editable)
  • exports to many formats (including eBook.)

Con:

  • Not really designed for novel-length works (gets slow for me at 30+ pages)
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    What's with the "easily searched"? My Mac indexes my whole harddrive and I can find any word in any file anywhere on it. – user5645 Feb 1 '17 at 20:20
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Check out Ulyssess. Easier but just as powerful as Scrivener IMHO.

  • Ulysses just lost me when I learned that it forces me to write plain text with Markdown. Fiction must be written in Rich Text with real italics. – user5645 Feb 1 '17 at 21:00
  • Would you consider expanding a little more? The original poster doesn't know the program you're recommending; if you can explain what it is, and how it helps solve their issue, it would be a much more helpful answer :) Compare to the other answers here, which offer recommendations, but back them up with concrete explanations. – Standback Feb 2 '17 at 9:31

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