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I've been writing a story and world-building as part of the process. Now it has come to a point where I have lots of information about the world and I need to store it effectively for my own reference. Should I start a wiki? A Blog? Can you suggest some methods (not software) of storing information for my world?

For reference, there are rules of magic, there are religions and civilizations, and notable people as well.

Also, I've seen there are questions about software for organizing world-building. This is not what I want. I'm asking about the 'best practice' of storing the information even before choosing a software.

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I think it depends on how you're going to access it — that is, what you will need it for.

  • Is your story a huge era-spanning saga? You may want to list things chronologically.
  • Is your story heavily reliant on dynasties, reigns of monarchs, or political administrations? Group them by leader.
  • Does it take place in a fairly short time and all your worldbuilding is about the past? Group the information by category (Magic, Religion, Food Culture, Marriage, etc.).
  • Does it focus on class distinctions and/or overcoming them? List by class.
  • Is it about kinds or schools of magic battling? Group things by magical school.

And so on. Consider the structure and plot of your story and how you think you would need to reference your worldbuilding material — what's going to be relevant as you write. That will tell you how you want to organize your materials.

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Between the brief ordered spreadsheets @Liquid suggests and the detailed but time-consuming wiki you suggest, there is a third way: keep notes of what you need in a semi-organised way that is convenient.

Let me explain.

  • You have characters. It might be that you need to keep only certain details about them: appearance, personal history, etc. Or it might be that you need to have them sorted by families, or organisations, and list how they connect to each other. If you have superstructures that your characters fit into, filing by superstructures is very helpful.
  • You have locations. There's all kind of details you might find useful to keep for each: some form of map, a mood board for a general idea of what they might look like, history, local food...
  • Perhaps you have have a lot of details of a particular culture: core tenets, customs, ceremonies, ways of greeting each other...
  • Or perhaps you want to keep together all the weapons available to each side, so that you can be sure a tool is not forgotten about when it would come in useful. Or maybe it's rules of magic, and you want them together so they don't start contradicting each other.

As Lauren Ipsum states, your filing system should be derived from what you have. You have categories, and maybe sub-categories, and elements within them. Sort by those, since those are meaningful to your particular story.

My addition to it would be: adding a new bit of information, or a new category of information, should be fast and easy. Your "worldbuilding bible" is already a meta-file to your story. You should not be spending a lot of time on the meta-meta processes, such as on formatting wiki pages. And however you choose to organise your information, it should be easy to search, and easy to re-organise.

In terms of technology, in theory you could even do it all on paper, keeping separate folders for distinct categories, and separate cards with elements within them. You can have folders and sub-folders and text files (Word or similar) with bullet points. Scrivener has some inbuilt templates for keeping such information, you can use and customise those. My personal preference is OneNote, because it's flexible and free. Whatever you use, ease and flexibility should be your priorities. You don't want your filing system to limit you — you want it to help you.

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Make a spreadsheet.

In case you don't know:

A spreadsheet is a file which stores data in a tabular form. Popular software for spreadsheet making are, of course, Microsoft Excel or the open source variant Libre Office Calc. Or you could use "Google Spreadsheets", if you like working with the Google suite.

My method is having in the same spreadsheet as many "sheets" (e.g. pages) i need, divided by topic. At the present moment, I'm using:

  • A Glossary sheet to keep track of all the words, nonces and peculiar phrases that are used in my setting;

  • A Character sheet where I write down a few detail on each character (physical description, relevant features, powers, fears, etc) as need be;

  • A Timeline sheet where I note down the events happened before the start of my story;

  • A Location sheet where I list the peculiarities of all the places my character visit as their travel progresses;

  • A Review sheet that lists what I need to review in the already written chapters.

Those of course are only rough ideas of what you could do.

I'm a discovery writer and I tend to keep most of the ideas in my mind, so I'm mostly using the spreadsheet as a quick reference for things that I cannot keep in mind (the novel being 200 pages long by now).

You don't have to build an huge spreadsheet from the start, you can start from what seems useful to you and expand it as you go. The main goal (and challenge) is to store information in a quick, efficient way, so you can bring back the concepts in your mind when the need arises.

So my method is: write first, record later. I stop and update the spreadsheet only when I'm adding more information to my story that will be needed later on. But if you are more of a planner/outliner, you may want to consider the idea of outline first, write later which is, of course, the opposite. You may want to put down the essentials details of your religions on the spreadsheet from the start, so you'll have a common ground to use as a reference when starting your story.

The main advantage of this method is keeping things quick. A spreadsheet is good for taking quick notes, rather than long-winded descriptions. You mentioned keeping a wiki: that's a great way of documenting stuff, if you're planning to write a lot of worldbuilding out of your actual story.

My underlying reason in suggesting a spreadsheet rather than a full-fledged wiki is brevity. You can easily get lost in giving your wiki a sensible structure, and you can easily catch Worldbuilder's Disease by feeling compelled to write long, detailed description for each and every wikipage. Also, when you need to get that information back, you may spend time re-reading an entire page when you just needed one tiny detail.

A spreadsheet is designed to hold a lot of data in single-cell value. And there is just so much you can hold into a cell or a line. It forces you to be brief, summarizing only what matters, and that comes in handy when you need to lookup for information.

  • @R.M. You have good reason to be confused - I was translating directly from my mother tongue, where being synthetic can mean "summarize all the relevant informations as much as possible". I've edited the answer with "brief". – Liquid - Reinstate Monica Feb 4 at 16:59
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    The advantages of being brief is that you are forced to summarize all the core concepts of the stuff you'd like to record in the spreadsheet. Having fewer words means having to spend less time in writing and reading your working notes, hence more time to write the actual story (hopefully). The assumption here is that every worldbuilding idea can be summarized in a few concepts and expanded later on when it's needed in the story. – Liquid - Reinstate Monica Feb 4 at 17:03
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Disclaimer:

I understand that the OP requests 'not software', though others have gone ahead and made software suggestions. That being said, I am suggesting a software, but specifically I refer to the concept and/or workflow that the software provides for the general purpose of organizing information. IMHO, it sounds like for the OPs purposes, the kind/amount of information that needs to be dealt with would be impractical without an effective software solution. This is why I am taking liberty to make such a suggestion.

Suggestion:

This is by no means a complete answer to your question, but it may give you ideas about organizing information in general ( as this is specifically how I have used it in the past and it work well for me ) - and that is Trello.

It's free to start. It's intuitive and quick to pick up an start using ( this is what ultimately earned my team's interest ). It's intended for collaborative note taking and prioritizing. It provides a lot of useful visual features and it may be quite helpful to organize and even search information. You should be aware that, depending the amount of information you need to manage, you may require pay options, though I have not needed anything beyond the free account. You can use it to organize any information you want, not just to take notes and/or create priorities and TODOs.

My team and I used it to develop and manage our workflow for developing a story for a game ( and the story itself ), including the story line, time line, story boards, member task scheduling, etc. Note that we organically derived a natural workflow based on member talents and availability as well as managed the products of that workflow through one and the same interface.

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