A wiki wiki wiki...
I've been at this a little over a month, and here I am scribbling (typing) the third installment. I'm behind schedule, but what good procrastinator isn't? Well, tonight's going to be a real eye-ball scorcher to make up for it. The main topic is... Unconventional Writing Tools. Gripping, isn't it? Aren't you just filled to the brim with nervous anticipation, like a middle-aged virgin in a whore house?
Yeah, me neither. On with the show.
Over the course of the past 8-9 years that I've been toiling away on Ebon Tide (a fantasy novel that causes pants to spontaneously combust. See posts below for slightly more information), I've created a ridiculously large pile of notes. Were these notes not in digital form, they would likely swell to consume the entirety of my living space, like some wood-pulp version of the Blob. Instead, they occupy such a miniscule fraction of my hard-drive that I almost feel insulted. Almost.
To be clear, these notes are an indespensible part of the process. In order to have a fantasy world that seems well rounded, engrossing and immersive, it needs detail. Lots and lots of detail. A truely annoying amount of detail, much of which the reader may not even see.
Problems arise when notes are compiled over the course of 9 years by someone who can hardly organize his sock drawer. Names and dates change as the story world evolves, and file formats change as upgrades happen. Hard-drives fail, folders are moved and occasionally misplaced, and sometimes I take notes in places where I would never think to look for them later. At this point, I don't even know where to look for a ton of my background information, and some of it has been written, rewritten and re-rewritten because I couldn't find the original. I've got what programmers would call a Source Control issue.
He looks for a better answer.
At some point, I started fantasizing about a piece of software that would fix this problem... Sort of a unified, digital notebook. Wipe that look off your face. I'm sure you've fantasized about something just as trivial and nerdy. At first I just had a vague concept, but after a little thought it started turning into a design document.
Fortunately, I wasn't ever commited to the idea enough to waste a couple months of my life making it work. Honestly, it should only take a week to get that piece of software up and running in a basic state but... I'm a terrible programmer. 'Nuff said.
All I wanted this digital notebook to do was allow me to quickly and easily organize, edit and crosslink notes pertaining to my novels. At some point, I also thought it would kick-ass if I could output to a Wiki (like www.wikipedia.org), because I think they're an awesome way to organize information. What did I just say? Eureka! The answer struck me like a 20 lb. anvil, and I'm still nursing the concussion.
After 15 minutes of intensive research, I selected PMwiki (www.pmwiki.org), and in another half-hour had it running on my system. For the rest of the week, I patiently (and not-so-patiently) combed through my .doc's and .sxw's and .odt's, editing as I went, and built a wiki of my fictional world. Even at half-complete, my notes are so much more accessible that I wonder how I ever got anything done before. The Wiki has to be one of the single most important advances in writing tools since the word processor, and surprisingly... I don't think anyone knows.
I'm going to reiterate this in bold for undue emphasis. Wikis freaking rock.
The ease of organizing my notes has already started illuminating places that need more fleshing out, and having all of them crosslinked and unified has improved the hell out of the consistency. To boot, I can share this resource with my editor when the time comes, and perhaps even web-publish an edited version for fans. How completely awesome is that? If that doesn't beat the crap out of a thin glossary at the end of a book, I don't know what does.
That seems like about enough for tonight. For anyone interested, I've got a rough version of my world map (really basic, and lacking details I have in other versions). Point a browser over to http://home.pacbell.net/ven_rand/anyamap2.jpg to take a gander.
Until next time...