One of the less talked about worldbuilding problems is organizing that metric ton of information without causing your eyes to glaze over. I’ve found I do my best work when I allow the process to be as organic and unstructured as possible – lots of brainstorming and free-writing. This is great for creating, but not so wonderful for finding key details later when I’m steeped in the actual writing. There are lots of ways to sort this out, I’m sure. In fact, maybe you can get some good ideas from these guys at Writing Excuses. They have a great conversation about story bibles that I’ve found helpful.
For the record, a story bible is the place where you keep and organize all your world and character information, a tool to help you maintain consistency throughout your novel or series. The more complex the setting and the longer the fictional work, the bigger the story bible. I’ve already made peace with the fact that mine, by necessity, will be somewhat massive, and a massive story bible needs massive organization skills that I don’t necessarily have. I need help.
Now, there are a lot of writing programs out there, like Scrivener, that can help you organize your book material. That’s what they are made for, so, do yourself a favor. Look into those. Some people love them. Some hate them. You won’t know until you explore it yourself, and it might just be what you need. I use yWriter5. You could also use a grouping of Word files. It’s totally up to you.
Once I sorted out how to use yWriter, I found a set-up that worked for me. I don’t want to wade through a manuscript file to find worldbuilding or character notes, especially once I get into later projects with this world, so I keep two yWriter files. The first is for my actual book, the draft I’m working on at that moment. The second is for my story bible. I have a special section in both of those files labeled “Brainstorming”. This is where I get the work done. No matter what I’m working on, no matter which file I’m in, at any time I can switch over to that section and start laying down ideas.
Personally, when brainstorming, I’m a fan of having a written conversation with myself. One “me”, the brainstorming me, speaks in normal type. The other “me”, my foil, speaks in italics and is included for the simple purpose of drawing out and honing my ideas with questions. If I’m being honest, she’s not the best conversationalist. Sometimes it’s like presenting my ideas to Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets. She is, however, quite effective and works like a stick of dynamite for writer’s block.
After the brainstorming session comes the most laborious part – translating the ideas from “Brainstorming” into the actual story bible. It has to be done regularly. Otherwise, the ideas pile up like laundry, but this is the compromise for turning my organic, free-form creative endeavors into an index I can actually use later.
So take these ideas, dig up others, experiment, and, most importantly, have fun. That is, after all, why we do what we do.