Worldbuilding with a Wiki
by Sandra Barret
Worldbuilding is a must for speculative fiction writers. It’s where we create unique cultures, alien races, habitable (or inhabitable) planets, and rules of science or magic. Worldbuilding occurs outside of specfic as well. A detailed romance story includes some setting or other, and unless the author lives there, she’ll need to do background work to get the details of her setting correct. That’s the world she’s building (even if it’s real), and the world she’ll need notes on to get the story correct.
Worldbuilding is a task some writers dread and others love. I’m definitely in the love category. Pulling together all the facts and details of my world brings it to life for me and helps me form the background and setting that becomes part of my characters. One of the biggest drawbacks of Worldbuilding (other than that I could spend forever doing it instead of knuckling down to do the actual writing) is that my notes end up scattered. Or if I put it all in one file, it ends up too long to search out the little detail I’m looking for when I’m crafting a scene. That’s where a wiki came to the rescue for me.
Chances are, you’ve poked around Wikipedia at some point. Wikis are a collection of web pages that you can interlink to cross-reference between material. Multiple people can collaborate in a wiki to build a knowledge base. Besides Wikipedia, there are wikis for medicine, TV shows, and even military history.
Why a Wiki?
Wikis have the benefit of being easy to create and maintain, while providing the hot-link capability to link between related categories. Wikis are also searchable, which a collection of notes may not be. Using my own wiki as an example, I can create a wiki page that gives an overview on my alien culture, and then hotlink to the specifics on recent wars and the military.
Wikis provide a structure that is both flexible and extendable. I can create additional topics about my alien culture, and then go back and add links to these additional topics from my alien culture page. I can also link to resources on the web that relate to my topics. I can even upload really bad artwork that shows what my aliens look like.
Worldbuilding on a wiki allows me to be as scatterbrained as I am naturally. I can collect information about weapons today, social taboos tomorrow, and military hierarchy the next day. I can link them all appropriately, and even link in more than one place (so taboos can occur in the military as well as in religious settings). I can even reorganize them in any way I find helpful.
While wikis are typically used to collaborate with other people, they make perfect sense for organizing just your own scattered notes. I’ve kept my wiki public so you can see an example of worldbuilding with a wiki, but I can just as easily mark it all private, or share it with only a select few people.
There are a ton of free wikis available. The first thing you want to decide is whether you want a wiki online (so you can play with it from any computer..*cough*… not that I’d beef up my worldbuilding from my work computer…*cough*) or whether you want one you can download to your own PC.
I chose pbwiki as my online wiki, mostly because it has an easy-to-use editor. Wikis can have elaborate markup languages, but I prefer something similar to the basics of MS Word. Other free online wikis include wikidot and wetpaint.
For downloadable wikis you can have on your PC, you can choose mediawiki, which looks a lot like Wikipedia, or twiki. And if you want to get even slicker, you can get a wiki-on-a-stick(mediawiki on a stick and twiki), which is a compact wiki that you can fit on a USB memory stick and take it with you anywhere.
I’ve already tooted my own wiki horn with my My Terra/Nova world, but if you want to see some serious worldbuilding in action, take a look at the Basilicus Free Worldbuilding wiki project. Now that’s detailed! (and shared!).
Last year, LJ Cohen held a workshop on how to organize your novel in a wiki. This a soup-to-nuts approach for your entire novel in a wiki, that I highly recommend you take a look at. It includes plotting, characters, and everything else you’d associate with writing a novel. Cohen uses the twiki option.
If your interested in more info on worlbuilding, Holly Lisle has some articles on maps and languages. SFF.net has a Fantasy worldbuilding questionnaire, and an article on creating new worlds. Mary Catelli has some interesting points on Religion and World-building.