WORKSHOP – Worldbuilding with Sandra

Worldbuilding with a Wiki

by Sandra Barret

copyright 2008


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.

What is a Wiki?

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.

Free Wiki options

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.

Examples of Worldbuilding Wikis

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!).

Other articles about Wikis and Worldbuilding

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. has a Fantasy worldbuilding questionnaire, and an article on creating new worlds. Mary Catelli has some interesting points on Religion and World-building.


  1. Thank you for this, I love how you set your wiki up!

    Your article reminded me of a wiki I found which is all in one file, so I can take it with me on my palm as well as keep it here on my pc 🙂


  2. Jove –

    Check out the link for the novel in a wiki. You can use that on any type of book. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but it seems pretty all-encompassing.


  3. I tried using a Wiki for worldbuilding, but I ended up having too much fun playing with the Wiki and not spending enough time writing… Then again, I think that story wasn’t quite ready to be written at that point. I’ll have to try the Wiki idea again when I’ve had a chance to work on my writing discipline a bit!


  4. Barbara and Shawn – Glad you enjoyed the workshop. Let me know if you give it a try and how it works for you.

    Nicole – Yes, it is easy to get so involved in the Wiki that you forget to write the story 😉 Overall, that’s a problem I have as well with any kind of world building.


  5. This is fascinating. I love the idea. I find I’m a little scattered at times and waste time looking for where I wrote stuff down and have been looking for ways to get more organized. I hadn’t even thought of wiki. I look forward to trying it out and thanks for all the great links – it will help me get underway.


  6. Thank you for this. It looks like a really great organisational tool and would be great to share with the readers of the book once published.


  7. What a wonderful, wonderful idea. I write fantasy and have ideas that all have to be kept and organized and this is the most wonderful way to do it.
    I never thought of a wiki. I can hardly wait to get started on this.
    Thank you for sharing such a great idea. I look forward to reading more of your blog.


  8. Shannon and Page – Yes, it has been a boon to organize all those scattered tidbits we try to track in our made-up worlds.

    Rae – I’ve thought about that sharing aspect as well, once the book is published. I’ve tried to keep spoiler information out of it (which is HARD sometimes) so folks can poke around and not be spoiled if they haven’t read a particular book in the series yet.


  9. Thanks so much for the mention and the link! What I use is an adaptation of tiddlywiki, which is a javascript program that can run in any browser and can be saved on a usb key. The main page is

    I can’t imaging working on a project with the scope of a novel without it. *off to look at your worldbuilding wiki. . . *



  10. Wow, this is a lot of information to process! If you had any idea how many times I’ve come back to this page already…I’m still a little intimidated about trying this myself, though.


  11. Keep at it Margay. The joy of a wiki is that it can grow slowly over time. No need to get your organization perfect at the start…


  12. This uncanny process you all have of getting into my head is astounding.

    I was just reading something yesturday about this, before I followed Jove over here.
    I was wondering if I could use a wiki to organise your own lives/world?

    Is it possible to place all of the knowledge I have crammed into my head over the years, but can never remember when required, into a wiki?

    Could I organise the kids into different areas, depending on their interests? Would this help me keep up-to-date and become a more informed and ‘hip’ mum?
    Could I compile a section on understanding my spouse and what motivates her?
    Could I even include the interests of my friends?

    Certainly holding all of the links I need within my favourites or other files and documents becomes very messy (as Sandra pionts out).

    So the question I ask myself now is this:
    Could I compare and model my own life on speculative fiction techniques?
    Is my life as easy and as complicated as a ‘futuristic’ or ‘pretend’ world?

    Hmmm I will need to ponder this further. Thanks for the info Sandra, It sure has explained a few things to me.


  13. Thanks Clifford and Ann.

    Devlyn – That’s a unique look at wikis. Let us know if it works for ya! Mind you, the spouse might object to her section if she doesn’t get to write it herself. But then, wikis ARE collaborative 😉


  14. I’ve been using Holly Lisle’s ebook to help with my worldbuilding, but I love the idea of using a wiki because I’m far more scatterbrained than Holly’s well-structured book suggests.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

    Another pro for using the wiki online is backups. If you have it online, someone else is doing the backups for you (if it’s a trustworthy site) and you don’t have to worry about it.



  15. I tried to start a Wiki but I found it just too complicated. It told me to select ‘save as’, but I couldn’t find an option to do this. I think I better stick to pen and paper, I’m too technophobic to work out how to use this even though it sounds great


  16. when I first read about this, Ill admit I was kinda bummed. A BQ is a big goal for me and now it seems just a little more out of reach. But I totally get why the BAA did it. It just means Ill have to work extra hard and kick lots of ass ( someday soon, I hope!)


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