Due to a week of massive sleep deprivation and the realization that I’ve actually already written a decent post on developing wildlife that said everything I’d say now (see here), I’ve decided to replace my intended post on wildlife with a post on organizing your worldbuilding, to keep things on-schedule.
Worldbuilding is a massive undertaking, and there’s a ton of information to keep straight. Chances are you have info scattered everywhere–a sticky note with a handful of city names, a map tossed in a desk drawer, a binder that has some of your worldbuilding, but not all the stuff that you wrote down in various notebooks. Fortunately, there’s a cure for this! Actually, multiple cures, depending on how you like to work.
The first option is to reserve a single, full notebook for your worldbuilding and store it somewhere easy-to-reach. Anytime you have an idea for your world, jot it down in here. You may or may not want to define sections within the notebook for various categories of worldbuilding to keep things a little more organized.
If you do end up writing something about your world elsewhere, you can tuck the sticky note or map just inside the cover, copy the info over to a page of the notebook, whatever.
A 3-Ring Binder
This is better than a notebook for organization, and it could be a good second step if you start with a notebook. With a binder, you have free rein over what sort of info goes into your binder and you can make your own worksheets/templates/whatever to fill in. You can download printables and put them in here. (*cough*I have worldbuilding printables*cough*) You can totally customize it, you can rearrange things, you can doodle on the pages, etc. etc.
Both the notebook and the binder give you the added advantage of writing on paper instead of spending hours looking at a screen, and hand-writing can also help you slow down, get your thoughts in order, get a change of scenery, etc. (I have more thoughts on hand-writing here.)
A Word Document
Personally, I use Google Docs, which has the advantage of being accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, but you could also use a simple word processing software like Microsoft Word. Like a binder or notebook, this is pretty customizable, and there are plenty of templates you can find to give you a starting point.
I use a Word document to collect my random brainstorming for Kersir, and I have a Google Doc for a few of my worlds that’s set up from a template I made.
This is a site set up for storing worldbuilding information. You can link between articles, customize the template fields, add images, etc. The catch is that you only get four categories on the free version, and the paid version is fairly expensive, and then the presentation isn’t wonderful and it’s not particularly easy to share your worldbuilding. (Which may or may not be a concern of yours.)
I used this for a while and wasn’t incredibly impressed with it. It was helpful as a stand-in until I discovered…
World Anvil can do almost everything Notebook.ai can do, and it gives you way more for free. The only thing I can think of that you can do with Notebook.ai and not World Anvil is customize templates. World Anvil gives you access to all of their primary templates in the free version, and really the only drawback of the free version is that all of your articles will be public when you publish them, but if you’re really worried about that you can just keep all of your articles as drafts. But then if you do want to support the developers (which I’d highly recommend if you have the money because the devs are awesome) and get a premium subscription, it’s way cheaper than Notebook.ai in exchange for way more value.
With World Anvil, you can do a ton with your (existing) maps, you can make your articles presentable to others (even the default theme is really cool), things are organized in a neat, orderly way that still keeps everything together (Notebook.ai kind of chops things up into pieces), you can add images within your article (Notebook.ai keeps the images at the top and bottom), you can link between articles with a super easy mentioning system, you can create timelines, there’s a special tool for writing about the relationships between characters (or organizations)… the list goes on. And everything I’ve just mentioned is available before you get a premium subscription.
In the end, what tool you decide to use depends on how your process works, what your preferences are, and what works for you. Clearly I like World Anvil the best, since I sound like a walking advertisement for them. XD But I also like having a hard copy in a binder, and to some extent what works (for me, at least) depends on the world. Kersir has been developed mostly through random realizations and brainstorms and I have yet to put all the information in order. Aleruus, on the other hand, has been developed in a very structured and orderly fashion. Just pick what works for you and go for it. :)
How do you primarily organize your worldbuilding? Do you prefer paper or digital?