Wiki Me This! (Darkbeast Encyclopedia)

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Greetings, loyal MW readers!  Thank you for following me to this new day and posting schedule – you’ll still be hearing from me once a month on Magical Words, but I’ll pop up on different days of the month.  In other words, when you least expect me, expect me!

For anyone who has read my earlier posts (especially those about strategic plans), you know that I am a list maker, a scheduler, a planner.  Those natural inclinations serve me well when I’m writing secondary world fantasy.  The more complex the world, the more important it is to keep track of all those details, to maintain the sort of rock-hard consistency that “sells” a novel to readers.

When I created DARKBEAST (my middle-grade traditional fantasy novel, which will be published by Simon & Schuster in fall 2012 as by Morgan Keyes), I went overboard in the details.  Not only are there twelve gods, but each god is associated with a particular sigil (an animal symbolic of the deity) and a particular style of godhouse (temple, with a unique composition and design.)  Not only are there mystery plays, but each play has specific elements that must be included in every production.  Not only is there a vast variety of healing herbs, but each herb has a unique appearance and specific properties.

You get the idea.

When writing DARKBEAST, I kept notes in the “Research” section of Scrivener.  My notes were freeform, and I could modify them at will.  (Global search and replace is your friend, when you are still searching for the perfect name for characters, places, and things…) 

Once I finished DARKBEAST, though, I realized that I needed to get my notes into better order.  I was going to need them for the sequel, tentatively titled DARKBEAST REBELLION.  And as long as I was going to need them, I figured that my readers will want to see them to.

Enter the wiki.  We all know about online encyclopedias – most of us duck out to Wikipedia for a bit of spot research at least every now and then (whether we admit it publicly or not!)  There are a lot of wiki tools that allow people to create their own online encyclopedias, tailoring them to a variety of needs and formats.  I’d used Wikispaces successfully in the past (it is simple, with a mostly intuitive interface), and I’d explored several other providers.

Ultimately, for my DARKBEAST wiki, I chose Google’s wiki tool.  I did this, in part, because I was most familiar with Google; I had been the wiki administrator for a group of 100 authors for nearly three years, and I’d experienced most of the Google wiki quirks firsthand.  I also leaned toward Google because of my ability to customize the site; I could change the background to match the one on my website.  Finally, with Google I could easily set permissions, allowing me to make changes to the wiki text, but keeping anyone else from having similar access, all for free.

There were challenges, as I created the wiki.  Of course, I needed to decide on basic principles of organization.  I needed to decide whether gods were “people” or “things”.  I needed to figure out how much of my plot to spoil with wiki entries (and once I decided what spoiling was acceptable, I needed to work out a method to protect readers.  Ultimately, I used a system of different colors of type and background so that readers can highlight information to read facts they might not want to know up front.)

I envision making changes to the wiki as my exploration of the DARKBEAST world expands.  I am already compiling notes in my rough draft of REBELLION.  (Because my drafts undergo fairly major changes over time, I won’t update the wiki until things are in a more final form.)  I find myself writing REBELLION with the existing wiki open on my desktop; I use it several times in each chapter.

So, what does the wiki look like?  Here it is:  The Darkbeast Chronicles Encyclopedia.  (And for more about DARKBEAST, see my website:  www.morgankeyes.com.)

What do you think?  Is this a tool that you can see yourself using for your own speculative fiction work?  If you were a middle grade reader, would you find this sort of site interesting to visit?

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10 comments to Wiki Me This! (Darkbeast Encyclopedia)

  • Mindy, everything (literally everything {lol}) you do leaves me impressed, and — this time — amazed. I am getting ready to go back and organize my numerous files for the Jane Yellowrock world, and it is daunting. You have made yours so organized it is … well, I hate to feel and sound so flabbergasted, but I am. Just totally. Thanks for this post and for the wiki info.

    And for anyone interested, another free organizer is Character Keeper, available on this site for download. Some of our members have used it, and liked it.

  • Unicorn

    For the record, I adore Character Keeper. There are much fewer little inconsistencies in my stories now, thanks to having my notes all organised in a place where I can get my hands on them.
    Mindy, as a YA reader, here is my carefully considered review of the Darkbeast Encyclopedia: Cool!! 😀 I can see that that would definitely come in handy from a writer’s point of view. As a reader, though, I would love to be able to browse through a wiki like this after reading the book.
    Unicorn

  • As I work on my current WIP, I’ve been developing a wiki-of-sorts for my own personal use, to help me keep the world straight. (I’m also hyper-detail-oriented.) I’ve been using a program called “ConnectedText” to be the wiki backend for me. It’s relatively inexpensive, and pretty flexible as a desktop wiki tool, with lots of neat little gizmos and geegaws… plus it can export your project to HTML – so theoretically you can take that and upload it to a website with minimalish hassle – but it’s probably not well-formatted for online/public presentation.

    I still want to try out Scrivener to compare and contrast the usefulness of the tools for me, as a writer.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    I just have to add to the comments of Super Cool! I love all the types of details you’ve obviously included in your world building and it’s definitely an added draw for checking out your books. Quick question: for the characters you listed, was your character list pretty cut-and-dried, or did you need to sort out which were the most important characters from your entire ensemble? (I feel like I’ve gone over-board with my own list of named characters, but certainly some of them only appear once or twice.)

  • Faith – ::blush:: It *is* daunting to organize existing files, but when you know you’ll be using the information in future works, you can at least “amortize” the pain! Good luck on building a perfect Jane Yellowrock system!

    Unicorn – limiting those inconsistencies is the key, isn’t it? Thanks for the kind words, from the reader’s perspective!

    Stephen – I considered exportability when I was keeping my notes in Scrivener. That program makes it easy to export, but the formatting isn’t great, so I knew I’d need to add a lot for an external website. (That was one of the reasons I switched approaches, to the wiki…)

    Hepseba – Many thanks! I *think* that my character list includes all characters who have a speaking role (and a couple who have important “seen in the distance” roles). There are a handful of named characters (mostly, neighbors in Keara’s village) who are not listed in the wiki. I *try* to limit named characters, so that I only name the people my readers need to remember as individuals (not just as faces in the crowd.) I also try to combine the functions of individuals (e.g., using the same villager in two different scenes, to provide two different pieces of information), to limit the number of people my readers need to track. (One of the most common flaws I see in manuscripts that I edit is writers who go on at length about new characters, providing every last detail of their personal history and their physical appearance, only to have them say one line and disappear from the story forever. That becomes taxing for readers, and it misdirects the overall story, because readers expect detailed characters to be important. Of course, that detail can be used as a red herring, where necessary…)

  • Well I’m gobsmacked by it all. That is really impressive. For my own WIP I’m still at the Xcel stage – during draft 4 when I realized I needed to re-organize the plot sequence as well as adding events, I completely lost track of what day things happened so I had to develop a spreadsheet to track who does what on what day and what chapter that’s in. It helped immensely with the big picture as well as keeping track of details.

    I suspect the Darkbeast wiki is going to turn into a great promotional tool as well. Will you update us later on how it helps generate readership?

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thanks for the comments. One of the problems I have is with characters that I know my POV characters know who they are, and so I sometimes have trouble filling in story around them without giving them names or traits. But those are definitely important points to keep in mind. Certainly the characteristics I come up with don’t have to be included in the manuscript…

  • I started one a few years ago because I wanted to organize my thoughts and keep my notes straight, but updating it became a pain. I used a free one, TiddlyWiki. It’s not so much a comment on the program as it is on the fact that I like to have things integrated, and this really wasn’t. Using it became a chore. Lately I’ve been thinking of using my Google account more, though, so this looks like it could be useful.

  • Razziecat

    Mindy, that’s pretty cool. I just have a growing list in a file on my computer, labeled “People-Places-Things” for each genre I write in. It’s alphabetized and the space opera one is separated by planet, but that’s about the extent of it.