Building A Series Wiki

When a series you are writing gets to ten books, you start to run into the limits of the human brain. You forget details of plots, names of minor characters, crucial details of their appearance, the names of some of the places. Actually, you hit those limits long before that, but human laziness tends to stop you from doing anything about it.

I’ve written a number of series in my time. Gotrek and Felix reached seven books, the Terrarch and Space Wolf books hit four. Somehow, the Kormak books have reached ten, and there are another two on the way, as well as a new series set in the same world. There’s a bunch of short stories too. As of this moment, there’s probably three-quarters of a million words of prose sitting on my hard drive, and that’s not counting notes, essays, outlines and all the other things that go into the world-building.

You’d think that as the creator of a series, you would remember this stuff. In general, on the big picture details, you do. You remember the big scenes and the broad outlines. It’s the little stuff you forget. What was the same of the flagship of Admiral (then Captain) Zamara’s pirate hunting fleet in Ocean of Fear? (Answer: it depends on which part of the story you are talking about. At least one of them gets sunk.) What was the name of the lost city of the monstrous water-dwelling Elder Race that Kormak visits in the same book? And so on– you get the picture. (You can also tell that I am rereading Ocean of Fear at the moment.)

These are problems that writers of series have encountered before. Erle Stanley Gardner had a one-page synopsis of each of the plots of the 80+ Perry Mason books in his files. Among other things, this kept him from repeating plot elements. It’s a particular problem for the writers of long secondary world fantasy series. You need to track the details of a lot of made up stuff.

My normal solution has been to reread all the books before I start work on a new one, paying particular attention to anything connected with the new project. With a long series, this can be a lot of reading. It has its advantages. Continuous repeat readings make you familiar with the broad structure of your series. It has its disadvantages too. It can make your own stuff overly familiar, and turn the process of settling into a new book into a chore.

I keep all of the Kormak stories in one big Scrivener file so I can refer back to them at need. It’s the same file as the work in progress itself. This is a solution to the problem of finding those niggling little details. I know they are all in there. I can remember roughly where too. It’s just a question of flipping through the entries until I locate what I am looking for. It’s not particularly efficient but it gets the job done. I have always figured there had to be a better way.

For years, when I worked on the Mac, I looked at VoodooPad and thought about doing a wiki for the Kormak series. It’s a brilliant program for creating personal wikis. It automatically creates links to existing pages. If you have a description of the merwoman captain Rhiana, every time her name appears in your wiki, it will be clickable and the links will take you to the entry about her. It always struck me that this would be an excellent way of storing details about people, places, and things when I was writing a fantasy novel. There were times when I considered using VoodooPad to write my outlines for this very reason.

What kept me from it was two things. One was my own laziness. The sheer scale of the task was daunting, and it did not get any less so as the series grew longer. The second thing was that increasingly I was branching out away from what was then OSX and is now MacOS. I was using Windows computers and sometimes Android phones and Linux machines. VoodooPad runs only on the Mac (and the iPhone, I think) and I did not want to be locked in. These two things together kept me from ever creating my wiki.

Over the past year, I have been working mostly on Windows machines and recently I have transitioned to Linux, so there was a certain wisdom to that decision. Last week I was looking through the Mint Software manager and I came across various bits of wiki software, all of which were free and open source. One, in particular, caught my attention because it was built to store information in plain text and it ran on Windows, Linux, and MacOS. This was Zim Desktop Wiki.

Since I was in the mood to procrastinate, (I usually am when these ideas hit me) and I was working on Citadel of Demons, the idea of a series wiki came back to me particularly strongly. The fact that this was book eleven of a series and the fifth book in a long running story arc made this seem particularly appealing. The fact that I was in the process of re-reading the series made it seem like a good time. I was doing the spadework anyway.

The question was where to start. How do you turn a massive series into a wiki in an efficient and enjoyable way? It sounds silly but answering that question is half the battle. I have lost count of the number of projects I have abandoned simply because they became a chore. I tried creating a series Bible years ago using Scrivener, by going through my big file and clipping bits of description and other stuff into new notes. The work went very slowly after an initial surge of enthusiasm. I did not want to crash and burn on this, so I decided I needed to come up with a plan and then implement it. Since I am already over a thousand words here, we’ ll find out how I did next time…


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