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How to structure worldbuilding notes on paper.

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Ban, May 27, 2018.

  1. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    My question of the day is short and sweet: How do I structure my notes?

    Usually I write my worldbuilding notes on loose paper or type them out, but I have now decided that I want all my worldbuilding for my ppp-apocalypse in a notebook (or notebooks when this one fills up). Before I get to it, I would like to know how I can best structure it.

    The notebook has 95 pages, which I have all numbered, with an index on page 1. I want to use this notebook to write my ideas on a number of subjects relevant to the world (history, linguistics, trade, statecraft, religions). Should I allocate a certain amount of pages to each subject before I start writing, or do you think an index alone will be enough?

    If anyone has any experience with this, let me know what you did.
     
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    For me, I use five categories:

    Ecology
    Magic
    Government
    Culture
    Warfare

    In one setting Social Structure makes a sixth category because it's that kind of setting, with a big hierarchy and lots of rigid class differences.

    For me, I usually list regional differences underneath these categories, or I'll list lots of options (say, clothing styles), and when I come to writing for a specific country that's when I'll pick something for that region. But that's for settings like, say, the seven kingdoms of Westeros, where the countries share more in common than they are different. If I'm comparing Westeros to the Dothraki across the sea I might use those five categories as subcategories for the very different peoples involved.

    So with that in mind, and looking for a more formal structure (like I how would structure a worldbuilding atlas to publish), it would probably look like this:

    Western Europe
    Map
    A Brief Overview
    Ecology, Magic, Government (the different nations, trade, etc.), Culture, Warfare
    A More Detailed History

    East Asia
    Map
    A Brief Overview
    Ecology, Magic, Government (the different nations, trade, etc.), Culture, Warfare
    A More Detailed History

    ....and so on.
     
    Ban likes this.
  3. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    But do you alot a certain number of pages to each category beforehand? With a notebook I'm not sure how many pages I will need for each. I'm thinking of just allocating 10-20 or so pages to each of my subjects and then jumping to a second notebook for a part 2 if I fill out the pages.
     
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I can't help you there - I end up putting everything into OneNote. And some projects just take more than others. For one the whole thing might be three pages and for another it might feel like it needs an atlas. That's just how it goes.
     
    SithLord likes this.
  5. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Yeha that's how I usually approach it as well, but a notebook has a fixed number of pages so I lack the wiggle room sadly.
     
  6. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

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    Since you're doing this on loose paper (good idea!, though not the only way), you might consider a page numbering scheme like those used in technical manuals. A page number might be IIJ.bb.47c meaning that the page you're looking at is page c of data added to page 47 of subsection bb which is under main section IIJ. Main section IIJ might be "Government", subsection bb might be "monastic republics" and you have a number of pages of data on various monastic republics (maybe 73 pages) in your world. Subpage c means you've added some data, perhaps some images or notes on specific abbots pertaining to whatever is on page 47 but shouldn't just be tacked on to the end.

    Using this kind of scheme, you can easily add main sections, subsections, cosubsections, submaincosubsections and so forth at any time. You never have to worry about allotting a certain number of pages per section. If you use a straight numerical scheme, you will undoubtedly sooner or later smack your forhead with that d'oh! I really need to stick notes on Gravio wan Bynganfeld between pages 67 and 68! sense of dread that now all your notes will be put out of order!

    You can make this kind of system as complex or as simple as you please.

    You can use those nifty Acco pressboard report covers (the ones with the metal fasteners) for neat & tidy presentation!
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2018
  7. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    You've misread me. I'm not doing this on loose paper, I'm doing this in a single notebook with a defined number of pages. The problem is not how to keep things orderly, but how and if I should alot the number of pages I need for each section before I start writing them.
     
  8. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

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    Ah, I see! Sorry about the misread!!

    Perhaps a solution here would be to buy a number of cheap notebooks (a dollar or less) and reserve one notebook for each section. This way you still don't have to worry about allotting the right number of pages per notebook. Plus, if you decide to change something or to seriously rewrite a section, you'll have plenty of space. So yeah, I'd vote against allotting a small number of pages for each section and vote for allotting one notebook per section.

    Assuming you're using those nice composition notebooks, I think you'd definitely want to allocate three to five pages at the beginning: Title page, Secondary title / project notes page, two or three pages reserved for your index.

    Are the notebooks pre-numbered or are you writing page numbers by hand? (!) If by hand, maybe invest in an automatic number stamper!
     
    Ban likes this.
  9. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    I'm writing the numbers by hand. Numbering a 100 pages only takes a minute or two, so I'm quite fine with doing it this way.

    I think you're right that I will have to invest in some more notebooks regardless of how I tackle this. However if I buy cheaper notebooks for each section, then I'll end up not using this one :p
    It's probably best to reserve this notebook for more general worldbuilding and then switch to extra notebooks when I have filled a 'chapter' of the main notebook. Now I just need to figure out what sections I will need.
     
  10. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    I ended up making fewer and fewer notes until I came to the point where I only maintain a dictionary. Keeping track of how I named all the places, creatures, and characters is the most difficult thing. Not because I have troubles with keeping names consistent, but because it's really a lot of work to come up with any decent names for anything and I don't want to forget them by the time I am actually going to put their subject into a story.

    All the information of what everything is I so far manage to keep in my head. Though it probably helps immensely that I keep my worldbuilding and plots very simple with little complexity and work a lot with archetypes that don't need much explanation. Never had the situation that I needed make a relationship map or anything like that.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The choice of an inflexible number of pages makes for an inflexible solution. I, too, start much of my work on paper, in physical notebooks. But every few days I type up what I have in there.

    Over the course of those few days I might have a page or two on This and a paragraph on That and several pages on Some Other. I have files (I use Scrivener, but Word will do) called This, That, and Some Other into which I type the page, the paragraph, and the several pages. I put a checkmark at the top of the physical page once it's been typed. Once in a while there's a slash, which means that upon reconsideration all that was worthless. At least I know I didn't forget to type it. I don't number the pages, but I do make date entries.

    So, I have scores of physical notebooks (it's also where I do my writing) that are a mish-mash of ideas, writing, notes, rants, whining. I keep them all, for no especially good reason. The order is created not with those inflexible (but oh-so enjoyable) tools, but with infinitely flexible digital tools.

    FWIW, my world-building has sub-heads for appearance, history, society, culture, religion, magic, and economics. Some hold barely more than a few lines; others are pages long. And I can create branches, revisions, alternate takes, all without fussing about paper.
     
  12. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Note cards and tape. Or sticky tack. This is what I do. Allocate a certain number of pages to whatever the categories are, but don’t write on them directly and use post its to mark them. Write every idea/plan/concept on its own labelled notecard. You can fit a hundred notecards on a single page if you have to, but since they are note cards they are not permanent. You can arrange them and rearrange them however you need. The post its can also be arranged so if you need more pages you can simply move it a few pages forward.

    I use a hardcover artists sketchbooks. More durable and I hate lines on my pages. It also means I can stick in art concepts and clippings that I find inspiring.
     
  13. J Q Kaiser

    J Q Kaiser Dreamer

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    I tend to write things down first on paper and then transfer them to a massive Mindmap I have on my iPad. I find that with paper the ideas eventually get lost between pages and maintaining the index is too much trouble for me. The mindmap keeps everything organized AND it is easier to make it multimedia (I used to use a cork board to post cut off pictures from magazines to get character ideas, now I just copy and paste from Google image into my mindmap).
     
  14. SithLord

    SithLord Dreamer

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    I personally don't do it on paper, I prefer to use a program like OneNote (included with MS Office). With OneNote, you can create a new Notebook, then create tabs for ALL of your categories then even put pages and subpages into each tab. Plus, with any MS Office product, you can save your work to OneDrive, essentially a safe, secure backup for all of your work in the event of a disaster.
     
  15. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    I recently (a couple years ago) started keeping my game world notes in a PowerPoint presentation. One presentation for each constructed world. I do this because (like one note) you can seamlessly add text, pictures and tend to cover the same sort of ground as others do in the substance. I cover economy (domestic and trade) military, judicial, governmental, technology/magic, population cross-sections, transportation, infrastructure, religion and even what the day of an average citizen looks like.
     
  16. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

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    The best thing to do when organising world building notes is to do what works best for you. For me random notes on paper put in a folder with clear plastic A4 pockets works best for me. Most people would be mortified to see my notes on world building but the way I do them means I can get the information faster than most people would take to log into their fancy electronic notebooks.
     
    CupofJoe likes this.
  17. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    NEVER under-estimate the power of a well-organised binder and clear plastic pockets!
     
  18. Foah

    Foah Troubadour

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    Personally I use a loose leaf binder of sorts in any project I do where I have physical notes. It helps in not bothering too much with "budgeted" or allocated world building. And sometimes place X will need ten times the amount of world building compared to place Y.
     
  19. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

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    When deciding how much space to allocate to different world-building subjects I find that the following works best:

    1. For the subjects where your knowledge is already extensive you shouldn't need more than a couple of sentences. In my WIP the capital city of the Empire is modelled on New York City in the 1930s with the social life of Berlin in the 1920s and early 1930s so my notes just state "New York City circa 1930ish with Berlin social scene Weimar Republic without Nazi shit but more Art Deco/Bauhaus architecture. Refer images for Fantastic Beasts and Inter-war Berlin for ideas."
    2. For subjects that you are not familiar with allocate more space. In my WIP one of the branches of the secret police is the mysterious Branch IX . Even within the secret police it''s existence isn't well known. It operates like the Spanish Inquisition so I have made quite a few notes about the Spanish Inquisition as I am not as familiar with their operation.
    3. Don't spend more than the absolute minimum amount of space for things that most people would be familiar with. In other words don't waste paper writing lots of stuff about elves unless there are major deviations from your standard fantasy elves (e.g. they're black).
    4. Those things where your fantasy world deviates considerably from an Earth equivalent should be the things you write the most notes on.
    5. As a rule the amount of notes you write should reflect how likely your main characters are likely to encounter the beasts, customs, geography or organisations as part of their journey/quest/adventure. If your hero is going to encounter mammoths a lot then write more details and notes. If not, keep the notes to little more than what they eat, what they hunt and/or what hunts them, size, temperament, where they are found and if they are domesticated, wild or somewhere in-between.
    6. Make sure your notes make sense to you so write them in a way that is best for you.
     
  20. Firefly

    Firefly Troubadour

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    I have a similar issue. I hate doing my world building notes on a computer, and I use regular lines notebooks instead of binders, so organization can be a problem.
    What I've found works best is something I stole from bullet journaling. Instead of allocating a certain number of pages before hand, I just write the stuff down in the order it comes to me and leave a couple of pages at the beginning that look something like this:

    Magic system-pages 1-7, 12, 19
    Governments- 8-9
    Map-20

    Then I can go in and add page numbers as I think of more material, and I can use the space as I need it without reserving or skipping pages. There really isn't any way of knowing before hand which aspects of the world building are going to fascinate you the most, so I really like an organic approach like this.

    If you're already set on dividing the notebook up beforehand, and what you're really looking for is a list of what you should figure out about your world, there are a lot of places online where you can find lists of questions to ask. A lot of people really like Patricia Wrede's list. I've never personally used it, but it's pretty in depth. For setting questions that will really help you build a world around your character, I recommend Alyssa Hollingsworth.
     
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