You've gone through the process of world building and generated scads of information from important Universal Forces to interesting tidbits of local history.

What methods of storing world building information exists?

If so, have you used them and how has that worked for you?

How do you manage this information so you can retrieve it at the right time, even if you've forgotten that particular tidbit of local flavor?

Edit 8/4/2015:
Although I intended to include software in my original question, the comments indicated that this question has already been answered on Worldbuilding. So, please limit yourself to non-software or hybrid (answers that combine software and non-software means of storing your information) answers.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Have you seen this question? : worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/499/… $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Aug 4, 2015 at 2:02
  • $\begingroup$ This question (and its answers) does provide very useful information about storing world building information using software. However, many (most?) writers use non-software means to manage their world building information. Let's keep the question open to provide an venue for non-software answers. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Aug 4, 2015 at 13:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Bah humbug! Scrivener, duh! $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2015 at 19:21

6 Answers 6


In many ways the software questions and this one will overlap, BUT, that said there are some important non-software related things to consider. Good software for this process will actually help you do these things but the software isn't inherently required.

So, where to start.

  1. Create templates: Templates can save you a lot of time and effort. Take the time to really consider all the things you want in your template (and ask other people to take a look). The last thing you want is to change your template AFTER you have filled a whole bunch of them out.

  2. Populate your templates. Templates are best used on items that fit into categories, planets, countries, characters, organizations etc.

    Templates I personally use for a fantasy setting

    • Geographic Features; rivers, lakes, oceans, continents, forests, mountain ranges, and so on and so forth.
    • Nations; strictly speaking a political entity with land. This can range from a small unaffiliated village in the middle of nowhere to an empire.
    • Cities; like nations but smaller (obviously)
    • Organizations; city guards, standing armies, trade groups, secret societies, guilds, mages etc.
    • People; I divvy them up (separate templates) for main and secondary characters.

You can put anything you like into a template. Templates are best used on things you are going to do over and over again.

Now, for accessing the information you keep. Here is where the best answer is probably, use some software. The beauty of this software is it can keep track of relationships.

For example: - Bob is a guy - Bob works for organization X - he lives in nation N - Bob is a follower of religion C

But it gets better, you can (in some tools) follow the rabbit so to speak which is very handy. In this case, Bob is a carpenter and works for this trade union, the trade union exists across the continent of H and its headquarters is in city F, city F is part of nation T which is at war with nation Y on continent U.

Keeping track of template-ed information is easy, keeping track of the relationships is not and this is where software can make your life oh so much easier so keep this link handy: What software is available for keeping and organising notes about your world?

Now, if you can't or don't want to use software you can still manage this it just requires very good organizational skills and some repetition. For ease of access you are going to want to document all direct relationships of an object in the object's template. This means you will write a lot of information more than once. Keep your content organized and come up with short hand.

Lets say all character templates follow a naming convention: CH001, CH002 etc. So if you need to reference an establishment back to a character the establishment's sheet would say Owner: CH002 (Name) so you can easily find the sheet. In reverse the character's template would have holdings listed and may have an entry HOLD001 that relates back to the bar. Essentially you are manually managing a database and data relationships.

If you have the space I would also recommend a form a story boarding. Basic story boarding is simply putting visual effects in order, but in this case you can story board your world. I suggest using your space geographically. It can be a great way to get a handle on all the moving parts of a story.


Scrivener for the following reasons:

The ability to create links and various pages functions much like a wiki. The ability to import other documents, word, excel, images, pdf, weblinks, etc... I create a map in photoshop then import it in I have templates (they have preset ones) for setting, character, etc... that you can use. The ability to create projects, side notes, binders, search keys, split the screen, color coding, and the sheer amount of customization organization is amazing. Great for me as I am a very structured and organized person and need to find stuff.


I use a combination of different formats to record my world information.


I keep notebooks (actually composition books) that I can bring with me when I'm feeling productive/creative in which I can record my thoughts. Later when I'm sitting at my computer I can transcribe my thoughts into my computer.


My current world building activities revolve around Fantasy role playing and constructing an SF game (explore, combat, construction, economics, etc. - think Civ in space). Especially for my SF game, the SF aspects follow known and extrapolated laws of physics except for a few minor tweaks. So I create giant spreadsheets of information about what different items in the game can do and also how to construct new solar systems on the fly.

All of that is store in spreadsheets and its why I can often answer questions about atmospheres, moons, etc. quickly. I just put in the parameters for the question and it spits out the answers I want.

Word Docs

I do put narrative into both worlds and typically use MS Word to store that information.


I put together flow diagrams for research and production. It shows the inputs and outputs and how you get from raw resources to finished products.


I do not currently use any wiki to organize my data and I think this is a major shortcoming of my current approach. When I get some free time I need to explore these two possibilities and consider gathering all of my information together and organizing it.


I do not currently have a mapping program although I think this is another major shortcoming of my current system. I'll need three different kinds of mapping systems:

  1. Planetary (for SF & FRPG)
  2. Solar system (for SF)
  3. Jump Link (for SF)


Other than character sheets produced for various gaming systems, I haven't developed a good scheme for organizing this information either.

Windows FS

For organization purposes, I often just use my Windows FS to organize the information I have on my two world building projects. One method of organizing non-player characters (NPC) by logical grouping would be to create subfolders for various regions/locations and drop all NPC sheets into that folder, along with maps, and other regional bits of information.


Alternatively, if you have a relational database management system (RDBMs) you can link the things together. This method has the added benefit of allowing multiple connections for each bit of information. For example, a specific NPC could be linked to a thieves guild, a specific location in a city, and a planned encounter later in the adventure.

Professionally I work with some (Oracle RDBMs and MS SQL server) that I'm more familiar with and I am licensed to use (and have a business logic overlay for that data).

However, these are likely too expensive for personal use. For the typical user, I'd use MS Access (or equivalent). These are intended for much lighter weight use and more user friendly interface. Plus, MS Access ties into things like Word & Excel so you may be able to tie everything together in it. However, I am personally not familiar with MS Access and can't really give much advice on how to use it.

  • $\begingroup$ Jim2B do you have any recommendations on relational databases that people could use? If you do could you drop an answer on this question? worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/499/… $\endgroup$
    – James
    Oct 5, 2015 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ Professionally I work with some that I'm more familiar with and I am licensed to use. However, these are likely too expensive for personal use. For the typical user I'd use MS Access (or equivalent). These are intended for much lighter weight use and more user friendly interface. Plus Access ties into things like Word & Excel so you may be able to tie everything together in it. However, I am personally not familiar with MS Access :) $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Oct 5, 2015 at 18:29

I use a few Word* documents. One for setting/characters, another for plot, another for a conlang. These have grown very organically over the course of several months and I have jumped around a lot, from the first notions I had to some of the most developed in the very next sentence. They would be a complete mess to anyone else and your success depends on your tolerance for organized chaos.

I also recently started using DokuWiki on a Stick, which is for personal, private wikis, based on DonyorM's suggestion in a related question. It works pretty well, but I'm disappointed with the lack of page templates (so that all pages for people would start out with the same sections for Early Life, Career, Death, Influence, etc.), and customization is pointlessly difficult. Plus some things just don't work well in a wiki format.

*Technically OpenOffice, but that's not the point. A .txt would work just as well.


I can't imagine why you would not use software. Or do you mean not using specialized software but still using the computer with the word processor?

Back when people didn't use personal computers for schoolwork, we were taught in primary school to use 3×5-inch index cards.

If you want the arranging of notes on a wall or table, you could print cards with index titles just for pushing around on the table.

Back then we didn't have post-in sticky notes either. But post-in note cards are used now for "agile" software engineering management which itself came from automotive factory management.

The "agile" stuff uses short notes orgainzed on a wall. Software that computerizes that ought to work well for this kind of planning too since the physical metaphor is the same.

If you don't mean that you're opposed to using a computer but meerly don't want to use special tools, the word processor is still available. In Author's Notes, Piers Anthony described his writing methods during the era where he shifted to computers and more capable computers. If he had an idea, he would open a document for that project, and note it, then return to what he was working on. If you're pounding away in the word processor, continuing to use that when a thought intrudes for another project is certainly the least disruptive. Adding the note to the end, not orgainizing it yet, means not fully task switching and messing up your current state of mind.

Later, when working on that project, the rough log of new notes are "organized". Organizing means editing into the document with like things together, topic breakhead, color highlighting, all still using the same tool.

  • $\begingroup$ I personally would lean towards using software. Actually my company makes software that would do this very very well but it is not designed to do it and it would be too expensive to use in that capacity for most people. But I know people use notebooks, corkboards, note cards, etc. to store this information because my daughter uses these schemes to manage her world building information. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Aug 4, 2015 at 22:14

I use Scrivener for that, generally supplemented with some spreadsheets. I initially bought Realm Works, thinking that would work, but the amount of work involved versus what I would get out of it was not worth it to me.


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