World-building for an older, grumpier me

This is Part 1 in the series, Guide to World-building.

Summary: Four years after first publicly positing the idea of developing a world-building app, I decide to have another crack of the whip...albeit, a much more measured, practical and half-arsed approach.


For the last few months, I’ve been debating whether to expand the scope of my current crop of stories. As the setting grows more complex, and I develop more characters, I find myself returning to a problem I never fully solved: how to manage a complex world-building project.

This problem was a major pre-occupation of mine from 2014, when I first blogged about the possibility of developing a worldbuilding app to 2017, when I realised the endeavour was seriously hurting my writing.

When I killed the project to concentrate on re-writing Weaver of Dreams, I simply bundled my worldbuilding material into Scrivener – and promptly ignored it. Then I shelved Weaver to write a contemporary thriller and my world-building needs were few. Since finishing Nanowrimo 2017, however, I’m back in the Weaver world and am writing a prequel.

Naturally, it’s a rabbit hole I’m leery about entering again and yet the problem remains. I have to manage develop and use this content by some sane means. So, here I go again…only this time, I’m trying a different approach.

In coming weeks I’ll post tutorials demonstrating a proof of concept on how to manage a world-building project by different means. This time, I’ll be using off-the-shelf tools. I want to keep the coding to a bare minimum – at most maybe write the occasional script to scaffold a template1.

A lot’s changed in the world since I first embarked on that app – I’ve changed too. Accordingly, my requirements this time are much less lofty and I want a solution that’s:

  1. Easy to use, write and extract information.
  2. Flexible enough to change.
  3. Mobile, multi-device friendly.

For point 1, this is a must. If it’s not easy to write the content, I’m just not interested. While I’m prepared to spend a bit of time doing the set, the solution must be easy to once it’s up and running.

Flexibility is also important, so I can change the system as I go. No more rigid schemas!

Lastly, point 3 is a must, given it’s 2018 and my iPad is the device I most use outside the house. When I’m home, I mostly use macOS, but the idea of using the iPad as the accessory, second-screen reference device is enormously appealing. That’s a big change for me – I didn’t even have an iPad in 2014.

I have three possible approaches in mind: the Full Writing App, a Lightweight Notes App, and The Nerd Approach.

Solutions to a self-made problem
Approach Contenders Pros Cons
Full writing app Scrivener, Ulysses Incumbency, familiarity, features cost, perhaps overkill
Notes app Bear, OneNote Easy, less fiddling maybe lack of extensibility
Nerding out Markdown + scripting Free, highly extensible complex to set up and manage

In my next post in this series, I’ll start the Full Writing App solution, with most of my attention on Scrivener.

Stay tuned!


  1. Maybe, I‘ll resurrect some old code I’ve written over the years.  ↩

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This article is Part 1 of the series, Guide to World-building:

  1. World-building for an older, grumpier me
  2. Old-school world-building
  3. An approach to world-building
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