How Do You Organize Your World-Building Canon?

As I write “Survivor”, my not-officially-titled duology, I keep thinking about how I might be able to organize my world-building canon better.

Most of what I’ve written in my fantasy universe has been in The Warden of Everfeld stories, of which I have one novel published and one in draft. “Survivor” is the first story that does not overlap WoEM, but shares some of its history and geography with those novels. And I want to make sure that what I write in one doesn’t contradict the other.

So, how do you organize your world-building canon?

Organizing the World-Building Canon

I guess I should start by defining canon. None of my characters or stories are canon until they are published.

But once they are published, they are set in stone. I put a lot of effort into my world-building, so I don’t want to be the author who has to retcon his own books to suit a future story.

With The Warden of Everfeld: Memento, I started with a glossary. Any names or vocabulary used as I wrote went into a separate document where I added pronunciation guidelines and brief definitions or summaries of each term.

I also have a timeline in a spreadsheet, with events listed in chronological order by year, the era, the event, and which groups or peoples were impacted or involved. That helps me understand the history of the world from a very high level.

Now, with my short story, I’m making up new animals, new plants, new peoples that have not been encountered in previous stories. So I’m starting to think that in addition to a master glossary and a master timeline, I may need a way to reference which terms or characters appeared or were mentioned, or which historical events were referenced in which story.

(I may be secretly considering building a wiki database for my fantasy universe, but that’s not public knowledge yet!)

The point is, now that my world is expanding beyond one set of stories, I’m trying to think of ways to improve my world-building notes. I’m very open to suggestions, but here are a few of my own for any other struggling world-builders out there.

My World-Building Suggestions

  1. Start with something manageable. Don’t try to build a database of information from scratch. Start with your characters, your settings, maybe some fantasy names/terms, and build from there.
  2. Don’t be afraid to add extra details. You’ll get ideas that don’t fit into your current story, but you shouldn’t discard them! Record them somewhere in your world-building notes for later use. Little ideas can be great inspiration for big stories.
  3. Allow your organization style to adapt as your world grows. All fantasy authors want to have a detailed map of an entire continent, but if you end up having dozens of characters with specific backgrounds and personality traits, how does that map help you?

So, fellow world-builders, how do you stay organized? Comment below!

Steve D

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