World building (and authorship) can produce many files that should be structured internally. The downloadable templates included in this series, and shown in each appendix, shows ways of doing this but there are some specific instances to cover.
As just mentioned, we may want to include multiple instances in a single file instead of one per file. For example, let’s say we have elves and dwarves. Do we create a file for each or one file that has both? This will depend on our use of technology. The Navigation Pane in Microsoft Word makes it easier to jump around within a file. This allows us to place all of our species into one large document, which reduces file clutter and the numbers of windows we have open when working on multiple species at once, a frequent reality the farther into development we get. This happens because they’ve become so intertwined and updates to one often necessitate updates to another. A problem may be large file size, which can open more slowly, but this is seldom an issue.
Just as some subjects lend themselves to being in one file, others may not. For example, there could be so many settlements, such as more than fifty, that putting them in one file could make the document unwieldy. On the other hand, if we’re using the plant template from Creating Places, this is short so that having fifty plants in one file is fine. It’s all personal preference.
It’s recommended to keep a spreadsheet with multiple tabs. The goal is a high-level view of many related items at once. Those fifty settlements can all be listed here, with columns for city colors, symbol, location, year founded, allies, which species founded it, population, which armed forces are here, major products, what it’s famous for, and more. This is what I use when determining the age of every settlement at once, since I can see all of them in one place. Another tab can be for the world’s gods, with columns for alignment (good or evil), gender, season, element, traits, symbols, which species they relate to, and more. The same can be done with species, plants, animals, and their most important attributes.
We should strive to avoid duplication in our files. With the spreadsheet just mentioned, we might place city colors on that and in a city’s file. If we do this (and I do), make a mental note as to which is considered the authoritative source if they get out of sync. In my case, the spreadsheet rules because when changing something like this, I don’t want it to resemble another settlement’s colors and I’m therefore consulting my spreadsheet. We might also want to get into the habit of updating something everywhere, but lapses will happen.
Another issue is that the rabbit hole problem. Sometimes we’re busy with writing a story, for example, when we have a world building idea. We may know from experience that if we open a file to write it down more, we’ll get sucked into the world building rabbit hole and stop working on our tale. My solution to this is a file with a title akin to “Llurien Changes to Make.” This is my temporary location for ideas I’ll flesh out and integrate with the setting later when I have time.
But what happens when we’re away from that file or don’t feel like looking for it? We’ve all heard of jotting an idea on a napkin. The technological equivalents are the notes app on our phone, or a calendar item, or emailing ourselves. This is fine but at some point, we need to take each of those and move them to that “changes to make file” for one reason: having dozens of pending ideas in a single file is far better than eight in our inbox, seven on files on our phone, and the rest in calendar items that are going farther back in time, like emails, with each day. My random world building ideas flow from all of those into that pending changes file and, eventually, become integrated into the world files.