15.35: Tools for Writing and Worldbuilding, with Erin Roberts

Your Hosts: Dan, Mary Robinette, Lari, and special guest Erin Roberts

We’ve received a number of questions about the ‘tools of the trade’ for organizing our work, especially with regard to worldbuilding. In this episode we talk about what we use, including some old-school analog tools like sticky notes and ballpoint pens.

Credits: this episode was recorded remotely, and mastered by Alex Jackson



Using whichever tool you would like, examine your favorite worldbuilding elements, and determine what your influences are for them.

The Midnight Bargain, by C.L. Polk (currently available for pre-order)

13 thoughts on “15.35: Tools for Writing and Worldbuilding, with Erin Roberts”

  1. Agreed. I’ve tried Scrivener twice but found it more hassle than help. Maybe one day I’ll try it again & learn to love it as much as others do. Just got Plottr but haven’t had a chance to use it yet.

  2. I use Scrivener. I don’t use any of it’s advanced features.

    I use it as a typewriter with zero frills, Dan :-)

  3. Hello! Really interesting episode!
    For those of your listeners who are looking for a way to collect and catalogue worldbuilding etc in a story bible format, I would like to recommend Campfire. It’s a fairly recent software specifically aimed at SFF writers and D&D players. It lets you create character profiles, maps, timelines, and encyclopedias, and also customise it and import images, which I find really helpful. I’m also finding that it’s a good way to archive reasearch and references for historical settings and stories. They have a youtube channel with tutorials, if you’d like to check out how it all looks ;)
    All best!

  4. Currently I’m using a program called Nimblewriter that allows for notes including custom community created ones that also have image support for art. There is a lot more visual customisation like dark mode which is a blessing for us nightowls and supports multiple formats too. However there are a lot of important QOL features missing like drag and drop for notes and chapters, yes you need to manually right click to organise each and every note. The dev who created the software was working on version 2.0 but she has passed her deadline

    1. (Continued) of version 2.0 and hence I cannot recommend it wholeheartedly. I hope she can reboot the project since the potential of Nimblewriter as an organic feeling all in one tool for writers especially Fantasy and Sci-Fi.

  5. The lady astronauts are like Snow White’s dwarfs and the wonders of the ancient world. You can never remember the seventh.

  6. Scrivener rocks. I love the way one can create templates with prompts on the Index card view helping one create and write. I have templates with detailed notes on the Hero’s Journey already set up on the Index card view. This makes plotting, outlining, planning and writing simple. I also love the way one can move text around easily and visually by drag and drop. Another feature I love is when I have an idea for a story, or novel I open a template, many of which I have created myself, although there are already enough, and I dump into the template for potential future use.
    I hear a lot of people say they can’t use it and my suggestion is don’t try using all the complex features from go, there are far too many. Start using it as a simple Word Processor. Then as one gains confidence add the occasional knowledge, perhaps starting with Corkboard View. It’s one of those tools where when you get to a certain level it reminds me of those word tests; “A Typewriter is to a Word Processor as Word is to Scrivener.”
    You will never go back to Word.

  7. Key Points: Scrivener, Word, Aeon Timeline, PowerPoint, Excel, or maybe just a calendar or notecards. Multiple files. A world bible. What makes Scrivener good? You can chunk pieces, and move them around. Also, it has layers of version control and cloning. Sometimes you want to clone and rework, sometimes you should just start fresh. How do you keep track of your worldbuilding? Search. Plus notes. Excel columns. Focus on the parts that are relevant to the story. Sometimes you need to remember the mundane stuff, too. Other people can help, too, but you are responsible.

    1. Drat, copy and pasted the wrong thing! Supposed to be…

      This week, the darling quartet of Dan, Mary Robinette, Lari, and Erin opened up their toolboxes and talked abou the tools they use for writing and worldbuilding. Hammer, long tongs… no, just software like Scrivener or Word, that working writers use. Aeon Timeline. A calendar. Notecards. Where do you need support? What’s important to keep and be consistent about? Lots of good advice and ideas, available now in the trasncript in the archives.

  8. I use Scrivener and find that it has so much functionality that I’m really able to tune it to my process. Overall, there’s nothing fancy about what I use in it, but I loved being able to cherry pick through the features.
    My set up is chapters and scenes. And then I have an Outline file that’s divided up into different pages or sections. One holds “side characters”, another magic systems and so on. When I write an intro to a new character with a description etc, I copy the segment and dump it in the side characters file under their name so I can reference it later. I don’t even bother to convert the info to bullet points. I just drop the sentence or paragraph as-is so I don’t lose momentum. The files build themselves as I go! As well, having the whole paragraph or sentence intact helps track down the original phrase if I need to tweak it. Lol Or at the very least gives me some words to “find” to locate which scene it was in.

    1. hi Cari, at some point I might try Scrivener again. But am on a PC and have heard that Scrivener for Apples is much easier to use. Are you on Apple? And where (or do you) keep multiple versions of chapters?

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