Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

Wiki Wiki

By S. L. Brothers
© 2006,
S. L. Brothers


Last year, during NaNoWriMo, I discovered a little personal wiki program called Peanut Butter Wiki.

"Wiki wiki" means "hurry quick" or "hurry hurry" in Hawaiian. A wiki is a program that allows you to rapidly create, link, and edit a collection of web pages. The very first wiki was created by a man named Ward Cunningham and named for a bus line in Honolulu. I am very grateful for that bus line because his alternate name choice was "quick-web". He based the wiki program on the 1980’s HyperCard.  If you used a MacIntosh computer during those years, you may remember the program.  I always hoped a similar program would be written for Windows based computers. When Wikipedia appeared on the internet, I recognized the connection between the old HyperCard program and the Wikipedia program and wanted my very own wiki.

And now, thanks to the Peanut Butter Wiki team, I do. I've used it for a while, fell in love with it, and shared it with my local NaNoWriMo group. Now, I’d like to share with you how I use it to write novels.

The basic wiki is free. You can find it at http://pbwiki.com .

The first step, of course, is to set up the wiki. I use Peanut Butter Wiki because that's what I first encountered. Those of us who use it affectionately call it "PBWiki", after their domain name. There are several other wiki programs available, including ones which don't connect to the internet. I'm not familiar with them, so I'm going to stay with the PBWiki. When you go to the PBWiki home page, simply type in the name of the wiki you are creating and your email address. I used "mynovel" as the name of one of my PBWikis.

It takes just a few minutes (it took 93 seconds for me) before you get an email from the wiki team (from bounce@pbwiki) with a link in it.  Be sure to check your spam mail and filters if you don't get the email within a couple of hours.  Click on the link in the email or paste the address in your browser bar. At the screen to which it takes you, enter a password as instructed, then tell them what the wiki is for (I chose "educational" for the sample wiki) and select whether you want the wiki public or private. I left "mynovel" public so you can go look at it. Then agree to the terms of service, click on "take me to my wiki" and you're ready to build your novel-writing wiki.

Take time to read all the nifty features they offer. Each wiki program is a little different. With PBWiki, you don't need to know much in the way of html - no more than you'd need for posting to message boards or writing emails. They have special templates to use, and easy instructions for doing things like uploading and embedding pictures. They also offer a forum with more tips and tricks for using the wiki.

The most common tool you'll use with this wiki is the one to create links between the different pages. To do that, enclose the words you want to act as the link in square brackets – [like this] or put two words together with no spaces between and capitalize both words - LikeThis. When you save the page, the links will be there with a broken line under them.

Clicking on the links with the broken line under them will take you to a fresh page, ready to enter new information. After you edit the new page, save it. Anytime you view a page that has that link on it, it will then show as a regular link, with an unbroken line under it.  When you use a word as a link be sure to type the word exactly the same way, including cases, each time.    You don't have to make that word a link every time it appears.  Character names leading to biographical data, for instance, wouldn't need to be linked each and every time.  Do try to link the character names with a biography at least once every few paragraphs so you won't have to scroll too far back when you need to check something.

You can add side panels, embed pictures, upload files, build resource pages, and write the novel. With the links embedded in the text as you write, all you need to do to refresh your memory or find a web page is click on the link, read the notes you made, and return to writing the novel. If you need to make notes, either click to the Notes page you created and jot it there, or create a new link.

The first time I wrote a novel this way, I did get a bit distracted by making notes and embedding links and playing with the tool. I didn't make a sidebar at first, but I've learned to appreciate its usefulness. PBWiki makes creating and using a sidebar very easy.  I highly recommend using one to make navigation the intuitive process it should be.  If you don't want the distraction of making your character names into links to their biography pages, set up a single page (called Bios, of course!) that lists each character's name as a link to their biographical information, and put that in the sidebar.  You'll have instant access to all your character's names – and if you forget how to spell a minor character's name – well, there it is, right there on your Bios page.

I finished that first wiki novel in spite of all the time I spent playing with the wiki and browsing the forum to learn new wiki tricks. It was my NaNoWriMo novel for 2005. The second novel I wrote this way, I already knew my way around the wiki and so wrote it much faster.   By the third novel, I was deeply in love with this tool.

I have used blogs to try to do this same thing. I'd link the informational posts with notes and links in the blog's sidebar. It was not very intuitive and editing was sometimes a challenge, but it worked well enough. Much as I love blogging as a communication tool, and the fact that Blogger even set up a format for writing a novel in it, I like the wiki method ever so much better. It’s more intuitive and flows better with fewer interruptions. When I write science fiction novels all of my worldbuilding notes are right there, easy to access. I can put in maps, drawings of my characters, notes, web links, and more.

Using the wiki saved me a tremendous amount of time by collecting everything in one place. Another big advantage of using a wiki is being able to access my novel from virtually any computer with an internet connection. My novel and all the information I collected to use were just clicks away.  I also have a wiki that is nothing but a collection of notes and ideas, fragments, First Line Monday entries, short stories, and more.  I always add a link to that wiki in all my novel wikis so I can quickly access the information in fewer clicks.  When I'm deep into writing a novel, I don't want to be pulled out by having to search for my Notes wiki.  If you write a trilogy or series, linking the wikis for each novel in the series would be a good idea, too.

When you collaborate on writing a novel, using a wiki makes it incredibly easy. Everyone working on the novel has the passwords and can make changes and add notes and comments. In your options, you can choose to receive email notifications when updates and changes are made to the wiki, alerting you to check it out and make additions of your own. Collaborating through a wiki is an organic experience. Shaping the novel eases a lot of the frustrations I've had with collaborations, such as slow response times, lost pages, computer crashes, snail mail delays, and trying to decipher hand written squiggles.

The final advantage I'll mention for using a wiki comes when it's time to let someone critique the work. Give them the password to the wiki. If you have a premium account you can choose which pages they can access. On a free account, they'll have access to all the pages. When they edit a page, you can choose to receive an email alert and check their comments quickly. Like collaborating, there's no worry about snail mail delays, lost pages, and bad handwriting.

It truly is "wiki wiki".

Links mentioned in this article:

Peanut Butter Wiki: http://pbwiki.com
My Novel (a sample wiki) – http://mynovel.pbwiki.com
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