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Website Review:

TiddlyWiki

By Shad Christian Fagerland
Copyright 2007 by Shad Christian Fagerland, All Rights Reserved


Looking for a useful tool to help organize your writing?  Try TiddlyWiki, a free web-based application that provides a quick and easy way to store story elements such as scenes, characters, and world building notes in hyperlinked text boxes called "tiddlers."

Originally designed as a tool for managing collectively authored websites, TiddlyWiki is equally adept as an information-management tool for writers.  Be warned: TiddlyWiki is not terribly user-friendly, so some investment of time and energy will be required to learn the basics.  Those with the patience to get past the initial learning curve, however, will find that the application proves both easily customizable and simple to use.  I discovered TiddlyWiki a few months ago and quickly adapted it into my writer's arsenal.  TiddlyWiki now serves as my default application for outlining my stories and organizing all the various tidbits of information that accrete during the writing process -- most of which (at least in my case) would otherwise end up as a mishmash of misplaced notes.

To get started, visit the TiddlyWiki website at http://www.tiddlywiki.com  (itself an example of a TiddlyWiki) and scroll down to the "GettingStarted" text box.  Follow the instructions for downloading the software, which involves simply saving an existing TiddlyWiki web page onto your computer.

Now that you have your own TiddlyWiki, poke around a bit and see what it can do.  Websites like http://www.giffmex.org/twfortherestofus.html  and http://tiddlywikiguides.org  contain user guides and tutorials.  In a short time you will master the basic TiddlyWiki operations: how to create new tiddlers, create hyperlinks to other tiddlers, and customize your TiddlyWiki to display the information you want on startup.

For a quick example of how to use TiddlyWiki to help organize your writing, say that you want to create a central depository for keeping track of the characters in your story.  Create a new tiddler by clicking on the "New Tiddler" link on the right-hand side of the screen.  Name the new tiddler "Characters," and in the text box below, enter: "FirstCharacter" without the quotation marks and making sure to use the capitalization and spacing noted.  Click "done" at the top of the tiddler, and you will see that the "FirstCharacter" word has turned into a hyperlink.  Clicking on this link opens a new tiddler titled "FirstCharacter."  Enter any notes or description that you want in the text box and click "done."

Now go back and double-click on the "Characters" tiddler, which will open the tiddler for editing.  Add a few more characters after the first (e.g., "SecondCharacter," "ThirdCharacter," etc.), hitting the enter key after each one -- or, for niftier formatting, create a bulleted list of characters simply by typing an asterisk and a space before each name.  In only a few seconds' time, you've created a set of hyperlinks organized under the "Characters" heading, each of which takes you with a single click to a textbox containing information about that character.

The ease of navigability, made possible by the use of hyperlinks, is only one of TiddlyWiki's useful features.  Others include a simple and intuitive method for creating outlines and tables, and a "tagging" system that allows for easy cross-references among tiddlers.  Novice users should be able to discover after a bit of tinkering how to create a customized template containing a standard set of useful tiddlers -- such as Summary, Outline, Characters, Settings, Notes, and Submissions -- that are displayed as permanent menu options at the top of the page.

More advanced users will enjoy customizing the application by installing additional features found on the internet, such as word-count tools and style sheets that change the appearance and layout of the page.

For all its usefulness as an organizational tool, TiddlyWiki also has its share of drawbacks.  The application was not designed with writers specifically in mind, so some amount of setup is required.  Further, TiddlyWiki is not suited to creating formatted, ready-to-print text, which means that a separate word-processing application is required in order to create finished manuscripts.  While text from individual tiddlers can be copied and pasted from your TiddlyWiki to your word processor working side-by-side, the process is somewhat cumbersome.

All in all, I give TiddlyWiki high marks as a prewriting tool, useful for organizing and managing story elements.  While the application will tend to appeal more to technophiles, most users should be able to appreciate the potential value of some of TiddlyWiki's features with just a few minutes of tinkering.  My advice: give TiddlyWiki a shot.