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
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
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.