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So What’s The Fuss About Scribbleton?

One of the things we all love about great fantasy novels is the worlds they create. Indeed, for many of us, great worldbuilding is one of the major factors in measuring how much we enjoy a fantasy novel. We love a world that we can get lost in, in which we can bury ourselves in its details. However, creating one of these is particularly challenging for the writer who has to consider hundreds of different factors, ranging from economics to geography, in order for the world to feel real and lived in.

This becomes particularly hard in writing a series, where minor facts established in one book need to carry across to the next. Writers have to become their own continuity editors, ensuring that the most miniscule of facts do not contradict previous books. They need to track not only facts about the world in which the stories are set but character details and backstories that can be ebbed out over the course of a series.

We’ve all heard stories of continuity errors in popular series, where horses have changed sex or characters have changed eye colour over the course of several books. For those of us who are writers, making these types of errors is something we all dread. So how do we go about avoiding them?

Scribbleton (logo)One way is to create wikis of our own worlds. We’re all used to Wikipedia, a compendium of facts cultivated from our own world. It provides not only a page giving information about any particular subject but has the ability to link to any other subject, providing a hyperlinked encyclopaedia of the real world.

Some have gone further, creating wikis for their own particular fandom. Some of these efforts have been so good that content creators have referred to them in their efforts to avoid continuity gaffs. The problem is that they are all online and public, meaning that if you try to construct one for your world in progress anyone can see it.

This has given rise to the concept of the personal wiki, a private encyclopaedia, cross-referenced and hyperlinked, to ensure that the writer embarking on a series of novels can maintain consistency throughout a series of novels. It is the equivalent of the ‘series bible’ used by many long running TV shows.

There are many personal wiki products on the market, each offering a range of features, but a good one to consider is Scribbleton.

Scribbleton is a desktop wiki, allowing users to create encyclopaedia-type pages on everything surrounding their world. They can then refer to this as they write to ensure a consistency and continuity to their worlds.

Scribbleton comes in a number of operation systems, ranging from Windows to Apple Mac, and most importantly (and often ignored) Linux.

Perhaps bucking the trend for software these days, one of the major selling points for Scribbleton is that it has no inbuilt cloud integration. Files are stored locally on the machine rather than needing to connect to the internet to sync. This might be a major turnoff for many users but for those of us who write in places where we either do not have access to Wi-Fi (such as a local library or coffee shop) or turn off internet access to ensure we don’t spend our entire writing session surfing Facebook, this is a big sell.

However, recognising the benefit to those of us who do use cloud storage to sync between devices, the file format is such that if you do save it to your Dropbox, it will easily sync and then be accessible to your other devices.

Scribbleton also claims that it is very easy to export from, meaning that if you do tire with the software, your data isn’t locked in.

So how does it fair? On many levels it is simple. This is both a blessing and a curse. If you are looking for something to just hold your world bible, you’re not interested in bells and whistles. You just want something that is quick to download and install, as well as simple to use. Scribbleton does all this.

The fact that any updates you commit are stored locally means you are not cursing the lack of an internet connection when you are offline. All too often these days everything wants to store in the cloud only for the software to break when you are away (or have denied) WiFi access. On the flip side, all too often software designed for offline use, does not play well with cloud storage providers. As a writer, what you want is this happy middle ground where your data will happily sit offline while you work but does not error if you save to a Dropbox folder to sync at a later time.

With the ability to create pages and link from those pages to other articles the process of creating a wiki for your world becomes about creating the actual content rather than battling the technology.

There are downsides however. Setting up cloud storage isn’t a tickbox option but something you have to consciously set up. Yes, it’s as simple as saving your wiki file to the relevant Dropbox folder, but it needs a user intervention to set up rather than being an option at setup.

Linking is not automatic. Set up a page for ‘dragon’, for example. Not every page where you write the word ‘dragon’ will be automatically hyperlinked to your ‘dragon’ page. Instead, you must remember to create a link. It is just a single button press to do so, but as your wiki grows and you add levels of detail, your pages are not going to update with new links unless you go in and update them manually.

Whilst the software claims the data isn’t locked in, the export options are just to html and plain text. Yes, it’s good that these options exist, but there aren’t options to export to formats made popular by rival products. Nor is it possible to import wikis made with them, other than importing each page separately.

It’s also a bit simple. Simple can be good, and by and large, it is a positive thing here, but you get the impression that the software isn’t really offering you any benefit that isn’t already available in other products in the market. It’s still missing that killer function that raises it head and shoulders above the competition.

As a result you are left wondering whether you need a separate program to do all this or whether it is better to simply build your wiki inside Scrivener so that you don’t have to tab out all the time. Given that software like Evernote has offline nodes these days, I was left wondering what the software really adds to the market.

However, given that Scribbleton is a free download with the optional license costing just £19, fantasy writers might find this a handy tool for building their own personal world bible.

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3 Comments

  1. Stephen Wolf says:

    Thanks for that. I hadn’t ever thought of using a Wiki-like service to keep track of things. I usually try to put things into an Excel spreadsheet to track the basics like eye color, hometown, etc. It gets very messy when I feel the need to then add columns like their past relationship or family, major events, and so forth. This could be a tool that would me to organize those things better. So again, thanks!

  2. Wow, I’ll have to check that out and similar programs. I do a lot of world building and it usually just ends up as different open office documents in different folders and things quickly become very cumbersome. It sounds like scribbleton may not do all I would like but it sounds better than my current method. Thanks for the info. Have you come across any similar programs that you would reccomend?

  3. it’s really nice. it’s hitting on a very sweet sweet-spot. and that link/unlink button is killer.

    however, it’s missing 3 key features:
    1) there are no bullets or lists.
    2) there is no search.
    3) you can’t change the font.

    and, bonus features that’d be nice?
    4) export as markdown.
    5) export individual pages

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