Zettelkasten Forum


Fantasy writing and Zettelkasten

OK, let's be honest : I'm like a kid with their favorite toy.

Mine is my Zettelkasten combined with Encyclopedia.

Some context : I was a professional artist who woke up a morning to find out that her long-life dream was to write books. I ended up writing five Fantasy books by accident, that I am about to finish, and wishing to make a living of them and my future books. That's the Terry Pratchett's story version, reality is a little more complex, but it's full of details, and it is a long story to tell. But you are not here for a story, you are here for a process.

Writing fiction : steps

Writing fiction has steps :

  • Generating new ideas
  • Researches for accuracy
  • Decision : construction (world building, story, characters…),
  • Remember what was constructed
  • Creation
  • Publication.

Good news : Zettelkasten-chan can help with four of these steps ! \o/

  • Generating new ideas : through linking ideas and linking them with parts of your encyclopedia, recording useful part of brainstorming session, manipulate pieces of information…
  • Researches : of course. That's the point of making a Zettelkasten. You can record inner debates and asking yourself "why did they make pitched roof in the North ?" or "why did they used wood in big cathedrals ?". You can answer it too.
  • Decision : you make your atomic character sheet, atomic land sheet, atomic everything. Atoms everywhere.
  • Remember what was constructed : you record, you find, your sheets works like indexes. With interlinking with your researches and brainstorming, you can remember how and why you made those decisions too.

New ideas and researches :

Creation is about making something new by combining old things and adding your insights, point of view, sensibility, personality or whatever piece of you.

What a luck ! Zettelkasten is all about that :)

For example, I made a stage on with a blacksmith (and it was awesome !) so I recorded what I've learned with him about his work, materials and all… And then I realized that a lot of his work is made thanks to technological inventions like gas and all. Having an 800 °C fire is not easy at all in my Fantasy world, so I made new researches. And the solution was… Mill ! I found an illustration of a Nordic mill and add this to my Zettelkasten, and my little town was on the track too.

For the novel itself, I proceed like that too. I note everything that I like about a story (whatever was the media), insights about story construction, things that excite my neural connections (and I admit, there are a lot of things) and record them into my Zettelkasten, link them with research and everything useful.

Researches and Decision :

After brainstorming, generating new ideas, creating things, you need to remember them.

Indexes… Indexes everywhere…

I stay on my encyclopedia part for this step.

At first, I'll bring you to the entry points : big indexes. They work as records, what was already made and what stays to do :

Every link is not created, but they are all recorded, so I know the definitive version of my story, backstory and universe.

Characters sheets are also indexes : all points can be linked to a part of the story (for an evolution for example) or a Zettel (inspiration, scientific fact…). I gather links pertinent for the character, like chronological events like his/her birth, story facts, specie facts… Making rigid sheets is inefficient, because one event sometimes implies many people, or specificity about a place, and all.

To record them by small chunks has the same benefits that working with atomic notes.

Construction of the novel is the same thing. I use a big index of smaller notes.

Summary :

I can summarize the process like this :

Ideas (brainstorming note) -> Researches (Zettel) -> New ideas and question (Zettel) -> Decisions (encyclopedia article)-> Index (remember decision)

The process is still young now, but it works for me today. You'll surely see ideas and room for improvements, and I would agree about them. I hope it will inspire you to write and test your own way to create fiction  ! (and I can make post about visual inspiration for artist too ! \o/ Zettelkasten-chan is my best friend ♡)

Comments

  • @Loni Merci beaucoup - for telling us how you use your ZK to help you write fiction!

  • @GeoEng51 said:
    @Loni Merci beaucoup - for telling us how you use your ZK to help you write fiction!

    Au plaisir ! :)
    Thanks for reading ! I hope it can inspire other writers as well :)

  • Thanks for the introduction into your workflow.

    One question I have: Why do you have an extra encyclopedia?

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    Thanks for the introduction into your workflow.

    One question I have: Why do you have an extra encyclopedia?

    I have only one "Encyclopedia", maybe I expressed myself in a wrong way, sorry >.< The Encyclopedia is the novels'univers project, and Zettelkasten is… Zettelkasten (with a custom dictionnary inside it and lexicons, maybe you were referring to that ?). They are linked together in the same "vault", they interact, but I use different folders in my vault or it is a total mess. "Gods and Goddess" for example might have two occurences. Folder's name is an information too.

  • Ah, I see. So, you workflow seems pretty much forward. But I don't understand the overall architecture of your system.

    I, myself, like very simple systems. So, everything that is knowledge or information is in my ZK (with few exeptions like contacts or my tax things). Anything that has to do with tasks is in one file (managed with TaskPaper). (I am experimenting with Trello for collaboration and my focus project)*

    I am asking in this directions since you mentioned that you have difficulties of focussing (which by the way doesn't need to be related to actual ADHD but could be just a temperament thing if you are exeptionally high in openess). I am wondering if the architecture of your overall system could be simplified (or perhaps it is simplier than I imagine?).

    The ZK has a self-scaling nature that mirrors how concentration works. If you think how much stuff is going on in the brain it is insanely bizarr than it is possible to reach a state of mindfulness with something so simple like meditation. The ZK has a similar mechanic build into it which is the reason why I my notes on investing in stock, the entries on my dog and dog training in general, a fictionary party manifesto, my background research on celtic otherworlds, philosophy of knowledge,... (you get the point) are living happily with each other and sometimes even have productive meetings. But they never get in the way of each other.

    Fantasy is especially interesting in that regard since it has a great emphasis on fictional facts. So, you have multiple layers:

    1. Reality (as inspiration and constraint)
    2. Interpretation of reality
    3. Fictional reality
    4. Interpretation of fictional reality (e.g. how you use symbols to convery a message)
    5. Fictional interpretation of fictional reality (e.g. how characters think about something)
    6. Story (subjectively experienced by fictional characters)
    7. Story as fictional history

    etc.

    It is very easy to create a big mess and that might be the reason for the above average of fantasy writers desire for tools that create order (e.g. Campfire).

    I'll stop writing arbitrarily since I slip into associational writing. :)

    I am a Zettler

  • "Openess" "agreebleness", you are refeering to Big Five, aren't you ? :) You are right about openess, I score the max everytimes. But I struggle a lot to keep focus, too. It's hard to keep track of my focus.

    @sfast said:

    I am wondering if the architecture of your overall system could be simplified (or perhaps it is simplier than I imagine?).

    I am wondering the same thing. I need to see the big picture of this two parts, that's why I make two separates folders. But inside them, there is no subdivision, only "Encyclopedia" and "Zettelkasten" now. I have tried to create folders but it did not ends well at all. We still remember Leonardo Da Vinci dancing with YouTubers. We will never forget, Leo. Sorry.

    That's why I dislike working with things like Campfire (among others reasons, but that's not the question here).

    Do you suggest I put everything in the same folder and structure by index and hubs ?

    Reality (as inspiration and constraint)

    Interpretation of reality
    Fictional reality
    Interpretation of fictional reality (e.g. how you use symbols to convery a message)
    Fictional interpretation of fictional reality (e.g. how characters think about something)
    Story (subjectively experienced by fictional characters)
    Story as fictional history

    This part is fascinating. Thank you for putting words into concepts I only had intution of. So I can make hubs about "Reality" ("Italian Architecture during Renaissance") "Interpretation of Reality ("Vasari was a huge flagorneur) "Fictional reality" and the others. I would obtain my indexes like today and hubs with layers.

    OK. Powerful. I'll give it a try. It is an other way of articulating things and it rings a bell.

    That said, I think I had a good hint while separating my character/places/chronological… sheets into small parts. I can begin with studying "smithing" and add this as an information for a character among with main event, specie description, tribe description, life place and all. It might need refining, but it works.

  • @Loni said:
    "Openess" "agreebleness", you are refeering to Big Five, aren't you ? :) You are right about openess, I score the max everytimes. But I struggle a lot to keep focus, too. It's hard to keep track of my focus.

    Yes, the big 5.

    To further explain what I mean: The perceived or measured inability to concentrate depends on multiple factors. A simplified model would be that of appropriate balance of information inclusion and exclusion.

    Openess is in part (as I understand it) due to inclusion motivation. I am for example quite low in openess which should hinder my creativity. However, in practice I can be very artsy. I think this is because I have the habit of overloading my working memory which in turn results in more lateral thinking.

    I have also several temperament factors that a negatively correlate with openess as a preference for a behavioral modus operandi.

    The inner mechanism of concentration failure are very divers. If your neuroepinephrine is through the roof it might be that you can't concentrate but if you couple it with good emotional regulation you can and perhaps even achieve more than one with a more moderate active neuroepinephrine level.

    It is all about what is behind the curtain. :)

    @sfast said:

    I am wondering if the architecture of your overall system could be simplified (or perhaps it is simplier than I imagine?).

    I am wondering the same thing. I need to see the big picture of this two parts, that's why I make two separates folders. But inside them, there is no subdivision, only "Encyclopedia" and "Zettelkasten" now. I have tried to create folders but it did not ends well at all. We still remember Leonardo Da Vinci dancing with YouTubers. We will never forget, Leo. Sorry.

    That's why I dislike working with things like Campfire (among others reasons, but that's not the question here).

    Do you suggest I put everything in the same folder and structure by index and hubs ?

    Yes. :)

    Reality (as inspiration and constraint)

    Interpretation of reality
    Fictional reality
    Interpretation of fictional reality (e.g. how you use symbols to convery a message)
    Fictional interpretation of fictional reality (e.g. how characters think about something)
    Story (subjectively experienced by fictional characters)
    Story as fictional history

    This part is fascinating. Thank you for putting words into concepts I only had intution of. So I can make hubs about "Reality" ("Italian Architecture during Renaissance") "Interpretation of Reality ("Vasari was a huge flagorneur) "Fictional reality" and the others. I would obtain my indexes like today and hubs with layers.

    I don't think one needs to be so super conscious about those layers. I'd rather think directly and not abstractly. If you do research on reality e.g. the animal kingdom you don't make yourself super aware that you are trying to understand reality. And if you then use some animal combination to make a new create you don't need to relate it to some metaphysical layer. You just do it:

    1. "Let's make my world super hostile"
    2. Look into what makes the world super hostile and find predators.
    3. Be fascinated by crocodiles but discover that hippos are far more dangerous.
    4. Create a note on why both are dangerous and divide it up, so you have three notes (crocs, hippos, components of real danger) and connect them.
    5. Decide to combine the two and make a crohipo. Feel inspired by the new word. Create a new note for the fictional animal, link it from the index of your fictional animals, the fauna note of the fictional world and perhaps a fictional language note.
    6. Make the crohipo work and feel believable while developing a more generalised theory of perceived danger (which can result in a tool to help with future creature creation)
    7. Use the crohipo for some scenes or practice some free writing to flesh the idea of crohipo out. Get a hold of the connection to story by linking accordingly.

    The result is that you:

    1. Improved your ZK area on animals.
    2. Improved your library of fictional animals.
    3. Created a cognitive tool to create dangerous animals and a sense of danger
    4. Wrote some story fragments which are connected to your theory of danger which in turn allows you to make informed decisions when you edit those fragments (e.g. decide that a sentence is important even if he doesn't move the plot, but is essential to set up the atmosphere of danger)

    The architecture developes bottom up. :)

    That said, I think I had a good hint while separating my character/places/chronological… sheets into small parts. I can begin with studying "smithing" and add this as an information for a character among with main event, specie description, tribe description, life place and all. It might need refining, but it works.

    I don't think so much about the division of parts and about the usability of the tool I create instead. A big character sheet where you can see all at once can be useful. At the same time, a multiple notes are fine if you can access them at once and navigate between them with few clicks and cognitive actions.

    In my Zettelkasten, there are big differences since the information chunks that are in my memory differ in size. So, the more my long-term memory can assist my working memory the less I need to access at once. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7740089/)

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    The inner mechanism of concentration failure are very divers. If your neuroepinephrine is through the roof it might be that you can't concentrate but if you couple it with good emotional regulation you can and perhaps even achieve more than one with a more moderate active neuroepinephrine level.

    Oh, you may not by "open" or "agreedable" in a Big Five sens, but you have good sight . A friend of mine says about me that I am "a tiger with a broken paw". I can't do the half of the things I would need to feel "discharged". Explosive energy, no stamina because of health, and all. I can't play with swords anymore because of my wrists T-T

    However, it reminds me a psycho-theory which links hormonal functions and glands with caracteriology, but I don't remember its name. I remember a guy who did not like me said things that could be a manifestation a surrenal cancer by accident. It was not, obviously, but it made me laugh a lot. After that, I left down psychological theories for a while. It was interesting to build characters though.

    Openess is in part (as I understand it) due to inclusion motivation. I am for example quite low in openess which should hinder my creativity. However, in practice I can be very artsy. I think this is because I have the habit of overloading my working memory which in turn results in more lateral thinking.

    If I understand well, you keep track of the course of ideas more clearly without looking away and you can associate and diverge easily inside this track. While I take a journey to see that rare flower and then write a poem about clouds before finding a new track and tell myself "seems fun".

    @sfast said:
    I don't think one needs to be so super conscious about those layers. I'd rather think directly and not abstractly. If you do research on reality e.g. the animal kingdom you don't make yourself super aware that you are trying to understand reality. And if you then use some animal combination to make a new create you don't need to relate it to some metaphysical layer. You just do it:

    Understood ! :)

    1. "Let's make my world super hostile"
    2. Look into what makes the world super hostile and find predators.
    3. Be fascinated by crocodiles but discover that hippos are far more dangerous.
    4. Create a note on why both are dangerous and divide it up, so you have three notes (crocs, hippos, components of real danger) and connect them.
    5. Decide to combine the two and make a crohipo. Feel inspired by the new word. Create a new note for the fictional animal, link it from the index of your fictional animals, the fauna note of the fictional world and perhaps a fictional language note.
    6. Make the crohipo work and feel believable while developing a more generalised theory of perceived danger (which can result in a tool to help with future creature creation)
    7. Use the crohipo for some scenes or practice some free writing to flesh the idea of crohipo out. Get a hold of the connection to story by linking accordingly.

    The result is that you:

    You make design., in fact ^^ That's a good description of the process in a nutshell. We decompose much more and link with symbolism meanings, but I totaly get the idea. Zettelkasten structure and notes end up to be a consequence of my researches.

    Wrote some story fragments which are connected to your theory of danger which in turn allows you to make informed decisions when you edit those fragments (e.g. decide that a sentence is important even if he doesn't move the plot, but is essential to set up the atmosphere of danger)

    Oh, you describe the "prospective" process of my building story process. At first, I prospect, like that. After that, I keep some scenes, something emerges, I test it right away (and I don't keep any sentence at this step). Test -> Structure outline -> Test -> Structure outline… And I end up having three main versions of the same story, which evolves at every version until I feel it is "right". It is hard to obtain a whole picture through Zettelkasten, I need tests and outlines quite quickly.

    And my characters are pretty haunted too.

    I don't think so much about the division of parts and about the usability of the tool I create instead. A big character sheet where you can see all at once can be useful. At the same time, a multiple notes are fine if you can access them at once and navigate between them with few clicks and cognitive actions.

    I agree, usability wins the game. That works fine with hyperlinked document, I don't think I would use the same process in Sublime Text.

    In my Zettelkasten, there are big differences since the information chunks that are in my memory differ in size. So, the more my long-term memory can assist my working memory the less I need to access at once. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7740089/)

    Well, I never think about it that way., but I use private jokes to help me to remember. I will try it to exmploit that in my Zettelkasten, like I exploited it in class, thank you (and paper seems fascinating !)

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