Tool Building vs. Tool Use: Maintaining Balance

I have been revisiting an idea I had for an application that I imagine I would like to use myself. I realized that I needed to survey the market to see if someone had written an app close enough in function to render my idea redundant. What I discovered was that the scope of the domain was much broader than I had any inkling of. I also discovered that it was largely considered a distraction by professional writers.

What I’m talking about is an app to help with world building. I had also considered that it would be useful as an aid to help prevent continuity lapses on the part of the writer. I have often named a character early in a draft only to refer to them with a different similar name later in the story. I’ve also lost track of what time of day it was in my story only to find that I had jumped from morning back to midnight in a couple of paragraphs.

I’m not really envisioning an outlining tool here. Rather I’m thinking of a loosely structured database, an oracle that can either answer my questions as a writer or remind me that I haven’t made that particular decision yet and offer to store whatever determination I decided was appropriate for future reference.

I thought it would be useful for such things as keeping track of who was where when, how far apart these places were from each other, the genealogy of the characters, and the timeline of the story.

This is motivated by the fact that my memory is not as good as it used to be and I don’t expect will be getting better the older I get. I’m by no means senile but I do suffer from that frustrating phenomenon where I know something but the harder I try to bring it to mind the more elusive it becomes. In particular, I have trouble thinking of proper names or other nouns. It is so prevalent that I have started calling it “nounemia”.

The fragile balance that must be struck by such a tool is to allow the writer to easily make note of facts as they are thought of without creating an opportunity to procrastinate. Many writers, myself included, have a tendency to be easily distracted and procrastinate when they are supposed to be writing. It typically happens when I want to look up some detail when I’m writing. Instead of placing a marker in the manuscript so I can come back to it and look the detail up when I finish writing for the day, I open a browser window and make my query of the great oracle Google.

Without exception, one thing leads to another and a query to find out if a 9mm was invented in 1926 ends up with me reading about Babylonian cuneiform writing a half an hour later.

The key to this problem is maintaining a balance. Scheduling time for world building and research and having the discipline to make a note of topics requiring research while you are writing without stopping the flow of words to look up the incidental fact when what you are supposed to be doing is getting the draft of the story down.

When I embarked on my survey of the existing world building tools I discovered that there were a number of things that were similar to the tool that I had in mind but none of them hit the sweet spot that I had imagined. I will continue my search and I’ll enlist the comments of my writer friends as to what, if any, tools they would like to see to help in their world building activity.

But in the final analysis I will build the tool that I want to use with the hope that others will find it useful in their writing. And I will have a second distraction to balance in addition to time spent on world building. That is I will be constantly tweaking my world building program. I will have to balance that with writing the story in the first place.