Organizational strategies for writing historical fiction
November 8, 2016 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Hi. Normally I write little stories that closely resemble my silly life. Now I want to write a story set in 1890s Portland, Oregon. I'm reading tons. There's a bunch of information I look forward to using, based on sensory data, socioeconomic conditions, and the exploits of this particular dude who liked to kidnap people. But how do I organize all this?

Last time I did something that involved a lot of different bits and bobs I cut up cardboard boxes, nailed the cardboard on walls around the house, and put information on index cards so I could sort of drift around and piece a world together. When I was done my apartment looked sort of like something a serial killer or assassin would live in.

I can't organize that way any more, so I'm looking for alternatives that have sort have hit that sweet spot of organization and an ability to quickly review collected information for a particular detail. Boxes of index cards? Some software that is not a zillion dollars? I don't know, an easel? Do people use easels anymore?

posted by angrycat to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of writers use Scrivener for this. It looks like it's currently around $40 or $45.

I don't use it because I'm stubborn and like my crazy Word document system, but I'm also not writing historical fiction so I have way less research. I'd be a lot more inclined to switch to Scrivener for a research-heavy project like you're talking about.

Good luck!
posted by bananacabana at 4:44 PM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Scrivener even has a corkboard feature that comes close to duplicating your use of cardboard boxes.
posted by spindle at 5:53 PM on November 8, 2016

I use MS OneNote for this - the notebook and tab system duplicates 3-dimensional space for me, while keeping it all contained.
posted by A hidden well at 6:08 PM on November 8, 2016

Scrivener is perfect for this.
posted by Elsie at 8:15 PM on November 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, Scrivener. I use it for fiction and non-fiction both.

Two other things that I like about it: (1) You can add keywords/tags to your notes, so you can pull up all notes with the same keyword later, (2) You can easily view all the notes with X keyword at the same time--that is you don't have to open each individual note, it can display them in a composite form.

There is a free trial period. The options can seem a little overwhelming at first but I think it's pretty intuitive once you figure out it's like a file organization system and word processor in one.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:55 AM on November 9, 2016

Thanks folks!
posted by angrycat at 7:34 AM on November 10, 2016

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