Writing: Working with Wikis

As part of the process of creating the world for my story, I was working on a mini-website called the Databank, which contained information about the characters and the world. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was difficult to maintain and ultimately fell by the wayside. However, I recently returned to the idea and explored a different solution that has been incredibly helpful to me, so I thought I would share it with you.


You’re probably familiar with the idea of a wiki, and have almost certainly used one at some point (Wikipedia being the most obvious example). The idea is that any user can register and can then edit and maintain the content, keeping it up-to-date and giving everyone access to this data for free.

But it doesn’t have to be a massive site managed by a community, you can create one yourself. And you might be surprised how helpful it can be!

Here’s the tricky bit

The hardest part of this idea is setting the thing up. If you’re not a nerdy programmer like myself, you may have some issues, but its not massively complicated (and you can always find someone to help you!).

The software I use is MediaWiki, which is the same technology that runs Wikipedia. In order to get this working you will either need your own website to host it, or (if you just want it to be a private thing) you can run your own web server locally (which is what I do). Its not as complicated as it may sound, but its not exactly simple to set up either.

The software I chose to host the wiki is called WampServer. It is easy to set up and run, as it manages the server and database for you. There are various guides online that take you through the procedure (for example this one). Alternatively, just contact your resident geek (everyone should have one!) and get him to do it for you!

Once that’s done, just log into the Wiki (using your browser as normal) and start editing.

Wiki editing basics

Once its up and running, editing the wiki is remarkably simple. From the wiki homepage just go to the search box and type something in. The name of your main protagonist perhaps, or a key piece of research or background information. You will then be presented with a link, which will say “this page does not exist – create a page?”. Click this link and you will be taken to a blank page with a text editor on it and you’re off. Just start typing. If you then mention another character or element that you want to talk more about, just put it in [[square brackets]]. Then, when you save the page, the name will become a link and you can create a page for that too and it all cascades out from there. It really is that simple!

You may well then be surprised by how things unravel. I very quickly ended up with over a hundred pages describing different characters, factions, technologies… it made me think about things that had never occurred to me before and really helped to get the old creative juices flowing.

There are more advanced features like templates and categories that you can use to help organise the wiki, but I found just these basic features to be very helpful.


Basically, I’ve found the wiki to be a really useful tool and filling it in is great lubrication for the imagination. Setting up is a bit of a faff, but once its up editing it is easy and you may well be surprised by what you come up with once you start filling it in. Give it a try!