Writing epic fantasy and science fiction, the need to keep the lore, language and cultural nuances in mind when writing can become a demanding task. This is especially true, if, like me, you enjoy hopping from one project to another. Having tried various ways of keeping the details ordered, such as writing glossaries and keeping reference cards, these methods of ordering my thoughts quickly become bloated and unusable. However, thanks to an article reviewing writing tools in November’s issue of “Writing Magazine” by Chris Glithero, I may have found the answer to my dilemma, in the form of “Zim – A Desktop Wiki”. And the best part is: it’s free!
Zim allows you to create Wikipedia-like “notebooks”, enabling you to build a complete reference guide for your project. The files can be stored locally on your computer (i.e. without the need for an internet connection) or in a content sharing system such as dropbox, allowing you to access all your files from other computers.
The real power of Zim is being able to create “links” between the individual pages, enabling you to jump to sections you are interested in, making it perfect for that epic fantasy or sprawling space opera. When you’re out of Zim, the individual pages are stored in text documents which you can edit and use in other word processing applications. There is also a handy search feature so if you have mislaid a page of notes they can quickly be retrieved. You can also link images and attach documents to the pages but I do not have a use for these features with my current projects so cannot attest to their usefulness.However, I can see it being useful for writers of historical fiction, who want to remember real world details.
When it comes to building the pages, Zim makes it easy. The uncluttered interface offers easy access to the tools you really need. Formatting can be customised, but I found the defaults to be more than sufficient for what I wanted. Indeed, the Zim web-page was built using Zim, so you can see how it looks before downloading.
At present, Zim is in alpha release (the version number is less than one – I downloaded 0.63) so the program is still being developed and not guaranteed to be bug free. Available for Windows Vista and above, Mac, and Linux, it also comes in a portable version. During testing using Windows 10, I have found a number of bugs which caused the program to crash, normally as the result of trying to move pages and re-arrange the structure of the project, but it always bounced back with no loss of data.
Within a few hours of installing Zim, I had a pleasing 8,000 word cross-referenced encyclopedia lying before me. My wiki included character biographies, location details, a simple dictionary of one of the languages used in the work, a glossary of terms, current chapter synopsis, cultural guides and basic histories for each of the races, all in one easy to use application.
For those undertaking a project requiring any amount of research or keeping of extensive notes that you want to have easy access to in a simple format, give Zim a try. Whenever I write now I have two applications open: Scrivener and Zim.