I found a new fascination this weekend. On the recommendation of a new author friend, I took another look at the program called Notion. I’d heard about it before but didn’t really understand the full capability of the software. Now, I get it.
This tool is a powerful combination of databases and freeform storage, and it’s a perfect fit for building and incredibly versatile novel or series bible (aka a place for you to keep track of everything you create so you don’t forget details along the way.)
To teach myself how to use this program, I built a blank template I can use for my own stories, and I wanted to share it here with a general overview of how to navigate the program and my own template. Feel free to copy the template and make changes so it can better fit your needs! Also, the free version of the program is more than enough for most user’s needs. You can also use Notion’s Guides and Tutorials section for more detailed walkthroughs on the specific functions within the program.
Now, an introduction to the Novel Notes template in Notion.
The customizable blank pages can be adjusted to fit a wide variety of needs. I set up this template to highlight the key description of the story, a callout for important notes or reminders, and the navigation links to the rest of the pages in the tool. This should allow for easy access to all the information within the tool.
Because Notion also incorporates robust database tools, it allows for comprehensive information organization and various ways to view/sort that info. In this template, I highlight the character descriptions with a “Board” view of the character database. This essentially gives each character a card that displays the reference photo (if you choose to upload one) and whichever key details you choose. Databases also include a tagging system that can help you keep even extensive cast lists or outlines organized.
Here’s what the actual database looks like for the character sheet. It’s essentially a fancy spreadsheet. What’s special about a database versus a spreadsheet is the type of information you can put in each cell, the powerful filter/sort functions, and the easy way you can link information from one table to another. These information links are called relations or references. Notion usually calls them relations. As an example of what you can do with these links, I usually link the characters to my outline database so I know who appears in each chapter.
Each row in a table can also be called a “record”. In Notion, when you hover over the first cell in the row, you’ll see a button appear that says “Open”. Clicking on this will open the view shown in the image above, and with the space provided here, you can include a TON of additional information in the open space at the bottom of the page where it says “Press Enter to continue with an empty page, or create a template.” Nothing entered in that space will appear within the table or in any view you create (like the Board view shown in an earlier image), but it is the perfect place to go into lengthy detail about the character, chapter, etc. you’re trying to track. As a bonus, this section acts exactly like the main page, so you can add images, create lists, link to other pages, or any number of things.
Back on the main page, the last feature I included is space for an inspiration board. Notion links directly to Unsplash, so you can choose images found on that site or you can upload your own. By dragging and dropping, you can reorganize the pictures and add or remove the number of columns in each row.
And that’s it! At least in the most general sense. Below are some details on each of the other sections within the template and why they’re included.
This is mostly self-explanatory, but most people don’t outline in a database, so I’ll explain a little bit about why this is a pretty cool option. With the database tools, an outline can link directly to your characters (so you know who appears where), your timeline (so you know when everything is happening), your research (so you always have access to the right information), and your quotes (so you know when you referenced some clue or description or detail).
Plot Notes –
I usually leave this as a more freeform page, so this is where I write out my summary and synopsis, map out plot beats, scribble down revision notes, or anything else I need to keep track of.
This is going to be most useful for those writing something within speculative fiction in which you need to invent words, phrases, and place names. This database helps track the meanings of those words and can give you space to remind yourself how you came up with it, too. If needed, you can also link this to other databases (like the outline or character list) if you want to track where the words are used or who says it.
If you’re using a regular Gregorian calendar (the one that’s the official calendar most people use on a daily basis), the timeline function within Notion can be a good way to track events and dates. If you’re writing speculative fiction with an alternative calendar, you might have to get creative in how you use this feature, but it still could be useful. For example, you could simply use it to track the number of days between events or how long certain journey takes, etc.
Quotes and Notes –
I started using this tool when I was writing my last series and was having a hard time remembering how I’d described certain things (like important rooms and technology I invented) and when I’d referenced details that laid down key clues. Tracking them in a sheet like this gave me an easy way to remember who, what, where, when, why, and how of my own story. Which is good, because I don’t trust my own memory for anything.
Speaking of not trusting my own memory, I tend to be a bit overzealous wen tracking my research. When I look up information on websites, I tend to copy the whole site into my notes so I always have it for reference. I save PDF copies of articles, copy photos off the internet, and download anything I think I might need again later. Putting it all in a database like this makes it SO MUCH EASIER to find things when I need it.
Progress Tracking –
For those who are motivated by seeing their progress laid out in front of them, this sheet can help you keep track of how much you’re writing and when. With the use of tags, it can also track progress along stages of the process (drafting versus editing, for example) and give you a solid view of exactly how much work you’ve put into the story.
And that’s it! Hopefully this helps. Happy writing, all!