Wandering about the Reddit, I've seen a discussion or two about a fictionary, a specialized ebook dictionary for a book. A fictionary lets a reader click on a name, place, or obscure word and see the meaning. Most of these descriptions are spoiler-free, they are just reminder for the reader. For larger works that spans a dozen books, this could be helpful when it's been a few hundred pages since you last saw a specific character or someone referenced some place.

Five days ago, I came up on a post on Reddit about fictionaries for the Dresden Files. One of the interesting thing is that Fictionary is now providing author services to let any author create a fictionary for their book and have it hosted over at http://thefictionary.net/.

Since I was stalling on my programming project, I figured it would be a fun to try making a fictionary for Sand and Blood. One of the biggest complaints is that I had some difficult names for English readers (e.g., Rutejìmo and Desòchu for example). A fictionary would be a way of possibly relieving that since I'm not planning on changing the character names for world reasons.

Getting Started

After a brief discussion on Reddit, I eventually switched over to email to figure out the process. The person running thefictionary.net doesn't have their name anywhere, but let's go with "Fictionary" just for purposes of this conversation.

Fictionary provided me with three files:

  • A template spreadsheet with a number of columns.
  • A sample version with a single entry.
  • A sample HTML which is what the dictionary entry will look like.

The only thing I, as the author, needed to provide back was the spreadsheet various cells filled in.

For each term, there were the following:

  • Value: This is the name of the dictionary term, a proper phrase or single word that is relevant for the book. For example, "Rutejìmo".
  • Additional Matches: This is any additional terms, separated by semicolons, that also point to the same entry. In my case, "Great Shimusogo Rutejìmo" and "Jìmo" are the same guy so they went here.
  • Key Facts: This is where you can have a key/value pair of entries. Some authors have this, such as date of birth or family members, but I won't for reasons I'll describe below. It is also optional.
  • Definition: This is the definition of the term. Even though it is a cell, it can be fairly long.
  • Importance: This is either blank or with a numerical value of how important an entry it. Lower is more important. Fictionary uses this to determine how multiple entries show up on common words, like "Valley" in my case.
  • Person Indicator: "Yes" or "No".

In the end, it is pretty easy thing to fill out. Copy/paste from your notes (or a pretty form of it) and then send it in.

The hardest part is making sure you get all the terms. One of the services that Fictionary provides (and how they are paying for the free hosting of the dictionary file) is an analysis of the document to find unusual words or phrases. I considered it money worth spent, mainly because it found a single typo (there will be version 1.1.1 or 1.2.0 in the near future because of it). It also gave me a decent list of things to make sure I had properly documented.

Before that point

Before I started creating a fictionary, I had already created a wiki-like and a resulting website that had information about all the characters, quotes, and details of the world. I figured it wouldn't be too hard to convert that into whatever format Fictionary wanted.

One of the biggest things I knew I needed to do was handle the "spoiler-free" part of the terms. Originally, I just tagged the entire page as having spoilers. However, with my future plans for writing, earlier entries would be helpful to later authors. To work with that, I changed it from tagging the entire page to having a "spoiler" tag for specific works.

This made it interesting for Rutejìmo's page since he already has spoilers for Raging Along and Sand and Blood.

What I did was write a program that includes the entire page until it hits a relevant spoiler tag. Since Sand and Blood happened after Raging Alone, it would include spoilers for Raging Alone but stop as soon as it encountered the Sand and Blood spoiler. When I create a secondary fictionary for Sand and Ash, it will include spoilers for Raging Alone and Sand and Blood, but stop before the Sand and Ash spoilers. I think that fits the intent of the fictionary.

It is also why I don't have data elements for characters. Their name, date of birth, date of death, and even who they fall in love with can be a spoiler for a later plot. If I leave those points in the linear narrative, I can cut at the spoilers and still give the relevant information.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the results.

Expanding entries

One thing I realized is that filling in the wiki is an exhausting process. I worked on it for a week or so previously, but as I prepared for the fictionary, I realized it was still missing so much. I took the effort to really expand out the characters, providing a few paragraphs back story for every character who showed up or was referenced in the novel.

The length of the entries isn't an issue. I have a couple thousand word entries and I could probably easily ten times that and it will still work. Not to mention, I could easily expand the entries by a few orders of magnitude and the Fictionary's system will still work.

I saw that Fictionary provides wiki service. Obviously, I'm not using it but I could see why some authors could use it. Paying someone to create a wiki (which is what most fictionaries are based on) has a certain appeal. Hand a copy of the book over and you have a wiki created magically about every character, location, and proper noun in the book.

At least until you get a couple fans willing to do it for you.

Generating the file

I was worried that I went the wrong way from the beginning. My intent with the wiki was a Wikipedia type of site. Something that gave the narrative of a character including early life, various significant events, and even follow-up links.

Seeing a small entry in the example, which was more of a list, made me think I was going in the wrong direction. However, after a late-night tweet, Fictionary sent me an email and we talked about it. I'll have to admit, it is really nice talking to someone who knew their stuff and the limitations of their software. We quickly figured out that I could directly generate one of their interim formats and get the same results.

A couple hours later, I basically had the file generated from YAML and Markdown (my source files). Less than a day later, I saw my first fictionary for a book I wrote. It was cool. I found some typos, fixed them, and sent up a new version.

Going live

The fictionary should go live in a week or so. I'm sure I'll make an announcement when it does.

However, what did go live was my updates to the site. The wiki-like now has all the details, including spoilers for at least two works. It also has a fairly detailed character page including a list of every character in or referenced by the book. This also includes all the quotes from before.

One thing I've written is a plot summary of Sand and Blood. I hesitated on this, but in the end I did it for a few reasons. The biggest is that I will have a second and third book. A "previously on" summary is good to have for those who delve into the other books, or just want to know what happens. It's marked with a spoiler, of course.

Styles

One of the side effects of doing all this is my three major sites for Fedran have the same style:

It is a little thing, but I'm beginning to like it. It is quirky, but relatively stylistic with a few subtle things.

2015-03-15