Org-roam/Zettelkasten for Fiction?

I get the impression that the typical usecase for this method and software is scientific/technical writing.

Does anyone have experience using these tools for fiction? The notes there (at least for me) would be little episodes, snippets of dialogue and such. I’m not sure how to connect them though.

I have seen some folks use Org-roam for RPG campaigns – I took it to be table-top role-playing games like D&D. So… I think you can use Org-roam for fiction writing.

@ilia — I have been using Org Roam as a wrapper around some “creative writing” which heads in the direction of fiction. To say more about how Org Roam is, or might be, relevant to fiction-writing, I feel like I should start with some things about how I think about creative writing more broadly. It is probably helpful to review some of the broader facts before we think about which problems Org Roam can help solve — and which ones it probably can’t help solve. That said, none of this is to be taken as advice — it’s more about me taking this thread as an opportunity to debug my own writing process. Please keep in mind that IANAMFA (I am not an MFA).

  1. You need to write, or you certainly won’t produce creative writing: just getting that out there! However, not all writing is “creative” in any deep sense. It could still be useful, healthy, supportive to life, of scholarly interest, or of practical use — and all of these things could be seen as ‘creative’ in an everyday sense — and maybe that’s what matters. But if you want to write “fiction” you need to do more than just write.
  2. I think fiction-writing requires acts of imagination or intuition. It needs to go beyond “journaling” or “memoir”. To be good, the fictional work cannot just be a flight of fancy — it also needs to have something relevant to say about the world we actually live in. (One practical strategy that I am experimenting with is removing the pronoun I in my first drafts, since “I” don’t matter in the fictional world, whereas my actual first-person perspective as a writer does, of course, matter relative to the task of sitting down to write: but let’s try not to confuse these things too much.)
  3. In a previous attempt at creative writing, I tried a different approach to the one I am using now: then, I was focused more on character development, and worked to develop a catalogue of text from within an approximate first-person perspective of each of a number of different characters. I wanted to use these bits of text like an artist’s palette to “paint” their interactions in a remix-based work. But I haven’t gotten around to that step yet, so this particular project is still sitting in the cooler! All told, whether the focus is on developing dialogue first or developing character first (or something else): building a story or narrative seems likely to require some second round of revision. (And probably several rounds of revision…)
  4. Of course, authors who are much better at this than me — or those who are working to a deadline — might just be able to write interesting and engaging stories all in one go. (Cf. Night of the Kings.) Presumably that skill develops with practice!
  5. Related to skill-development: one piece of advice that comes up in relation to writing dialogue is to get good at listening. I think this is excellent advice; but like any skill, it’s important to practice the actual skill. If you can write good dialogue you can probably write good fiction.

OK, all of that probably sounds very arrogant, despite my caveats at the start! Let’s now consider whether or not Org Roam might be useful for any of these things!

  1. You can certainly write into Org Roam, or into any collection of Org Mode files. Perhaps the network structure of Org Roam could be helpful for exploring the “adjacent possible” of your own thinking, so that you can start to push the boundaries.
  2. In the way I’m working currently, Org Roam is useful for helping to build the “fictional” world as such: I am using it to help surface “what’s there” — as a second layer on top of my raw first drafts. This is a little bit like the physical principle of the ramp — i.e., I am using Org Roam to get started with ‘revision’ while the raw material is still fresh, but without falling into the trap of ‘rewriting’.
  3. Once you know what’s in the fictional world, Org Roam could potentially help with arranging it; but to do this well, I think you would want to again use the material you’ve created as a kind of “palette”. In my opinion, tools like Scrivener + Scapple give an indication of the kind of thing that might be possible with Org Roam + Org Roam Server someday — and that could probably be improved upon as well. One “hint” for the current state of the art is to use lots of different Org Roam installations and move notes between them in order to have small, manageable graphs that give different views (or constellations) within the same overall galaxy of notes.
  4. In order to actually write anything of interest, you need to have something to say. In this regard, I think Org Roam can be very helpful as a way to create a “map” of whatever domain you are actievly interested in — but you will then need to spend time reviewing and “gardening” that map in order to get inspired and acquainted with the contents. That time — the time spent getting inspired — seems at least as important as the time you spend writing.
  5. It’s really not possible to write or get inspired or think or be creative — or any of that — unless you get your life in order to a reasonable extent. Org Roam plus the rest of the Org Mode system with TODOs and such can potentially help with that, some, but the “good habits” that are needed must develop in the real world, e.g., listening to actual people talk in context about things that matter to them, listening to yourself, and dealing with your concerns sufficiently so that you have room for creativity.

OK, with all that said — speaking as a “power user” of Org Roam — here are my current early attempts to use it to help support a creative writing practice. At the present moment the process is somewhat broken down since I need to work on some of the habits, reflection processes, listening, and perhaps also revision processes described above. But I think it will be up and running again soon. Happy to discuss further here.

I’m an academic, so no.

But there is some general overlap in the following sense: both types of writing are typically sequential and narrative, while zettlekasten, etc is the deliberately not.

You could think of using org-roam for the preparatory notes and such (as you say), but then incorporate that content into org documents outside org-roam.

That’s what I do.