Keeping the details straight while you build a world is hard. I’ve struggled for years on how to do so. I’ve tried various Novel databases, all of which have either bad UI design or eat your data, Excel sheets, notebooks, forms and various note taking applications. I finally have a system, which works best for now. My system keeps the data mobile and easily recoverable without lugging a notebook around. I only track details that have become important to the stories I write in those worlds. If the age of a character doesn’t matter, for instance, I don’t track it.
1) Writing software that will organize your novel.
There are a lot of choices out there. I use yWriter but if you look there are many. The software needs to do a few things: track characters, locations and some misc-like category like items and track them by scene. I put all my characters and locations in the software and assign them to any scene they are in. Then I use Items in yWriter to track magic usages, artifacts, any technology used, clues, evidence, and special words used. This way I can see where and if I’ve used things throughout the story. I can make sure usage is consistent and I have the details at hand while writing. With yWriter it’s drag and drop, other programs may do this differently. There is a specific reason why I keep using yWriter, and you may want to check your software of choice for this, because if yWriter ever stops working and being developed, all the files can be retrieved using a text and rtf editor.
2) Note taking software that uses nested trees AND has the ability to get data out in text form.
I used to use Keynote for this, however I get skeevy when software stops being developed. My current software of choice is AllMyNotes Organizer. Tree view is important, having information nested keeps it organized. For instance, I have folders for Countries, Religion, Magic, People, Races, Setting Outlines, Magic Items, Vehicles, etc. I can easily find what I need and add as I go. Everything in the world goes here with full descriptions. Many iterations of this type of software allow you to add images, but I find that makes the files unwieldy and corruptible.
3) Excel or other spreadsheet software
When writing fantasy, there is nothing out there that deals with other world timelines. Nothing. Date systems are integral to programming and fantasy calendars just don’t fit. Excel doesn’t really care. I have three main sheets I use. A timeline sheet with day, month, year, event and book reference. The next sheet is a master world character list. It tracks name, nickname, age, DOB, DOD, gender, race, birthplace, place of death, job, title, reign and type (main, secondary, bit, mentioned, unused). I can then sort the data to find various populations in various ways without reading long files if I don’t remember. Mostly I use the list to see who died when. The last sheet is a list of dates used in the book by chapter and scene which track the main characters. If you were using the regular calendar, yWriter could do this for me. Or even Storybook. Having my own calendar again sends me to excel. I have the date on the left, main characters up top and chapters/scenes on the left. I put an X where the characters show up so I can see if characters show up together in the same time, even if in different places.
That’s it. I have yet to find a format that works well for quick ugly maps without a huge learning curve but otherwise, all my data is right there all the time.