How I Plan and Write Fiction in Obsidian
I have been using the notetaking tool Obsidian for close to two years now. Sometimes I get questions on my fiction #writing so I will explain and show my current process in #Obsidian in this article. Obsidian is wonderfully versatile – my process has changed a lot over time and will likely keep changing as I make adjustments in the future.
There are many different writing tools out there, from MS Word and Google Docs to more specialized options like Scrivener and Papyrus. I am familiar with Word and Google Docs and have been a fan of Scrivener for years. However, when I first saw how others used Obsidian for fiction writing, I was intrigued. At first glance, Obsidian lacks many of the features I love about Scrivener but after getting inspired by other writers and fiddling with some community plugins I managed to create a writing environment that meets my needs and brings me joy.
Some of my personal reasons for switching from Scrivener (and MS Word) to Obsidian are:
- Obsidian can have multiple notes open side by side at the same time, making it very easy to switch between plot notes, character profiles, research and the manuscript itself. Scrivener does this too, but Obsidian does it better, especially with the sliding panes plugin enabled.
- Scrivener uses a proprietary file format, meaning its files cannot be opened in any other app. With Obsidian, everything lives as markdown files on your computer, so any file can be opened and edited with any simple text editor if necessary (in case Obsidian ever goes away). It is nice to not need an internet connection too.
- Before Obsidian, my stories were spread out across multiple file formats and apps. Now everything is in one place and can be accessed very quickly.
- Bidirectional linking encourages nonlinear thinking by connecting ideas and concepts across different notes. This has been great for generating and developing story ideas!
- I was growing fed up with Scrivener's export features that often required me to do a ton of manual reformatting. With just one plugin and some initial settings, Obsidian files can be exported to Word, PDF and other file formats. It is also perfectly compatible with blogging on write.as – in fact I am drafting this article in Obsidian right now.
- Unlike Scrivener, Obsidian has a powerful android app that allows me to carry all my story notes and manscripts with me all the time. Multiple sync options are available.
- Last but not least, Obsidian is completely free for personal use.
Creating an overview
Let's jump into how I manage my stories in Obsidian. My folder structure, inspired by Eleanor Konik, is ordered by degrees of done-ness from top to bottom: seeds are story ideas, indices are home notes for novel-length projects, longform contains actual scenes and chapters, metatext contains everything else that isn't the actual manuscript like plot notes and character profiles. In progress and finished are for short stories and archive for stories that might be unfinished but that I'm not actively working on at the moment.
I hardly ever go into these folders though. Instead, I have a story dashboard created with the dataview plugin that allows me to see two things at a glance: stories I am working on at the moment (denoted by a specific tag and ordered so that the most recent one is always on top) and story seeds (ordered by file size so I can see which one is most fleshed out). This is where I go when I want to work on something but don't have anything specific in mind. Sometimes just going through the list and poking at older ideas is enough for me to get inspired.
With everything in one place, it is ridiculously easy to work on multiple stories at the same time too. I never feel like I have nothing to work on anymore.
Story notes & writing in Obsidian
Short stories I usually keep in one or two note files (one for plot notes, one for the actual story). Longer projects get a home note with bidirectional links to all other relevant notes. My current home note template was adapted from how I used to structure projects in Scrivener.
## Meta overall concept, theme, pov & writing style, setting etc. ## Plot can be a general overview and/or contain links to outline notes ## Manuscript dataview table with all scene/chapter notes also contains a link to wordcount dashboard that shows overall project wordcount and how close I am to the target ## Characters ### Main dataview table with all character notes linked to this project and tagged #character/main ### Side dataview table with all character notes linked to this project and tagged #character/side ## Other any other links, notes or ideas sometimes I add a research subheading as well ## Playlist link to the project's Spotify playlist
Dataview tables update automatically as long as relevant notes are caught by the search query. The dataview plugin is one of the most popular community plugins for Obsidian so if you can't get it to work, there's usually someone in the Obsidian forums or on the Discord server who can answer questions and lend a helping hand. The highly useful wordcount dashboard also requires dataview to be installed.
My scene template is fairly simple with a short summary, status (do I have preliminary notes or pieces of dialogue for it, is it in progress or finished?) and of course the project it belongs to. I only add the scene summary shortly before or while writing the scene in question. It is not something I plot beforehand, but rather something I use to get a better overview and that I can reference during revision and editing.
--- tag: scene, (project tag) summary: status: --- project:
The scene's summary shows up in the home note dataview table, allowing me to see at a glance what the scene is about.
Status shows up in the wordcount dashboard, along with words and percentage of done-ness. (And yes, this is how I number scenes.)
It is possible to track other metadata such as which characters appear or are mentioned in the scene, where and when it takes place etc. While I personally see no value in doing that for my projects, I do link the relevant character profile when a character's name is mentioned in the scene for the first time but not every time they are named. If I have dedicated notes for places or even specific concepts, I also link those when mentioned.
Am I a plotter?
I seem to give the impression of a hardcore plotter but this might just be because I like keeping organized. Give me a clean story draft! In this part I will briefly describe how I plan and execute my stories, specifically novels. If you're interested, you can decide for yourself where I am on the planner-discovery writer spectrum.
My pre-writing process is fairly straightforward with little variation from project to project.
- Idea gathering, fleshing out of central concept(s), atmosphere and key characters. I get more and more (vague) ideas on what should happen in the story and when. The shape of the idea also tells me whether it should be a short story, a novel or something else.
- When I start seeing a plot emerge, I often check my ideas against some sort of story structure like the three acts or Save the Cat beat sheet. More often than not the entire plot starts falling into place and leaves me with a rough bullet-point summary of 500-2000 words. At this point, the beginning is the most detailed and I might have a few ideas for side plot. For the end, I usually know what needs to happen but not yet how the characters will get there.
- Sometimes I do plot embryos for the main characters at this point. I might also do them in the middle of the first draft or after the first draft to clarify character development though.
This is how my plot note (currently at 1300 words) for an interactive story called Ghostly is structured. The three branches are story options the reader must choose between in the first scene, but you could also imagine them as plot points.
And this is the plot note (currently at 500 words) for the novel I am currently working on. This one really only contains 2-3 bullet points for each of the six stages but I am expecting it to grow as I keep working on the story.
I start writing when it feels right or in other words, when I know enough about the story not to get stuck early on but it still feels fresh enough to keep me excited. This can be tricky. For me, the first draft is still about exploration and discovery but with a rough map to keep me on track and keep the final destination in sight. Sometimes I already have notes and dialogue for a few scenes before I 'officially' start writing. Either way, I try to ease myself into it and have at least a few breadcrumbs in place to combat that blank page phobia. I write (mostly) chronologically and will adjust my plot summary as I discover more details and get ideas for the rest of the story. At some point, usually around two thirds of the way through, I connect all the dots and 'discover' how to get to the end. As mentioned before, I also add brief one-sentence summaries to all chapters or scenes as I go which comes in handy during revision.
All in all, my daily writing environment might look something like this.
For those interested in my Obsidian setup, here are the community plugins I use regularly for fiction writing. All of these should be available from the community plugin list in Obsidian's settings.
- Banners (not necessary but pretty for project home notes)
- Better Word Count
- Dataview with the wordcount dashboard snippet
- Sliding Panes
- Smart Typography (for German quotation marks and punctuation)
- Word Sprint
The longform plugin is on my list of things to check out. It allows users to group together individual files and export them into a single manuscript document which would be incredibly useful for revision and editing.
I also sync my Obsidian vault with my android phone via Google Drive and an app called DriveSync. Here is a handy guide on how to set up sync with android.
My writing process in Obsidian was heavily inspired by Eleanor Konik and further shaped by conversations with other creatives on the Obsidian discord server. I'm so glad that I have found not only this powerful tool for my writing but also this incredibly active and helpful community around it!
If you are looking for more inspiration, here are some examples of other fiction writers using Obsidian. There is also the creative writing page on the Obsidian community hub.