Have you ever forgotten the color of your character's eyes, or worse her name? Writing a novel or series of stories can be a long process with lots of little but important details. The more characters and locations you have, the more details to remember. A story bible can help you create a strong and cohesive narrative. But a novel or a series of books is long and complex.. And learning how to create a story bible? The advice available can be confusing. Learn what a story bible is, how to create one, and how to organize it,.
Much like a set of encyclopedias, a story bible is a reference guide for your story. You create it for your use (not for publication, though some authors publish theirs). It contains details about the world you’ve created, the characters who inhabit it, and the plot you’ve designed. This reference guide can refer to a single book or a never-ending series of books in a format that works for you. It’s a document you can create before you write, during the writing process, or after you’ve finished the book. Often it is helpful to start your story bible first. Add to it when writing the draft version, then change it as you edit your story.
From my experience, it’s much easier to start a story bible before or during the writing than after you’ve finished book one of a series.
A story bible most important function is to help you keep track of all the details of your story. When you’re writing a novel or other long-form work, there are tons of details sprinkled throughout your manuscript. A story bible can help you keep everything organized in one place.
The more complex the world, the more characters or settings, you write about, the easier it is to forget details. Your story bible is a one-stop reference for all your details. Having a usable and comprehensive story bible will help you write a consistent story from beginning to end.
Finally, a story bible can also help you save time. You can’t remember everything. There are lots of reasons writers forget the details of their stories. Perhaps you wrote the first draft months ago and have written something else while that draft “cooled.” Or you may have written a stand-alone book that you now want to turn into a series. If you’ve written a long series, it can be especially difficult remembering all the details you may need for book 10 or 20. While you’re writing, you can simply consult your story bible instead of having to go back and reread parts of your manuscript. This can help you stay focused on your writing and avoid distractions.
A story bible is as unique as you and your story are. Follow these steps to be certain it’s as comprehensive as you need.
The first step in creating a story bible is to determine what you need. The genre and sub-genres of your book will influence what you need for your reference. So will the length of the project.
The two most common things included in a story bible are the world and the characters. Include details about the setting, even if you’re writing a memoir or a story in your own neighborhood.
Details about the characters will help you avoid reader confusion.
You may also want to include information about themes or motifs that are important to your story. Photographs, schematics, and maps can be part of your story bible.
Below is a list of topics commonly found in story bibles. Pick as few or many topics that are useful to you. Or add ones unique to your story.
Create a detailed one for each major character. Minor characters may not require as much detail.
Next, decide on the format for your story bible. There are several options to choose from, including:
Choose the format that works best for you and your writing process.
Organize your information in a way that is easy to use. You can organize by topic. Or perhaps you’ll organize it by scene. Someone else may organize it alphabetically. Don’t worry about what others do. Make it useful for you.
It’s time to add information to your story bible. Some details planned before writing will change as you write. Remember, your story bible, like your story, is a work-in-progress. Add additional details and update your story bible when you change things.
Once your story bible is complete, use it. It’s your reference for writing your novel or planning the next book in your series. If you need to look up a detail about your story, consult your story bible instead of having to reread parts of your manuscript.
Update it or change it as needed. Re-organize it if it's not as convenient as you like. It's for your use, so make it work for you.
A story bible is a valuable tool for writers. However, creating your story bible is not the most important thing to do. Your priority is always to write your book(s).
Otherwise, there is no right or wrong. Your story bible can be as long or short as you need it to be.
You will forget details and your story bible will probably not be complete, but that’s okay. It will help keep you focused on that story, those characters, and that world.
Do you use a story bible? What is your favorite way to create or organize one?
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Lynette M. Burrows is an author, blogger, creativity advocate, and Yorkie Wrangler. She writes chillingly realistic stories about characters challenged to waken their unrealized villain or hero within.
In My Soul to Keep, Miranda Clarke lives a charmed life until she breaks the rules. But it’s 1961 in Fellowship America. The rules aren’t optional.
My Soul to Keep, the first book in the Fellowship Dystopia series, is sold online. Book two, If I Should Die, and the series companion, Fellowship, are also available everywhere books are sold online. The third book in this series, And When I Wake, will be published in 2024.
Lynette lives in the land of Oz. When she’s not avoiding housework and playing with her dogs, she’s blogging or writing or researching her next series. You can find Lynette on her website, Facebook, or on Twitter @LynetteMBurrows.
Top image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Middle image by Jenneth from Pixabay
Final photo by Lynette M. Burrows
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Thank you for this timely post. I was just thinking about how I need to devote some time to doing this as I struggle to remember details from book one while writing the draft for book 2. Very helpful.
Lisa, I feel your struggle. I didn't have a story bible when I wrote my first book either. I'm glad you found this helpful. Best of luck with your second book!
Interesting ideas. Love the story glossary and a section for weather. Never thought about that with the story. (assumed) Sounds like a good way to fully develop the characters, family, backstory, and environment before writint. Thanks
A story glossary and weather are two of my favorite bits to add to my story bible. I hope they help you in your current and future projects.
I do mine in One Note, and I thought it was super detailed, but you've given me new pages and tabs to add for things I hadn't even thought about! Thank you.
You are welcome, Dover. One Note is a great tool to use for creating a story bible. Have fun exploring your new options!
Most of mine exists as files that I keep in Scrivener for easy access. I've never added up all of them, but I know they'd be huge in total. For instance, the one detailing the basics of the magic system is about 10K. I date them in the binder when I update so I easily know I have. Then, when I switch to editing a different Ontyre novel (or even my project for novellas or the one for short stories), I transfer the updated files. It takes about two minutes, if that.
Some read like textbooks, others like narratives. They cover characters, magic, social issues, and numerous worldbuilding topics (how airships operate, for instance). There are other references, too, that are about writing in general. I do keep some written notes just because I like fingering through the papers, I think, but if a topic becomes sizable in those it's added to Scrivener. There are also all my diagrams and maps. It's a system that's saved me countless hours and boosted my productivity.
Christine, your story bible sounds awesome! I love Scrivener for many reasons but the ease of transferring documents like that is at the top of the list.
This article could not be more timely. I am about to go into isolation with all my journals, blogs, stories, etc and I knew the first step was FINDING A DIRECTION. once I do that the rest should flow somewhat easier with a goal and finishing point. This was really the boost and reinforcement I needed. Thank you and I don’t believe in coincidences 🤣
I'm glad this was timely information for you, Patricia. Best of luck with your story development isolation time!
Great post, Lynette! I do use a story bible! I've built mine in World Anvil. (Story bible is actually its core function.) What I love is that World Anvil has features to make sharing the world building with fans easier.
Story bible material is great fodder for blog posts, newsletters, freebies... Potent marketing material.
Thanks, Lisa! I have not checked out World Anvil yet. It's on my list, but I probably won't get to it very soon (home renovations are time consuming!) I love your lists of other uses for a story bible and absolutely agree that story bibles have many uses.
It can be overwhelming in the way any story bible can be. The trick is to know you can start anywhere and build only what you need. And those renovations take precedence!
Yes, reno first. Mostly because I'm so frustrated that my resource books are in boxes. Ah, well. It will be over soon.
So, you're saying take a deep breath before I start learning World Anvil. Got it. Thanks!
Thank you for your tips on how to create the Story Bible. I sometimes struggle with the random notes. Even if I use sticky notes, I could slap those fast ideas and details into a binder.
Very practical and great for saving time, right?
I feel you, Kris. Stickie notes are handy but stacks of them here and there made me spend a lot of time searching through them. Using the binder has helped me. I hope it helps you, too.
I create one as I go into a notebook.
Compiling the information as you go is a great way to keep your story bible up-to-date, Denise. Thanks for sharing.
I do do a version of this while I write. I use colored text. Red for character points, green for setting... and so on. A after a writing session I copy and past into my book Numeraire for better organizing. Works for me.
As a die hard Pantser if I do any pre-organizing i loose interest in the story fast, what write it if I know it all before hand.
Each to our own, eh?
Absolutely, Sam. There's no right or wrong way to create your story bible. Doing it while you write is one way to get your story bible together. If it works for you...keep doing it that way. Thanks for reading.
Thanks for this––gave me a much needed reminder to start my bible on my current series.