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 You create it for your use (not for publication, though some authors publish theirs).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.
Final photo by Lynette M. Burrows
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