I was just a part of a great online panel on story bibles.
“What’s a story bible?” you ask.
It’s a great way for a writer to keep track of all the nitty-gritty details of a story or series. The longer you write in a given universe, be it sci-fi, fantasy, or a sweet magical contemporary set in the eastern end of Sacramento, the details pile up quickly:
- Character Details: Hair color, eye color, height, race, history, relationships and personal tics.
- Place Details: Stores and restaurants, real and imagined. Neighborhoods. Moon bases or starships or enchanted cities.
- Cultural Details: What do your characters and the people around them do for fun? Use for money? How do they govern themselves?
- Plot Details: Who did what to or with who. Events large and small, before and during your actual story.
- History: You may need to know how your world was founded, or ended up where we find it when your story begins.
- Story-Specific Terms: This is especially true in genre fiction, and may include details like the names of alien creatures and plants, magic spells, etc.
- Story Slang: Many stories have their own vernacular – idioms, ways of talking, etc., that may also vary from character to character
- Timeline: This is especially important when you have different characters who go off on quests in various directions, but ultimately need to end up back in the same place at the same time.
To track all of this, many authors keep a story bible – a set of facts and details about their story’s world that they can refer back to quickly to help keep the story consistent.
So When Should I Start My Series Bible?
This really depends on you. I open a new file for mine at the same time I start telling my story. For me it’s something that grows organically, bit by bit, as I add details like bricks to the foundation of my story.
Some writers create much of their bible before they put the first word down on the page. This is especially true for stories that require a ton of research – historical or contemporary tales that rely heavily on a concrete sense of realism based on the actual world.
And for some authors, it happens once the story is written, in the editing phase, especially if they don’t want to slow down their actual writing with constant trips over to the story bible file.
There’s no right or wrong way here – try a few and find which one works best for you.
What App Should I Use?
Again, it’s a matter of personal taste.
- Pages: I use Pages, because I write my first draft in Pages. I like how well it works in the cloud, and the fact that I can access it to write from anywhere on my Mac, iPad or iPhone.
- Scrivner: Some authors swear by Scrivner, which has story bible tools built in to keep track of characters, places and more. I found it a little too restricting.
- Excel: Some use Excel, creating spreadsheets with multiple tabs to track the various aspects of the story world. I love excel, but for longer bits of info, it’s not as easy to organize as a text file (RTF, Word, Pages, Google Docs, etc).
- Google Docs: Speaking of Google Docs, it’s another viable option, offering both a word processor and a spreadsheet maker. One note of warning with any cloud-based app – make regular backups down to your own computer, and from there to a back-up device. If the cloud crashes or gets hacked, or if the company decides to kick you off for any reason, you could lose everything you had stored there.
- Pen & Paper: Finally, some folks prefer to go old skool, and keep everything in a paper notebook they can flip open at will.
Try a few of these and find what works best for you.
What Should I Put In My Series Bible?
By now, you probably have a good idea what I’m going to say. It’s up to you! Think about these things:
- How good are you at remembering minute details?
- What pieces of information will you likely need again for a later scene or story?
- What’s the best way to organize the information / what works best for you?
Then dive in. Yeah, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it might slow you down a bit.
But when you’re on book 14 in your series and you need to figure out when Frank met Xlindx or what color Hovith’s gerth is, you’ll thank your earlier self!
To my writer friends, do you keep a series bible? What app do you use? When do you create it – before, during or after the writing? And what do you put in it?