There are post-its all over your house, you’ve got roughly fifty notebooks with half of this scene in here and this profile in there, a dozen apps open on your computer, and various binders or stacks of loose papers with sketches and print-outs and hand-drawn maps on this shelf and that shelf.
Yet, whenever you want to find that one piece of information or fact-check the sentence you just wrote, you have no idea which of your many sources of notes to look in or if this version of that character is more up-to-date than that version.
If this is you, then it’s probably time to set yourself up with a story bible.
What is a story bible?
A story bible is the novelist’s version of a screenwriter’s series bible, which itself is a manual for the cast and crew of a TV show. They’re used to store character information and setting details, though series bibles can also include the initial premise and proposal as well.
Series bibles are especially useful for long-running shows or series with multiple writers because they can all refer back to the manual to get their facts straight. Novelists don’t usually need to store information for anyone but themselves, but we can still benefit greatly from having a place to organise our notes.
To save confusion, I will refer to a screenwriter’s manual as a series bible, and the novelist’s version as a story bible, even though you can just as easily use your story bible for a series of books.
What are story bibles for?
Unlike notebooks, where you can brainstorm and stream-of-conscious your world or story into existence or change your mind on a particular “fact” half a dozen times, story bibles are for established facts only.
A story bible provides you with an accessible reference so that if you forget the colour of your protagonist’s eyes or what the bad guy got up to in Chapter 20 of Book 6 in a 10-book series, you can easily swing back through your bible to check. You don’t have to wade through dozens of pages of notes on this country or that country just to find that little snippet about the moons.
Why do you need one?
I should hope by now that the answer to this question is obvious: you need a story bible because you need a story bible.
Rather than shuffle through dozens of papers and notebooks and apps, you can create a single storage system that contains everything you’ll ever need, in an organised fashion that allows you to quickly and easily check, cross-reference, and look up data as you need it.
You need a story bible. But how do you make one?
What are your options?
- Kami Garcia has a binder (or multiple binders if the series is big enough) with hand-written or printed notes.
- R. J. Blain has a notebook with section divisions and indices to make her notes easier to find.
- Some writers use dedicated writing software like Liquid Story Binder or Scrivener to store and organise their notes.
- I keep my finalised notes on a personal wiki.
What have I tried?
I originally stored my notes in a mixture of dossiers and builders in Liquid Story Binder, but eventually spread out to a number of specialist programmes (including XMIND, Photoshop, Google Spreadsheets, Microsoft Excel, and even SketchUp).
I also had early notes scattered through my day planner (a standard spiral-bound notebook at the time) and then a dedicated notebook for late-night scene-drafting, world-building, and brainstorming.
As my world grew and the story expanded, so too did my notes until I frequently had a dozen programmes open all at once and a notebook spread over my lap just so I could plot and write.
My system was unwieldy, it was impractical, and my computer began to struggle under the weight of too many resource hogs all demanding attention at the same time.
My “system” needed some serious downsizing and upgrading, but it took ages for me to figure out a system that actually works for me.
I’ll explain in a future post how I switched to a digital story bible.
In the meantime, how do you store and organise your notes?