4 ways to create a paper story bible

A while ago, I explained why you need a story bible. Today, I’m going to discuss your options for organising your notes in hard copy, such as notebooks or ring binders.

It's Not Much

Hard copy story bibles have the benefit of not failing if your battery dies, and not losing your work if the hard drive crashes. They’re often more portable than a computer, but you could spill your coffee all over your notes or have to spend hours manually rewriting.

Some people prefer writing by hand, though, or at least being able to flip through physical pages. That gives you a few options to choose from, and they each have their merits.

1. Notebook

If you write by hand, then a notebook is probably your best option. They’re small enough to carry around with you and to keep open alongside the notebook you’re writing your story in.

You can also add extra pages with a bit of glue or decorative tape, too, so you’re not limited to just what you get when you buy (which is a big plus if, like me, you struggle to find chunky notebooks you like).

Moleskine
Hand-drawn family tree in my Moleskine story bible.

R. J. Blain uses a notebook as her story binder. Check out the series she wrote about setting one up.

2. Binder

If you prefer printing your notes, you might want to use a binder instead of a notebook.

You could go with a large A4 binder if you think you’ll need the space, or an A5 binder that will be easier to carry around. Subject dividers and plastic pockets are readily available in A4 and A5 size, so you don’t need a hole-punch. And they both make reordering your notes much easier than in a notebook.

Velonis
A black and white version of the map of Velonis I made in Photoshop.

Make sure to buy the truly transparent pockets, though. You can buy some that are frosted which will protect your notes but make them harder to read.

Binders can be unwieldy and heavy, especially if you have a massive series or world to organise, but they’re more versatile than notebooks and allow you to reorder your notes, reprint for edits, and swap things out entirely without leaving a mess of scribbles behind.

Check out Kami Garcia’s video on how she set up her story bible binder.

3. Planner Babes

I have an A5 and personal Filofax Malden, as well as several personal-sized Webster’s Pages and a Kikki K.

I stopped using six-ring planners when I switched to the Happy Planner, but I’ve been looking for alternative uses ever since (because they’re just too pretty to give away or sell!)

Planners like these are more expensive than a plain A4 ring-binder from your local store, but I’m personally more likely to use something that looks nice. Maybe you are, too.

Kikki K and Webster’s Pages Color Crush personal planners.

I also prefer binders with more rings because they hold their contents better and are more sturdy in general. Filofax-style planners do need a special punch, though, which can be expensive if you go for the Filofax brand. Luckily, there’s a Rapesco brand that’s much cheaper and more versatile.

While an A5 Filofax is the most obvious choice, you could go even smaller and use an A6 or personal instead. If you use the right font, you could print out a ton of notes in a tiny space. (Just be careful it’s still legible!)

4. Printed notebook

But what if you find binders too cumbersome and prefer the format of a notebook, but don’t fancy having to hand-write everything?

You could just as easily do your diagrams and longer notes on your computer, then print them off and stick them into a more portable notebook. Like with a small Filofax, you can print tiny notes in a tiny space to really maximise the number of pages in your notebook, though you’ll still have the problem of not being able to reorder them.

Why I don’t use hard copy

I’ve tried both binders and notebooks. Hard copy just doesn’t work for me for the following reasons:

  • Notebooks are only as good as your index (and your handwriting). You could take a page out of the Getting Things Done system and divide your pages into quadrants so your notes are easier to find.
  • While my handwriting can be neat on some days, the pain in my wrists means it’s mostly illegible and I can’t guarantee being able to write copious notes when I need to.
  • You can’t reorganise notes in a notebook. Once they’re in there, they’re in there for good.
  • Mistakes are costly. You either end up with a ton of Tipp-Ex all over the place, or you have to write in pencil first and get eraser dust everywhere, or you have to rely on erasable pens that often leave smears and might simply vanish if you leave your notes too close to a heat source, or you have to scour through notes that are crossed out in places because you misspelled something, and so on.
  • Changes are also costly. Writing down a list of monarchs only works if you aren’t going to change their names or the period of their reign half a dozen times in a single draft.
  • Binders are cumbersome. (I bought a 4-ring 65mm binder for my last attempt at a hard copy bible and I could barely lift the thing even before I put anything in it.) They do give you the option to move your notes around where notebooks don’t, but the weight of the binder plus my printed notes just made it too heavy to be practical.
Hand-drawn map in my story binder
Hand-drawn map in my story binder

I’ll talk next time about how you can use software and wikis to create a digital story bible instead.

4 ways to create a story bible
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