The (Story) Bible

No, I have not found religion.  I’m talking about a different kind of bible.  I read a post that Chuck Wendig wrote about plotting and preparing for a novel, and the story bible was among the suggestions.

Story bibles aren’t new.  In fact, when I looked it up on Wikipedia, I found links to story bibles going back to the early-eighties, and I can almost guarantee that they’ve been used much, much earlier than that.  These are documents you use to maintain consistency throughout your work.  Television shows use these and for good reason.  Whenever a new writer is brought on, that writer needs condensed and focused background information on what’s being worked on.

The same can be done for literature.  In fact, even if it’s not called a story bible, writers have used something similar before.  Put simply, any notes you have pertaining to a story is part of that bible.  For example, Bram Stoker wrote character lists for Dracula.  This would have been a part of his bible.  Put another way, once you’ve done the research for your novel, you need to make sense of that research and translate it even for yourself.

The 2004 revival of Battlestar Galactica is an example of a pretty good story bible.  In fact, I ended up using it as a template for what I do with my bible for Undead and Inhuman.  A story bible need not be a complicated document.  It shouldn’t be a novel on its own.  On the contrary, you want it to be simple because you want to be able to look up information quickly when you need it.

What should you put into the story bible?  That’s really up to you.  Personally, everything in the Undead and Inhuman story bible falls under one of two categories: fictional material and nonfictional material.  The fictional material is everything relevant to the story universe – character biographies, a rundown on the main settings, background information on the aliens and the vampires, etc.  The nonfictional material is everything that supports the story – plot overview, chapter notes, story arcs, lists of deadlines, etc.  I include these because it’s convenient for me to have everything in one neat package.

Is this how I’d work out every story bible in the future?  No.  You have to tailor it to your specific needs.  For example, the bible for the Andrew Ursler short stories is little more than a character list and a sequence of briefs on what each installment is about.

I would also recommend not fleshing out your bible in its entirety right at the beginning of your project.  In television, these more concrete bibles are used to pitch a series or orient new staff.  You are your staff.  You are your producer.  In that case, the other more organic bible
would probably be more helpful.  Start off with a short paragraph on a location or maybe a half-page description of a character and then expand as you go along.  For me, part of the fun of writing has to do with finding out new things about the story itself.  Giving yourself just enough room as a starting point leaves plenty of additional room for exploration.

And hey, you don’t know everything that‘s going to happen.  You’ll see new opportunities later in the writing that you might want to pursue, and if you do, you don’t want to feel obligated to stick to a full blueprint.  Just stick to the foundations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s