Keep Your Story Straight with a Story Bible
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This article was co-written by Sarah Parke and Elizabeth Beechwood.
Some writing projects require a lot of research, particularly novels that incorporate mythology, historical research, or invented languages.
If you’re working on a novel and finding yourself drowning in story details, you may want to create a Story Bible.
A Story Bible collects all the pertinent information about your novel in one convenient place. This includes character sheets, locations, pictures, and anything else you need to remember.
Author Elizabeth Beechwood heard about the concept of a Story Bible from another writer (because all the best writers borrow from one another).
“I was listening to a writer talk about writing a series. He had shopped his first novel as a stand-alone but was offered a three book deal if he could make it a series. He had to create a Story Bible to keep everything straight. I thought it sounded like a great idea to have BEFORE I started writing!”
The materials needed for a Story Bible can be as basic or elaborate as you like. You could use a simple spiral-bound notebook, magazine cut-outs, and a glue stick. You could also choose your favorite kind of journal, color photos, and washi tape. If you want the flexibility to move and reorganize elements of your Story Bible, Beechwood recommends using a three-ring binder.
“My first Story Bible was a red Moleskine journal put together for my Alaskan fantasy novel. I lovingly taped maps into the pages, wrote lots of character details, inserted photos of the area I was writing about and pictures of actors who look similar to my characters. And I started writing snippets of story in the journal.
It was a little … unwieldy. And not helpful once I got started – nothing was organized and I couldn’t move things around without crossing information out and adding in new information someplace else.”
“This Story Bible was helpful in gathering my thoughts, but hasn’t worked for me since. Oddly enough, my story stalled out as well, stuck in ‘Second Draft Limbo’.
My second Story Bible for my current project, a story that takes place in the Tatra Mountains on the border of Slovakia and Poland, was first created in Publisher. I added in pictures (yes, all that time on Pinterest paid off!) and descriptions and character sheets. I could go back and change things if necessary. I could rearrange the pages. I was loving it except for one problem – it was in my computer. I’m one of those ‘gotta touch it’ kind of people and the Bible being on my screen wasn’t doing it for me. So I printed it off, put it in a nice binder, and added in folders to hold maps. Page protectors hold photos of my last trip to Slovakia safe. I can move the pages around if I want and I can modify pages in my computer and then reprint them.”
“So far, this Story Bible is serving me well. It’s keeping me on track without inhibiting my creativity. It keeps my facts straight and my backstory written out where I can refer to it. I’m also planning to keep my working outline
Creating a Story Bible helped Beechwood sort out her backstory without the usual problem of “info dumping” in the first draft. Consider creating your Story Bible as part of your novel prep since so much of the information will be integrated in the novel. For Beechwood, the Story Bible is essential to maintaining continuity, especially character genealogies and historical timelines. If the novel becomes part of a series, or you write other stories in this same story world, you will need all those facts!
Whether you’re a plotter, a pantser, a novice or a Bestselling author, everyone can benefit from a Bible. A plotter would enjoy having the information organized (and you certainly can have your story outline in the Bible!), while a pantser will find joy in adding newly discovered information. For historical fiction, you may want to consider a dictionary to make sure you are using the proper words for your time period. Even seasoned writers keep story bibles.
Bottom line: the Story Bible system will keep all those little facts safe, like the color of your main character’s second cousin’s parakeet.
Looking for some other ideas of what to include in your Story Bible?
Use this check list:
- character sketches or questionnaires
- character photos
- pictures of settings
- notes on themes or symbols
- reference materials
- character genealogies