This is the second part of the two-part series to help you build your own Story Bible. If you plan on writing a novel, at your own pace or during NaNoWriMo, now is a good time to start pulling all your ideas together.
In Part 1, we discussed the tools you might need to build a Story Bible and why you might want to build one.
What will you put in your Story Bible?
Below is a breakdown of all the different information you might want to include. As stated previously, I strongly recommend you do a comprehensive character section. Messing with your continuity is annoying to both readers and fans. Being organized from the start will help eliminate incorrect names or details.
Your Character Section:
- Backstory – Lay it all out here so that you have a complete understanding of this person. When you go to write your novel, you can show and not tell who this person is based on your notes. For more information on how to do that, click here.
- Habits – This is a fun one. A writer friend always starts with this sentence prompt when developing her characters: When a character gets out of bed, what do they do first? This tells a lot about a person. I myself, make the bed because I desire order. Don’t judge me. What will your characters do and what will this reveal about their personality?
- Physical Descriptions – I like to find semi-famous people who resemble the characters I see in my head. Then I put this photo somewhere where I can see it while I’m writing. Alternatively, you could write out a description. If your character will span more than a few years, like decades, it’s a good idea to keep notes about how they will physically age over time.
- Your goals for them – What are your intentions for each character? How do you see them growing through the course of your story? Obviously, if the character is a main player, the goal will be more complex. If they are extremely minor, their goal might read something like: to hand coffee to the protagonist. As you write, any characters you introduce, even the minor ones, should be entered into the bible for future reference. This is especially important if you intend on writing a series.
- Response to conflict – Knowing how a character will act under pressure is helpful as you are writing. If you map this out prior to writing, your brain will digest this information into the subconscious. When you arrive at a pivotal scene, you’ll already know how any given character will act based on your prior notes.
Your Settings Section:
- Maps – I love a good map. Whether you draw the map yourself or you take an existing one and use it, maps will help orient you as you write.
- Physical descriptions – With this, think small to big or vice versa. If you know where your story will take place, take the time to write out detailed descriptions for yourself. Start with a room, move to the whole house, then do the yard, the town, the state, etc. This will help you see the places with better clarity. You can find pictures of existing rooms, gardens, town centers, etc. to aid you with your descriptions.
Your Plot Ideas Section:
There are lots of ways to tackle this. You can jot down random thoughts on post-it notes, or write sentences that trigger ideas for your planning. At the precursor stage of your novel, you should have a loose understanding of your overall plot points. This is a perfect opportunity to move things around and see causes and effects.
Your Scene Ideas Section:
If you’re like me, in the infant stages of a project, this section is just random thoughts I see in my head. For example, I might write down notes similar to this:
Character A and character B have a discussion about character C while on a walk the morning after a disastrous dinner party.
If you see something in your head while your brushing your teeth, grab a pen and write it down. You can put this into the Scene Idea Section later.
Putting it all together.
Now that I have all this stuff, what do I do with it? Good question. At this point, it’s really up to you. Here are a few suggestions based on the research I did about how authors organize themselves before and during writing.
- Organize everything into a three-ring binder and have this with you while you write. Use the sections outlined in this post and the previous one to create your very own physical Story Bible. Print out photos, jot down notes, color code items by character, then put all of these items into some sort of order. Use section dividers and pocket dividers to keep track of loose items.
- One author I read about used a roll of butcher paper with a line on it. She placed this large sheet of paper across her office wall above her desk. On it, she taped items written on index cards across the timeline. She could easily adjust the items as needed. This is an interesting, linear way of working.
- Another author used a giant corkboard. This way, she could pin index cards with plot points and character notes. For her, being able to see and move everything, allowed her to visualize the trajectory of the story.
- I used Scrivener. The corkboard mode functions as a virtual bulletin board and allows you to move virtual index cards around to suit your needs. I color-coded mine by character. First, I made an entire virtual binder with folders for each character. Inside each character binder, I made documents that, at first, held all the plot points for each character. This allowed me to layout their individual story arcs. In a separate binder titled, Characters I had notes and photos based on their physical descriptions, backstories, and habits.
Hopefully, this Story Bible post will give you a jumpstart to figure out what works best for you. Remember, we are all unique and everyone plans differently. Figure out what type of work habits suit you best and run with those. In the end, the more planning you do upfront, the more uninterrupted writing you can do in the future. Best of luck, planners!