Lately I’ve been toying with different stories, new genres previously unexplored. With Greystone winding down on my end, my mind has been absolutely slammed with new ideas. From standalone novels to vast epics spanning multiple installments, nothing has been off limits.
Those that I’ve found to be the most challenging, the most intriguing, are the ones that refuse to quiet when I sit down to work. Part of me wants to strap in and blast off to wherever the story takes me.
Then the rational part of my brain takes over.
Enter the Story Bible
I’m a planner by nature. I like to know what I’m doing and where I’m heading with my writing. Whether it be a daily word goal or the outline for a new book, I tend to allot much of my time to the prep side of things. Most of the time this is simply a straight outline, 5 to 15 pages, followed by a more in-depth script level draft.
Recently, however, I’ve fallen in love with the story bible.
The idea that before pen even hits the page, everything is mapped out. Now, that might seem a little extreme to some. Others might see it as a slap in the face of the creative process.
Hear me out.
The structure I’m talking about doesn’t have to be as involved as knowing every shocking moment of your seven book series. It doesn’t have to spoil the quirks of the drafting phase because it can’t. There will always be a surprise to be had when actually writing the books. A small moment just realized, a character trait that cropped up when staging a scene, something to keep you invested in following this journey.
The story bible is a map to get you there.
What’s involved in a story bible?
I’ve broken the few I’ve been working with down for you below. Is all of it necessary? Is more needed to put you on the right path? Those are the questions you have to ask yourself if you want to use this method to build a larger narrative.
What is this series in one sentence. If I am explaining to someone on the street before the light turns green, this is what I can tell them in the ten seconds or less I have.
The X-Files meets Weird Science. Buffy meets The Dresden Files. Law and Order meets The Ghost Whisperer.
You get the idea.
Taking that single sentence and expounding on it in a concise paragraph. What is the thrust of this series? Who is the lead character(s) and why should we care about their journey? This is important to discover early on, because it can highlight a key element for your story. A truth that answers any question you have about the actions taken in the narrative.
I’ve done this a couple different ways. Sometimes it is a simple list with basic traits and goals for each role in the story. Sometimes each character gets a full page or two with a backstory and history to explain where they are when we meet them in book one and where they end up at the end of the series.
It depends on the story. It depends on the prep work. This is what fluctuates the most. Each entry may start as a single sentence but by the end of mapping it out, most tend to fill multiple paragraphs with relevant information to pull from when drafting.
Character Traits. Connections. Faults. Mistakes. Skeletons in the closet. So much can be learned here.
Some of this is covered in the character section. This is where the connections start to take hold. What happened to the characters to get them to the starting line of the series? What events led up to the first page of book one? How are they examined in the series? How are they hidden, only to be discovered later on?
This is especially helpful when developing a mystery that spans multiple novels. Knowing as much ahead of time allows seeds to be planted early. (And you can actually look like you know what the hell you’re talking about…)
Book by Book Breakdowns
The bread and butter of the story bible. With as much clarity as possible, here is where you get into each book and outline it. Plot threads, subplots, side characters that crop up in certain books but not others. Book specific mysteries that need to be solved within the confines of a single installment to keep the readings from feeling they are missing out on a part of the story.
Story Bible Benefits
I think they speak for themselves but I do have a few key points.
Consistency/Continuity – Understanding character motivations from the start can go a long way to keeping them clear to the reader.
I’m a comic book nerd so this is critical for me when I’m writing. Knowing events and how they play out ahead of time allows you to tailor the experience for the right moments, the proper buildup for a specific payoff.
Connections – I mentioned this before. Mapping out events allows you to see connections you didn’t even realize you had when you started. If an event takes place, question why it does the way it does and how to make that moment spark for a character you already have in the series.
I found a moment with a character I didn’t even realize existed and it helped restructure their entire arc in ways I would never had seen if I didn’t go further than a single book at a time.
The reader will thank you for these moments and for a stronger narrative in the long run.
Thanks for reading.