Writing a novel isn't easy. Tracking your world, your characters, and other important events can save you time and save you from plot holes before you even write them into existence. Writing all of that information down isn't just scary — it can be a true nightmare!
So, what can you do to keep track of all of the really important information? I use a story bible. This is a journal that is dedicated the details of the world I'm creating and the characters living within it.
Important Note: You are not me. I am not you. This is my method of creating a story bible. You're welcome to try my method, but ultimately, you must find a way that works for you and your style of writing. This is advice, nothing more and nothing less.
By popular request, this is a step-by-step guide on how I create a story bible. The type of journal and the method of storage is up to you to decide. I use a pocket Moleskine Journal: The Hobbit Limited Edition, Lined. The original story bible for my Storm without End world is a pleather-bound Cambridge City journal. The first journal I will discuss in this post is from my novel The Eye of God. That journal cost $2.00 from the local ‘dollar' store. Dollar store journals are my go-to journals when I need to conceptualize something without investing $20-30 in a Moleskine journal.
If you have never approached writing a story bible before, I recommend acquiring a three-ring binder and notebook paper or one of those dollar store journals. You'll likely want to transfer the information to a higher-quality journal after you've gotten used to writing the information down, but notebook paper might save you ruining an expensive journal as you're learning.
Please write in pencil. Pencil can be erased. Ink is not so forgiving. I use ink when I am confident of the information I am putting down or it is in a journal I intend on recopying at a later point.
This image (click for larger version) is of the opening page of the The Eye of God's story bible. Instead of an index, I used post-it flags of various colors to help me navigate through the book. I wrote labels onto the post-it flags to help me find specific sections easier.
This is a good method to start your journal without having to worry about whether or not your text will fit a pre-constructed index.
I used a synopsis / blurb format for The Eye of God's journal. This journal was created as I was planning and developing the novel, so I needed more thorough notes as reminders for things I had not written yet.
I find that my notes are much more disjointed and serve as reminders if I have already written the scenes the note is created to remind me of. The same applies to characters.
You need to find a recording method that works for you. After all, I could tell you it is a good idea to kiss a rabid badger… that doesn't mean you should do it.
Please do not kiss a rabid badger.
This image is part of my current, updated Storm without End journal–specifically, the character legends page, defining how I take notes. Many sections in my story bibles include things of this nature. I like writing shorthand in my story bible, as it lets me focus on what I feel is important.
This is the heart and soul of my story bible efforts. In addition to these legends, I have a table of contents I use to keep track of what is in the story bible.
When you build your story bible, track what YOU need to keep the story straight in your head–this is just how I like to do things.
Index II Contains:
I decided to divide the book into two parts because I reference character information a lot more frequently than I do world building information. However, World Building index comes first. Why? Without a world, my characters can't exist. The inclusions in the World Building section are the foundation for all of my characters.
Consider this: How can you create a rounded character if you do not know the society they were born into? You may have a concept of a character you want to create, but that concept must be supported by a realistic society they grew up within. Characters are the products of their society and their history, so you must create that world first.
That's why World Building is Index I and Characters are Index II.
That said, I usually start with a character concept, a motivation, and a major conflict when I start creating a novel. After I have that, I consider the type of world that is required for all of those pieces to fall together. I write everything down as I think about it, discard what I don't think will work, keep what I think will, and keep building from there.
Your story bible is just like an onion. You will build it layer by later.
Writing Down the Facts:
Your story bible is a place for facts and important information, not for the story of your character's life or your plot. If you want a journal for that, use a second one. You want facts and tangibles in this journal. This journal is to ensure consistency in your world and facts.
Plots (and character metaphysical information) change. Hard facts, such as physical descriptions and general personality traits shouldn't.
These are the basics of a general story bible. This is Part I of a longer series relating to story bibles and their creation. The next edition will be on the World Building and writing down the important information into the journal.