Creating a Story Bible: World Building

In the previous edition of Creating a Story Bible, I talked about the journal and a little bit of how and why I use them for my novel projects. Now it is time to take a closer look at Index I, why I have chosen to include the types of information I have, and about my process of choosing what information belongs in the story bible and what doesn't.

In addition to sharing the image of Index I, I am going to type it out in its entirety, in list format:

Description – Page Number,

Story Bibles 004Section One: World Overviews – Countries

World – Continents – 1, Countries – Azenith – 2, Theocracy – Danar – 3, Monarchy – Kelsh – 4, Monarchy – The Rift – 5, Oligarchy – Clan Lands – 6, Oligarchy – Crimson Isles – 7, Aristocracy – Feralas – 8, Aristocracy – Therna – 9, Junta – Mithrias – 10, Minor Countries – 11-12, Covenant of the Six – 13-14

Section Two: Trade – 15,

Trade – Alliances – 16, Trade – Supply and Demand – 17, Trade – The Wanderers – 18

Section Three: Magic

Magic System – Arcane – 19-20, Magic System – Divine – 21-22

Section Four: Divines – General – 23

Divines – Selestrune – The Silent One – 24, Divines – Other – Major – 25, Divines – Other – Minor – 26

Alskoran Map Requiem for the Rift King - SmallSection Five: The Rift – General – 27-28

The Rift – The Rift King – 29-30, The Rift – Guardians – 31-32, The Rift – Riders & Horses – 33-34, The Rift – Traditions – 35-39, The Rift – Culture – 40-42

Section Six: Kelsh – General – 43-44

Kelsh – Trade & Culture – 45, Kelsh – Knights & Yadesh – 46-47, Kelsh – Military – 48, Kelsh – Religion – 49, Kelsh – War – 50, Kelsh – History – 51

Section Seven: Danar – General – 52-53

Danar – Religion – 54-55, Danar – Military – 56, Danar – War – 57, Danar – Trade & Culture – 58-59, Danar – Priesthood – 60-61, Danar – Blood Magic – 62, Danar – History – 63

Section Eight: Creature Listing

I'm not labeling out this section because it wouldn't make sense to you even if I did. There are 6 pages worth of notes on one species of creatures in section eight. This section should include details on the history of the beast, the anatomy of the beast, its food sources, habitat, and so on.

Section Nine: Legend and Lore – 70

L&L – Founding – Rift – 71, L&L – Creation – Yadesh – 72, L&L – Splitting of Kelsh/Danar – 73, L&L – Danar Desert – 74, L&L – Gate of the Crimson Isle – 75, L&L – World Spine – 76, L&L – Prophecy – 77

What does all of this Mean?

As the Index I of this novel, I use labels and structure that let me quickly grab the page number of the general section I want.

These are the most important facts of my world, in relation to my novel Storm without End. In other words, it isn't all of the information about this world, but the information of this world relevant to that book.

This is a step-by-step breakdown on why I view these things as important:

Section One: World Overviews – Countries

This is an extensive section because Storm without End is an epic fantasy. This means that the story impacts the entire world. As such, I need to know a lot about the world. The countries with their government types listed are the active players in the game.

Each of these headings has a short blurb about the kingdom, general location, and very brief history of its rulers, list of allies, and list of enemies.

Common information about Countries includes a basic description of the ruling parties (or individual or organization) of the country, their general stance, their allies, their enemies / foes, and any important information regarding prejudices, trade ethics, general ethics, and things of that nature. I try to keep it consistent, but the truth is, countries are so varied in my world that I often cannot.

Once again, I say, “Do what works for you and your novel. This is what works for me.”

Section Two

Trade is a two part deal. First, it is an indirect listing of the available resources of countries. This is important information. Countries live, grow, and die based off of the resources and wealth around them. People go where there are the requirements for life or where the resources lie.

This is why I dedicate so much space in my journal for trade. When in doubt, look at a map of modern countries and then look at the landscape and terrain and the manufacturing that is resultant from that terrain. Studying real-life trade will help you build realistic fantasy.

The Rabid Badger says, “Geography is a good skill to have for this. Getting this section done properly takes research, time, and a lot of effort. Write it in pencil. You'll need to fix it later. Repeatedly. Snarl-hiss-slobber-foam. Kiss, please?”

Section Three: Magic

In fantasy, this is often a hefty tome of a section. My magic system is simplified, and I write it in short hand, so I can fit a lot on few pages. My magic system took me ten years to develop. Do not be surprised if you dedicate 10 or 20+ pages to establishing your magic system.

I recommend dividing your magic systems by type. Magic granted by the Gods is much different than magic granted by nature. It's even more different than magic fueled by things other than elements.

I recommend basing your magic off of physics and sciences. Wait, what? That's right. You heard me: Base your magic off of reality.

When magic becomes a fireball, you will have all of the sciences of an explosion happen. Linking your magic to real sciences will make your magic stronger. And, after all, to the uneducated eye, the power of a magnet looks like magic, even when it is science!

Like trade routes, magic is something that is extremely easy to get wrong, and extremely hard to make believable. Write in pencil, because you will need to make adjustments later.

Section Four: Divines

The Gods, Goddesses, their powers, and the realm they live in are covered here — briefly. Just enough detail for me to work with in the novel. I only expand on the two major divines that play the most critical role, and the others are listed to tie in with the religions that serve important roles in the world.

Remember, folks: Just because a religious group believes one thing does not mean that the reality of the Gods / Goddesses / Divines in your world match what the religious group believes. That is why I have a section dedicated to the divines and sections dedicated to religions. They're two different things for all they are connected.

Sections Five through Seven – Kingdom Specifics

This is one of the most comprehensive sections of my story bible for Storm without End. This is the most important tidbits of information about the major countries that are dealt with in the novel. In further books of the series, I will have to expand this to include more sections, but for book one, these are the players. These are the countries that live — or risk destruction — due to the events in the book.

Once again, every country is different, so all of the sub-sections vary for them. Once again, you have to go with what works for you and your novel.

Section Eight – Legend and Lore

This is where you detail out the major world-changing events that happen during or prior to your novel. Each event should have an approximate on when it happened and why it is so important. Give as much detail as necessary for the event to make sense to you and remind you of its importance.

Prophecies should be written out in full whenever possible.

“Remember,” Rabid Badger says, “these notes are for you and you must pick the method that works best for you.”

I recommend leaving blank pages at the front of your journal for an index and then mark in what items are on what page after you have filled in the journal or while you are filling in the journal. When you start, you won't be able to guesstimate as easily as I can — after all, I've done this before, and I know how much material I have for each and every section.

Good luck!

The next installment of the Creating a Story Bible series will be about the characters.


Leave a Comment:

Steven Black says January 10, 2013

I understand needing to cut down data to just what is _needed_ for this particular book’s story bible.

But… how do you track important data for a series?

I mean, I’m all about world-building only what is needed for the current novel. It means that if a character is only mentioned as a name and a specific event, until I need more for the story that is literally all the effort I spend thinking about it.

I actually thought I could use that trick for the magic in my first book. After reading what you wrote here I’m going to need to revisit my lack of planning of my magic system.

Anyway, how do you track a name/event you mention briefly in book one but that you want to cover in more depth in book three?

I mean, the idea is to prevent:

(in book one) “In 1963, Mike the Flatulent killed his wife with a frying pan.”

from becoming:

(in book three) “Here is how, in 1963, Mark the Flatulent killed his wife with a deep fryer.”

These are similar enough — especially in context — to show the readers that a mistake had been made.

    RJBlain says January 10, 2013

    This is a hard question to answer, so I’m going to do my best with it and break it down bit by bit.

    Part One, I think, is actually a plotting question. Mike the Flatulent kills his wife with a frying pan. This goes into your plot outline, not your story bible. Then, in book three, you would look over your outline to see the important devices you use.

    I separate “World Building” from “Plot Outline” because I do not finalize the Plot until the book is done. Then, as I do my final re-read of a novel, I write down all of those little plot details! So, when book three comes around, I have a journal (or spreadsheet) that tells me this information.

    The names of secondary and tertiary characters go into Index II (which I’ll cover in the next post), but as a brief glance at it, their roles in the story belong in the outline. The details of their characters (per the legend that’s a part of Index II) belong in the story bible.

    Plot Outlining (or tracking the events specific to one novel) is a completely different skill set than tracking the overlying reference materials — the commonly referred to details. That little detail about the deep fryer versus the frying pan isn’t something you’d refer to frequently.

    For my plot outlining as I write, I use index cards stapled together. Sometimes I outline as I go into the computer or another journal if the plot is extremely complex. Before I start the book following Storm without End, I will be doing a detailed outline and conflict map. (And writing a step by step series on how to create an outline for a series like I’m working on.)

    I have some inconsistencies in plot events I have to hammer out because of how I’m writing Storm without End, but I’m keeping the world-level stuff organized, character descriptions consistent, and a lot of those ‘little’ things that writers often miss.

    Like how George R. R. Martin changed the color of an important horse between two books. That is the kind of stuff I don’t want to be adding to the stress of my edits and drafting.

    If you need to include the plot events in your story bible, it’s yours to do with as you please! However, I have several novel series planned out for this specific world, so I can’t afford to clutter it up with the outline details of this one book!

      Steven Black says January 10, 2013


      Perhaps I didn’t explain my example clearly. In the scene where the Mike or Mark guy is mentioned it is all about something else. His name and title is used for color or contrast with the thing the scene is really about. He should totally feel like a throw-away name to the reader. Think like, the thing being looked for in the scene is right next to a statue of the Flatulent guy with a frying pan. I was thinking the plot outline would say something like “finds Golden Crumpet next to statue” and the entire nature of the statue was made up on the spot when the scene was written.

      Basically, I was talking about taking a name that meant nothing in one book and turning it in to a richer part of the world in a later book. You remember enough about the name that you could find it in your notes if you looked for him by name — and you had written it down — but you might not even remember whether you used the statue in book one or book two.

      Are you going to talk about transitioning from the story bible for one book to the story bible for the next?

      Wait, that last paragraph you say, “I have several novel series planned out for this specific world, so I can’t afford to clutter it up with the outline details of this one book!” I thought you said earlier on that the story bible just has the details needed for this one book.

      I think that’s part of what is confusing me. I could understand the story bible as a reference for things for the entire series, but if it was a subset of what the entire series has, I didn’t know how it would scale or how the correct information would be added back.

        RJBlain says January 10, 2013

        Every writer is different — as I expand the series (and the world), I will add more journals. Eventually, I’ll have an index of journals that tell me which journal contains the information I need — just like an encyclopedia.

        When I outline, I do comprehensive outlines. Details are added. _All_ characters in a scene are listed. Nitpicky details are included, like your statue. If I decide in book 3 I remember having a statue, I will go back, reference book 1, add it to the notes, and go from there.

        It’s a fluid thing. I’m not always consistent in how I build it, either — this is the closest I can get to explaining it.

        This story bible will be used for other series and linked to other story bibles for those specific series. The Eye of God journal from post one in this series is actually in the same world as Storm Without End, but on a different continent. I don’t include the information from the Eye of God journal here, *but* I have a scene in the Eye of God that draws information from the Storm without End journal! There is a motif used in one of the rooms that includes the heraldic crests of two different countries on the other continent. (So, readers familiar with Storm without End will get that hint and easter egg.)

        Two different journals, but I can use both (and accurately) as a part of the world building.

        I have a third journal for a place called The City of Clocks, and it also cross-references to the Storm without End information; part of the trade data and peace treaties are located in the Storm without End journal.

        It’s my job as the writer to keep the journals consistent with each other, but by doing series-specific information journals, I don’t overwhelm myself trying to put it all in one place.

        I hope that makes sense… it is very convoluted because I’ve been working on this world for so long.

          Steven Black says January 10, 2013

          Now that makes perfect sense, actually.

          And here I was worried I was adding too much information to my outlines. 🙂

          My own story bible is organized a bit differently. Partly this was because I explicitly wanted to avoid needing to reference multiple indexes.

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