NaNoWriMo 2016: Conceptualizing and creating a Story Bible or Concept Journal

I have written about creating story bibles before, with an emphasis on characters and world building. This post is going to expand on this, explain some of the changes I've made to how I develop a story bible/concept journal, and track important information for projects.

There are two ways you can do this. You can do it digitally, using a program like scrivener to form you journal, or you can do it manually, with paper and a pen. I work with paper and a pen. I never know where I'm going to be, and I never know if I'm going to have access to my laptop or not. I almost always have a pen and paper available, so I am able to take notes when needed.

circa-journalIf you're going the pen and paper route, you're going to need some supplies. I use Levenger's CIRCA system, which is a ring binding system allowing writers to rip out and replace pages on a whim.

The CIRCA journals come in two different sizes, junior and letter. I use the junior sized for travel purposes, to-do lists, and notes when I'm out and about. My standard story bibles or concept journals are all letter sized.

You can get the journals in clothbound (as shown), pleather, leather, and flat-out cheap plastic.

I recommend anything other than the cheap plastic, although they do now have some nice rubbery textured journals that are durable for everyday use.

The journal pictured above, including paper, metal rings, and cover, cost me approximately $100 USD. Yes, it's very expensive. But, I use these as a part of my everyday work, I need durable paper, and I need a system where I can open / close the journal in all positions easily. This is the only system I've found ideal for my needs. (Prices of everything, approximated: $60 for the cover, $29 for the rings, $15 for the paper.)

You can get cheaper covers at Staples. Their ARC system covers fit CIRCA rings. The metal rings are the most important bit for me. They're machined from aluminum, paper slides over them very easily, and they're more durable than the plastic options. The paper is also critical.

circa-journal-2This is the paper I use. It comes in several different colors, including white, gray, yellow, peach, green, and blue. I usually get colored paper, as it lets me add a splash of color to my work. The blank space to the left is really important for my work process. Main information goes in the lined section, and I use the blank space for important notes. This comes in useful, especially when I'm conceptualizing something and I'm not really sure what the story is about.

So, I write notes. Lots of notes. Everywhere, the notes. By the time I'm done making my concept journal, it looks like a serial killer with a pen has attacked every last page of my journal. It's often messy. That's okay, though. When I'm done the concepts, I store (or recycle) the pages once I have all the important notes listed in a tidy format. That tidy format comes in several shapes and sizes.

First, I begin with a synopsis. This is like a back of book description, except it includes every single spoiler about the book. I am trying to figure out what the story is about, so this lets me get everything onto paper.

circa-2-scenenotesSecond, I do an outline. Sometimes I write the outline ahead of time. Sometimes, I only write the outline after I've drafted the story. This lets me pick and choose if I'm pantsing or plotting the main book. Almost all of my stories have a synopsis written of some form before I begin drafting.

Writing a synopsis, for me, is very similar to writing a draft, and it's become a critical part of my process.

Sometimes, I don't use anything in the synopsis, but it lets me get my thoughts out and start really developing a story.

Most of my story bibles now include a chapter-by-chapter outline. The one pictured here is from Water Viper, and I use this to jar my memory about important events, emotions, and interactions in individual scenes. (Yes, this is the same story I put on Kindle Scout. You can read the first two chapters on the Kindle Scout site if you want to see how the notes relate to the actual story. P.S.: If you like it, please consider nominating it. Nomination period ends Oct 24, 2016.) Write what you will remember at a later point. These notes are for you.

For those who can't make out the text or are on a small device, it reads as follows:

  • Scene one: () Jesse questions her actions & sanity.
  • Scene two: () Jesse travels through Miami. () Jesse travels to Fort Lauderdale.
  • Scene three: () Stays night in Fort Lauderdale. () Travels [] Pompano Beach [] Coach to Jacksonville [] Train to Charlotte () Arrives in Charlotte central train station
  • Scene Four: () Jesse prepares () Travels to Lancers' Alliance

circa-1-labelsIn the case of Water Viper, I have a lot of different types of notes for it. I use note tabs (a discontinued office product) to label them. You can find similar tabs in office supply stores, but not the same exact ones I like using. Any form of tab will do. If you're using the CIRCA system, you can also get dividers instead of marking the pages. I prefer marking the pages, as I find the dividers eat up a lot of valuable journal space.

Behind the HD Theft Details tab is a second tab labeled ‘Synopsis.' The HD Theft Details are technically part of that section, but I needed to reference them a great deal for a part I was writing, so I yanked them out and moved them to the front for easy referencing.

I covered up the text since it had basically every last spoiler in the book visible. But, you can get a good, up-close look at the holes for the paper. Yes, you can buy hole punches for these systems at Levenger and Staples. (The punches are cross compatible.)

The most important thing to remember, at this point, is that you need to pick a system that works for you. I'm a paper and pen fanatic, I like organization, and I need my notes so I don't forget anything. That makes creating a story bible pretty important.

Your needs are the most important here. That said, in my next post, I will be writing about how I conceptualize an entire novel in synopsis format, how I add the notes to my journal, and how I approach what story elements I keep and discard.

Good luck with your writing, folks!

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