This week I thought I'd write up a little bit about what Story Bibles are and how I use them. And if you're a writer, I cannot express enough how much you should use them! Just as a note, I also recorded a Saturday Snippet on this topic. It was a short synopsis of what this blog post will be, and of course can't include any of the pictures, but if you want to see me ramble on some more about it, well, here you go.
NOTE: the links to books listed in this post for the most part go to my own bookstore. That's right, I'm selling my books through my own store now as well as through all the usual suspects. If you haven't read a particular book of mine yet, won't you please consider purchasing it from me? You won't pay any more than you would at Amazon or Apple or anywhere else, but I'll get to keep a significant portion more than they give me (96% vs 70%...it's a huge difference, y'all). It all helps me cover the cost for this website and keep the office lights on...which helps me get the next book to you that much faster!
Okay, so what is a story Bible?
It's not anything religious, just an expression that we writers used to describe a file — and it can be digital or analog…personally, I have both and love both — that includes everything a writer needs to know about their story or series. Things like:
who the characters are (and pictures!)
Details about said characters:
Their family history
their personal history
any injuries accrued during the course of the story/series.
where the story takes place and notes on buildings, etc.
What about factions?
In my own series I have an entire section devoted to groups of good guys and groups of bad guys and government groups.
To supplement the character notes I usually create profiles for at least the main point of view characters and also attach pictures that I find on the Internet of actors or famous people that I can easily model my characters off of. Usually all the details don't make it into the story as far as what a character looks like — I like to let the reader fill in the blanks — but when I pull up my story bible and see that character’s face staring back at me, it’s easier for me to get motivated and write about them. I've heard that over and over from author friends, so it seems to be a universal truth.
Then there's an entire section on worldbuilding:
the history of the world (which can be especially complicated if you are creating the world from scratch like for a fantasy or science fiction novel
a list of technology used in your books
history of a certain section of the world
a document containing languages and slang words used in the book
maps (one of my personal favorites!)
glossary of terms
Story bibles also, at least for me, contain vital information about the actual stories themselves. I have a series bible for my Wildfire Saga — I'm currently working on it now — that is complete with a synopsis of every book and short story/novella in the series. it contains links to every place the book is sold, data on how big the books are, how many pages they have, what I'm selling them for, and so on and so forth.
I also have chapter summaries of each chapter in the books. This isn't as terrible as it sounds. I'm talking about a sentence or two, just enough to remind me of who the main character was for the chapter and generally give a big picture of what the hell they did.
I have found this to be invaluable when writing subsequent books and talking about a character that I knew did something at some point in one of the books, but I can't figure out exactly when. Timing is critical in books, because it would make much sense to have somebody travel back in time when the story isn't about travel. I've been able to pull my bacon out of the fire by finding the details in one of my little story summaries and prevent a catastrophe.
Probably the most important note that I take on all of my books though is the "where I left off" section in my story bibles. This is a little paragraph — or two — not only summarizing how the book ends but where the main characters are left standing. Did someone die? Did someone move on, and if so, where did they go?
It sets the stage for the next book, so once I start plotting and planning I can flip back to this section in the story bible and remember ah, yes that's right — so-and-so was killed at the end and character X did the killing, not character Y…so X must be on the run in the next book, and they left the location of the murder, so they can't suddenly appear in the United States if they killed somebody in Switzerland, etc., etc., etc.
What's the point of the story Bible?
The point of a story or series bible is to help make writing easier, and keep it consistent. I have hours and hours and hours sunk into creating the series bible for the Wildfire Saga. Unfortunately, I did so after I wrote five of the books, so now that I'm working on book 7, I find myself still going back and reading book 4 to add details into the story series bible so that I can make sure that book 7 (or 8 or 9) doesn't get all jacked up.
And that's the real kicker. The story bible is a tool for authors — not for fans. For the most part, you guys will never see 90% of the stuff that I put into the story bible. But you will see the results! The story bible keeps the author on point, so that they maintain a level of consistency throughout the story and provide an unputdownable book. It's a huge project to juggle, and in some respects it's almost as big as writing the series itself — but it is critically important once you get past two or three books.
Which is why am I finally gritting my teeth and doing it for the Wildfire Saga. In the beginning, I never imagined the storyline to go past book one. That's right, I originally named Apache Dawn…Oath of Office. Pretty much the entire storyline from Apache Dawn and parts of The Shift was encompassed in that one book. I wrote it, and I was proud of it.
But through talking with my editor (Mrs. Richardson) I realized that the story was much too big to be contained in one book, and by doing so I compressed plot lines to the point that it wasn't as enjoyable as it could have been if I've had more space and time to explore said plot lines. The end result was that the story not only split into two books, but three books. By the time I was working on book 3 — Firestorm, for you Wildfire Saga rooks out there —I realize that the story wasn't over. People like Jayne, Cooper, 13, and Chad…they’d become all too familiar to me, like friends. I couldn't just walk away from them. In fact, Jayne practically slapped me upside the head and screamed at me that she wasn't willing to go out the way she did.
The other thing I realized was that there was no way I was going to be of the keep all this information about all the characters, the factions, the places, the action scenes — who got killed when, who got injured where — all the government shenanigans between civil war brewing and then not brewing…and a separate government forming and who's in the cabinet under which president…ad absurdum, ad infinitum.
It all got to be too much.
I decided I had no other option but start writing this stuff down. The advice of wiser authors than me to create a story bible from Book 1 finally made sense.
So, over the past few years I've been piecing together information about the the series as I wrote short stories and novellas and plugged in information about the characters in those series and where all that stuff fit in — making a big timeline was another chunk of my story bible — and it all started coalescing. Flash forward to today, where I finally decided this hodgepodge all my notes and scribbled pages and half dictated recordings…they had to be condensed into one final version that I can access anywhere.
I wanted a digital copy of all of this information so that I could access it wherever I was out, and whenever inspiration strikes, be it on the treadmill in my office, or on a hike with the dogs, are or vacation with the family ,or in the car, or at work or…whatever. I can't carry around a big binder full of information — as much as I love the tactile sensation of turning pages and looking at pictures, I had to have a digital version. So that's where I spent most of my energy in condensing everything to a digital format.
I chose Microsoft Word [shudder] as the weapon of choice. As much as I'm not a fan of this clunky Goliath of writing software, it was the easiest for printing. So I laid everything out in sections: book summaries, links to all the books, a section for all the characters, one for all the minor characters, and then a big fat section for world building and and factions, maps, and a glossary of military terms, one for scientific terms, one for medical terms…
And on...and on...and on. I built up this document over the course of several months and more recently have been working on it almost daily. Then I printed out — all 110 pages of it so far. And I don't even have the story summaries and chapter summaries of half the series written yet. As much as it's convenient to have all this information at my fingertips on whatever device I'm looking at, there is absolutely nothing that compares to sitting down at my desk and being able to type or edit or brainstorm, and simply glance to my left and see a printout of what information I need. Once the document grew big enough to warrant sections in a binder, I used my disk binding system to put everything into a nice neat format and I'm able to switch pages around as I need to. The Big Binder, as I call it, never leaves my office or my house. I don't take it with me anywhere.
That's why I have put it all into digital format as well. All I have to do is call up the file in Word and I can see whatever I want wherever I want.
Except for the fact that Word sucks when you're trying to look at it on an iPad or heaven forbid, an iPhone. Since I'm all in on the Apple ecosystem, I have played with putting the Wildfire series bible into Notion.
Look here, it's how the sausage is made! I know it's not flashy like a lot of the Notion pages out there...but I'm here to work not make it look pretty. I don't need to spend 3 hours on aesthetics...that's 3 hours I could have been writing...
The other bonus with putting all of this content on Notion and keeping a digital copy in the cloud that I can access very easily on my phone — or any other device — is I can publish this stuff as webpages. That means that at some point in the future I'll be able to put this stuff out on the Internet for you, gentle reader, to peruse at your leisure.
That’s right, you'll be able to get behind the scenes and see all the nitty-gritty details and ideas
and history and all the stuff that I used to keep in my head. Some of you might consider this akin to watching how sausage is made, but personally, I love seeing behind the scenes of how writers work.
When, several years ago, JK Rowling's outline for Harry Potter emerged onto the Internet, I must've spent an hour staring at it, pouring over every word to figure out exactly how she did it. I'll have another blog post coming up on how I'm going to try her method (the plot grid) for my next series...
The same thing happens when details about a Stephen King or George RR Martin book emerges and articles are written about how write.
As a writer, it fascinates me how other writers operate. As a fan, it fascinates me how they come up with the stories and how they weave the plots together. I thought perhaps if maybe one or two people out there that read and like my books might want to know how I came up with this stuff, having a browsable bible online would prove handy someday.
So there you go.
A promise —you read it right here — I will be posting at least some of my story bibles for you to look through. I'm not to give you all the details because then what would the be the point of me writing books in the first place? But I don't have a problem sharing with you what I can.
So…all that is to say if you’re writer or an aspiring writer and you want to work with a series of books, I highly encourage you start a story bible as soon as possible. Trust me, your future self will thank you when you get two or three books under your belt. And if you’re a reader, you might want to check out the story bibles, if nothing else than to give you a deeper understanding of the creation that we as authors provide for you.
As always, we live in interesting times my friends, so keep your heads down and your powder dry. Until next time…
: Upon looking back at the results of the wreckage at the end of Firestorm, I realized that Cooper had made a vow to rescue his XO’s family in the occupied zone. And thus Oathkeeper was born. Every book I wrote spawned an idea for the next book or a book after that. Before long, I had plotted out 10 books in the series. Over time, a few of those been deleted and replaced by other ones, but the idea remains constant that the series was not over yet.
: All of this is probably going to tie in with my personal knowledge meant management series post at a later date, but I'm to put a little pin in this right here to come back to it.