Guest Post by Elizabeth Kobayashi
I made a story bible. And then I drowned in it. The lifeboat that was supposed to help me keep track of my storyworld turned into a kraken-sized time suck. When I realized I’d forgotten about my manuscript deadline, I opted to ignore the monstrous story bible until I formed a manageable system.
A story bible is a big fat binder (Google Doc, Word Doc, or whatever) with every piece of information on your storyworld, preferably organized in a useful way. Character profiles, backstory, the rules of magic, special machines, maps, drawings, details of the world, family trees—anything that helps you keep track of your universe. Whether it’s a massive novel series with thirty main characters or a video game with extensive maps, any large-scale story needs a story bible.
When organizing your story bible, keep these four tips in mind:
1. Go Easy on the Summaries
For my novel’s first draft, I wrote a detailed summary and received feedback on the manuscript. After editing the novel significantly, I had to completely rewrite the summary, giving myself extraneous work. The story exists and you know where to find each scene (hopefully), so write a big picture summary and move on. Keep track of key elements: major plot points, timeline, pivotal moments, character introductions and departures, etc. The details can be go elsewhere in the story bible, making it easier to update. Put character development in the character profiles instead. If you change one trait, you only have to update the profile instead of combing through the entire summary.
2. Write it Down Early
Once I gave a seer prophetic dreams, took a break from writing, and forgot what the dreams meant. If in doubt, write it down. You can only go back and change something if it’s actually there. Keep a separate section for ideas in development or highlight half-baked thoughts in a certain color. That way you only have to go in and tweak from time to time instead of carving out an afternoon to write twenty pages you’ve had sitting on your brain.
I used to think I wasn’t detail-oriented. Then I worked with a big-picture dreamer. Trust me, you want organization, especially if people besides you need to access important information. You may be able to navigate one gigantic 80-page paragraph, but can your co-author? Suppose you break both legs and are high on pain meds for two months—when you come back to your project, will you be able to find what you need? Make the effort to organize the story bible from the get-go.
4. Archive Your Inspiration
Variety adds depth to your development process and helps stimulate creativity. Draw your characters or find portraits that resemble them. Include art or music that reminds you of your story. Make voice memos and store them with your story bible. If it inspired you, keep it somewhere. Plus, when your work is famous, it’ll be fun to go back and see what got your imagination running in the first place.
It’s never too early to start and it’s not too late to get organized. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, break it down into manageable chunks. In addition to saving you from disorganized notes, a story bible can fuel your creativity by helping you see your project as a coherent whole.
Elizabeth Kobayashi divides her free time between aikido, tai chi, and a steampunk-ish time travel novel about a 24th century clockmaker and a Victorian London barmaid. With a degree in film production and a growing appreciation for music and video games, she plans to integrate the novel with a larger transmedia production. She has a weak spot for pizza, really good books, and binge-watching TV. (Her latest viewing adventure: Orphan Black. Latest lingering TV-related obsession: Legend of Korra. She highly recommends both.) You might find her tweeting from time to time (twitter.com/kobyzoshi).