A story bible is used in writing, especially in film and television, to keep track of all of the little details that appear. They are useful for writers and help keep track of everything from character birth dates to mentioned events and more.
While I was writing Brookline University, I began to forget details as the series went on. You don’t think you’ll forget if a minor character is Sonia or Sonya, but you will. Here’s the TV Tropes entry on the story bible … okay, bye, see you in 12 hours!
As I’m in a re-write/edit of the sequel to Sin City, I realized I was in desperate need of a story bible, as I was having to look up pertinent details all the time. My notes were scattered between dozens of notebooks and stopping to look things up and search for notes was really hampering my ability to work on the book. In the last two weeks I’ve put together an 81-page story bible (which will keep growing, I’m sure!). Here’s a little look at it. (Note: The pics are small since I include spoilery stuff in my notes sometimes)
The Note Tote
Hilroy Note Tote binders from 1989/1990 or so (aka the Canadian version of a Trapper Keeper) are the best ever. The present-day ones are shiny and awful (Hilroy! Make them like the old school ones again!), so I use ones from when I was in high school. They have great pocket dividers.
I determined early on I needed a ring binder, because I move stuff around a lot. It’s nice to be able to redo a page if you mess something up and have to print it again. You may prefer a nice leather notebook, looseleaf in a folder or a spiral bound book. Whatever works!
Usually the first page or two is just lists of the characters with major details. Name, birth date, birth place, hair colour, eye colour, blood type, MBTI and astrological sign. I list all the characters like that on one or two pages.
After that, I do more in depth profiles where I’ll list the character’s full name and stats, then do point form lists of major things that appear in the book.
For example, in Sin City, I mention that Ruby has a horse named Bella, is a trick rider, dated Lewis in Abilene, drinks coffee (but I never said how she took it), etc. Notes can be added as the series goes on, and I don’t usually have to add personality info because I know it, but I do add little things like “always wears a ring on the third finger on the right hand” so I don’t accidentally say left hand.
In Sin City I have point form descriptions of all of the locations I’ve created (see above), then the same for fictional casinos, real casinos that existed at the time on Fremont and the Strip, and other businesses that existed in Las Vegas at the time.
Maps are really useful, especially for a historical series. Street names and entire areas changed in Las Vegas, so it’s been helpful to have historic maps.
You may need profiles for things that are really specific to your book. In Brookline I had pages of information on sorority rush, lists of names of girls in each pledge class, school schedules etc. Sin City has lists of horses that Rett owns, types of guns that have shown up, etc.
Including historical weather info (like when Las Vegas gets a big flood, like they did in July 1975, which left cars floating in the Caesars Palace parking lot), tidbits about the city (when the first female card dealer began working on the Strip, etc) and things like that help me keep things realistic. Maybe you’ll find you need a list of words in your created fantasy language, a diagram of what a character’s house looks like, or a collection of info on how evidence is processed in a murder.
A point form timeline of when everything occurs in the book keeps me on track. Included are dates in my books, both to orient the reader in the time period and to keep things organized for me. Since I use “real time” to track everything, I need to make sure things work out (right day, right date etc).
My Sin City timeline is very basic. It looks like this:
Tue Mar 13 – Tim gets out of jail. Ruby training for rodeo.
Wed Mar 14 – Rett throws a huge party at the bar.
Basically I just outline when things happened. I may make note of a birthday (especially if it’s something a POV character might comment on) or if there was a major weather event or something major happened in the news.
With Brookline, I printed out monthly calendars where I included all event info and when things happened. The series is set in the early 90s, so the calendar in that form reminded me of an actual sorority event calendar. I included all sorority events, when school breaks would be, if/when characters met, major holidays and birthdays etc.
Pictures that look like how I envision a character, or it’s the right model of car etc really help me visualize. Things I find online go into my Pinterest account – either the public board for each book, or a private one that will eventually become public (especially if it’s for an upcoming book). Any pictures I find in magazines I cut out and keep in the pockets of the Note Tote. It’s handy to be able to refer to a photo to describe something.
Handwritten? Typed? Digital? Analog?
All of the above! Typing it up and uploading to Google Docs allows me to share it with my editor and co-writer. A printed copy goes in the Note Tote. Having the majority type helps, especially with my terrible handwriting.
Additional info will be added by hand. If I’m away from home I can access digital versions and keep those updated as well.
For me, I really needed a physical copy to leaf through. It helps me organize what notes are actually important and I want to use vs doing general research before I settle on something.
You may want to do it all by hand, online only or just in Word. If you like having it available online, check out Google Docs, Evernote and Microsoft One Note for accessing it on multiple devices. Dropbox is also a great way to backup/access the file from other places.
In closing …
A story bible can contain whatever you most need it to. Include anything from a descriptions of each person’s pets to detailed instructions on how to take an engine apart.
I highly recommend series writers create a story bible to help keep continuity. Hopefully you’ve had a little bit of fun peeking into my 1990s throwback style one =)