The (Story) Bible

No, I have not found religion. I’m talking about a different kind of bible. I read a post that Chuck Wendig wrote about plotting and preparing for a novel, and the story bible was among the suggestions.


Story bibles aren’t new. In fact, when I looked it up on Wikipedia, I found links to story bibles going back to the early-eighties, and I can almost guarantee that they’ve been used much, much earlier than that. These are documents you use to maintain consistency throughout your work. Television shows use these and for good reason. Whenever a new writer is brought on, that writer needs condensed and focused background information on what’s being worked on.


The same can be done for literature. In fact, even if it’s not called a story bible, writers have used something similar before. Put simply, any notes you have pertaining to a story is part of that bible. For example, Bram Stoker wrote character lists for Dracula. This would have been part of his bible. Put another way, once you’ve done the research for your novel, you need to make sense of that research and translate it even for yourself.


The 2004 revival of Battlestar Galactica is an example of a pretty good story bible. These documents need not be complicated. They shouldn’t be novels on their own. On the contrary, you want it to be simple because you want to be able to look up information quickly when needed.


What should you put in the bible? That’s really up to you. Personally, everything for me falls under two categories: fictional and nonfictional material. Fictional material is everything relevant to the story universe – character names and biographies, geography, history, languages. Nonfictional material is everything supporting the story – plot overview, chapter notes and outlines, story arcs, deadlines. I include these because it’s convenient to have everything in one neat package.


I would also recommend not fleshing out your bible in its entirety right at the beginning of your project. In television, these more concrete bibles are used to pitch a series or orient new staff. you are your own staff. You are your producer. In that case, a more organic bible would probably be more helpful. Start off with a short paragraph on a location or maybe a half-page description of a character and then expand as you go along. For me, part of the fun of writing has to do with finding out new things about the story itself. Giving yourself just enough room as a starting point leaves plenty of space for exploration.


And hey, you don’t know everything that’s going to happen. You’ll see new opportunities later in the writing that you might want to pursue, and if you do, you don’t want to feel obligated to stick to a full blueprint. Just stick to the foundations.

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