How to Create a Story Bible

Ciao, amici. Lately, I’ve been in planning mode. I’m one book into a five-book series, and if you’ve ever written a series, you know there’s a lot to keep track of and a lot to plan.

The best way to keep track of everything is to create a story bible.

I do most of my writing in Scrivener, but I tend to plan in notebooks or Word. You can make your plans anywhere that works for you, but I suggest eventually you consolidate everything into a master file and keep it in or as close to your master document as possible.

So, what goes into a series story bible?

  • Series Premise
  • Character Sheets
  • Setting Descriptions
  • Book Outlines
  • Blurbs

Series Premise

There’s no point in starting a series if you don’t have an idea of what you want to accomplish in it. There needs to be a reason this isn’t a stand-alone book, a premise that will take you from the first word in the first book to the last word in the last. In the Lord of the Rings, it was getting the ring from the Shire to Mordor to destroy it and defeat Sauron. In Harry Potter, it was to defeat Voldemort once and for all. The point is to step back and look at the big picture, not to look at what needs to happen in each story.

Character Sheets

You can’t have a story without characters. And every writer knows, the bigger the cast, the harder it is to keep track of everyone. How many times have you been reading a book to find the hero’s eye color changed or the hero’s hair went from close-cropped to licking his collar? I’ve done it in my own work, but at least I caught it before going to press. Some authors aren’t so lucky. Character sheets let you keep track of the details.

Setting Descriptions

Just like characters, settings need to be kept track of. Whether your focus is on cities (did you make Franklin east or west of Pottsburg?) or on rooms (was the kitchen flooring hardwood or tile?), you should take a moment to track these things. Readers seem to have a better sense of our worlds than we do, and they will notice if you get a detail wrong.

Book Outlines

Those of you who are pantsers have been on the fence to this point. Now, you’re ready to rebel. I get it. And I don’t believe in insisting that an author needs to do something in a certain way. If you don’t outline, then by all means, skip this step. You might want to write a sentence or two, though. Just in case. If J.K. Rowling confused the order of books three and four, she’d have had all kinds of plot problems. The longer your series is, the more it makes sense to have something that reminds you of what each book needs to accomplish. (And I know some of you think it’s not possible to lose track of what needs to happen where in your own series. Trust me, it is possible. I’ve done it.)

Blurbs

Sooner or later, you’re going to need a blurb for each book. If you keep them all in your story binder, you can make sure they all follow a similar pattern and you won’t have to look through dozens of files or visit different webpages/sites to find and copy it for promotions.


See, story bibles aren’t difficult to assemble, and you pretty much need all this stuff, anyway. In the coming weeks, we’ll go into each of these in more detail. When you’re writing or planning a marketing push, you’ll be glad you have everything in one place.

Staci Troilo Bio

55 thoughts on “How to Create a Story Bible

  1. Pingback: An Example for Building Your Story Bible | Story Empire

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  4. I could never have written my five-book series without my story bible(s). I used composition books (one for each novel), and they helped me keep everything consistent. I was able to keep my characters true to who they were from the first book. I can only imagine the amount of errors I would have made had I not been able to go back and review my previous notes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s something nice (maybe nostalgic, maybe it’s a matter of convenience) about notebooks. My only complaint is having to copy a lot of the data each time (like character and setting sheets) or having to refer to multiple books.

      Either way, though, I’d be lost without a story bible. You did a great job with yours. Your characters and settings were consistent throughout, and there was a definite overarching plot that meshed beautifully with your well-developed plots per story.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Staci. ๐Ÿ™‚ And I agree… The constant copying of important information from one book to another was a pain, but it also helped me to remember what I had already written. Since I always forget things, it worked in my favor. Lol! ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

      • Repetition is a great way to remember things. It might benefit me, if I had the time.

        At the end of the day, we all have to do what works for us. Clearly you found a great strategy for yourself. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. Great post, Staci!
    It’s so easy to lose track of what you’re writing, even with a simpler standalone project (and end up like me, with a nine days week). I can’t start to imagine how planning a series would be.
    However, I’ll have to dive into it soon! As soon as I publish my book, I want (I need) to start working on something else, and the project I have in mind is at least a trilogy.
    I absolutely love the outlining process and the freedom it gives me to explore many different paths, but condensing it in a coherent outline can be tricky. Your checklist of what should go into a story Bible will come in handy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of people think outlining is restrictive. I happen to agree with you. It is freeing and fun and I enjoy writing them.

      I’ll be exploring all the topics of the story bible in more detail in the coming weeks. Maybe you’ll find some of those posts helpful as you prepare for your trilogy. Wishing you all the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post. I’ve never written a series with an overall story arc. Mine have always shared a common setting and characters, but each book tells its own story. So I found this really interesting. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels so much. The overall story arc just grew trickier and trickier to achieve so the tension built and built. Good luck with your series!

    Liked by 1 person

    • While your Jazzi series are all stand-alones, it could easily have become an overall story arc kind of series. The question of what happened to her aunt could have been stretched over several books, allowing her to learn a clue here and there as she solved the more immediate pressing mysteries. Another option would have been to have Ansel’s ex be involved in a murder in town that goes unsolved for several books, each time making her more and more of an issue for the investigation and the new couple.Creating this kind of series isn’t difficult when you’re working with the same characters, which you do beautifully. Even though you have stand-alones, the characters are growing and changing, so you clearly understand character arcs. It’s just a matter of taking what you know about the plot progression of a mystery and spanning several books with it rather than one, while also dealing with your current mystery.

      I’ll be discussing all the parts of the story bible in greater detail in the coming weeks. The outline part may be of help to you with this. But given you’re dealing with the same characters and settings in this series, the other parts would be useful to you, anyway. (I’d hate to see Ansel’s lawn-mowing obsession go away.)

      Thanks for the good wishes on my current series. Wishing you the same with your WIP.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m a strong believer in Story Bibles. And the more series I write, the more details I add. I’m all about character sheets (even for minor characters), and setting details. I have a separate notebook for every book I write, and a binder for each series where my the hodgepodge of info from my notebooks is fleshed out in a more orderly fashion.The notebooks are for scribbling, brainstorming, making diagrams of streets, houses, and towns (yes, I do floor plans and road maps). Then eventually all of that mess is organized and placed in a more concise order for the binders. Sounds like a lot of detail for a plantser, doesn’t it? On my current project, I even have past and present timelines. And yet, somehow I never know the complete flow of the story from A to Z. I do however, love building my bibles and adding to them as I work.

    Loved this post, Staci!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Great pointers, Staci, thanks! I haven’t tried Scrivener yet (I know, I know ๐Ÿ™‚ ) but do love OneNote for all my book info. I start a file for each one, then add background, blurb and excerpt pages. If I’m writing a series, I carry info from the previous book forward so that I keep the storyline rolling. I’ve also started adding a time period at the top of the background page- spring, fall, whatever.
    It’s not the most organized, lol, but works for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scrivener allows for the creation of fiction in parts. Some people would do a novel in parts or acts, but you can do your series that way, with each book being a different part. You’d just have to run your compile a bit differently. But it would save you from copying data (like characters and settings) from file to file.

      No matter how you choose to compose, though, it is a good idea to keep track of all this stuff. I haven’t played with OneNote, but it’s interesting to me to know that’s how you keep track of things.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Sound advice for writing a series or even a stand alone! I keep notes on characters and update them as I go. I like the idea of all the informational being in one place! I have Scribner but have yet to use it. I keep learning about it though so I can jump in at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I am a huge fan of the story bible. I would be lost without it. I keep places, characters, and notes in mine. And, I have used an actual notebook at times as well. You never know where you are that you may get inspired and you don’t always have your writing software. Excellent post, Staci.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You can retroactively turn a stand-alone into a series. I’ve done it. Many people don’t know this, but the Cathedral Lake series was only supposed to be Type and Cross. But the book was so well received and I found the characters had more to give and say and do, so I continued for two more books. If you work hard after the fact to keep from having continuity issues, you’ll be fine. People will never know it wasn’t planned. The most important thing is to avoid having to retcon to explain away earlier choices. That’s where the story bible will really help. And you can make one after the fact.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I can attest to forgetting things about characters and events when writing a series. You have no idea how many times I’ve had to go back and look at things that happened in book one, book two, etc. I keep character sheets on all my main characters. However, I wished I’d at least kept a list of character names if for no other reason to make sure I don’t name another character something similar. As I’ll soon prepare for a new series, I bought a Moleskine journal to use for notes, ideas, brainstorming, etc. I’ll still do character and setting sheets in Scrivener as well as my (brief, you know me!) outline. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brief notes are all that’s necessary. I’ve heard of authors who keep character bibles. Their character “sheets” are almost books themselves. I don’t need to do that. I know who my characters are. What I don’t always remember is how I described them or when their birthdays are or if I gave two of them the same quirk. In subsequent posts, I go into more detail on the parts of the story bible, and you’ll see exactly how brief my notes can be.

      I think having a journal is a great idea. I’m pretty sure you engage a different part of your brain when you write versus when you type. I think that’s why I’m most successful when my first planning efforts are with pen and paper rather than with my laptop.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I use Scrivener’s character sheet template. I heard of some authors who go into exhausting details for each character. As long as I have basic info (including quirky habits, mannerisms, etc.) I’m good to go. I do plan to go back and keep a list of minor character names. You never know, a “minor” character could become a “major” player in a future novel. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

      • I created my own character sheet for Scrivener. The one they have is good, but I focus on different things. I’ll be including my barest-bones character sheet when I discuss characters in more detail.

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