An Example for Building Your Story Bible

Hi, SE friends! Mae here with you today.

Thanks for joining me as I piggyback on the posts Staci Troilo has been sharing about creating a story bible. Be sure to check out Staci’s post on How to Create a Story Bible, The Series Premise, and Character Sheets. There will be more in her series as well, so stay tuned for future posts.

Spinning back the clock, the first story bible I created was for a standalone book—Weathering Rock—the manuscript that eventually became my debut release. At the time, I had no idea what a story bible was. I just knew I needed a mountain of notes, and pages of information for my research.

Today, I create a story bible for each novel,  some more elaborate than others. A few reside solely on my computer, others live in a notebook, still others get a combination of both. Each one is different in scope, but in the hopes that some of what I’ve done can help others, I thought I’d share the story bible I created for my Point Pleasant series.

First, as a refresher, these are the items Staci recommends including:

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

When I wrote Point Pleasant book one, A Thousand Yesteryears, I wasn’t certain it would develop into a series. I had glimmers of ideas for books two and three, but the initial binder I put together was intended solely for the first novel. When Point Pleasant spawned into a series, I kept the same cover but continued to add information. The original working title for A Thousand Yesteryears was NEGATIVE REACH.

three ring binder with a color image of a film negative strip on front

My Point Pleasant series has three main families—Parrish, Flynn, and Lynch­—who influence the plot throughout all three books. I created characters sheets for each with references that were important to the story. For A Thousand Yesteryears, I needed to know how old each character was at the time of the Silver Bridge collapse in 1967, and their age in my “present” year of 1982. I also added things like cause of death, occupation, hair and eye colors, etc.

If you draft character sheets on your computer, you can modify the category for each book based on your needs. Here’s a look at the sheets for Point Pleasant, along with brief genealogy for my three key families. I also made sheets for secondary characters and the staff for a hotel that is key throughout the books.

Character reference sheets

genealogy trees displayed in color blocks

Next comes my timeline and book outlines for each novel. Believe it or not, panster me actually made detailed outlines for each, but I won’t bore you with a lot of text. My timeline is more photographic. 🙂

Novel timeline sheets

For setting, I included maps obtained in Point Pleasant, plus pages of pics I snapped while visiting the area.  For certain photos, I added text references as noted on the street view below.

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All of the above material gets tucked into the binder, divided with tabs and colored pockets.

Open three ring binder with pockets

Finally, there is a separate notebook for my musings, story ideas and handwritten research notes. For some reason I like to do this part by hand. This is a look at the note books for A Thousand Yesteryears and A Cold Tomorrow.

spiral bound notebooks filled with writing and highlighted passages

A lot of information I include in my story bibles never makes it into my novels, but by investing in so much detail, I invest in my characters who drive my plot. We all work differently, but I find it helpful to see how other authors plan. I often glean ideas from their suggestions.

It’s my hope that I’ve provided some measure of framework to assist in your current WIP or as you plan your next project. For me, the story bible is the foundation from which I build my books. As the story grows, more and more goes into the binder. It’s a catch-all for anything and everything related to the world I’m building.

How important is a story bible to your writing? Do you have any special tricks you use when creating one? Let’s chat in the comments below.

Ready, set, go!

bio box for author, Mae Clair

 

53 thoughts on “An Example for Building Your Story Bible

  1. Love this, Mae! I’m not quite so organized as you, but I use Microsoft OneNote, and have a notebook for each book, where I have tabs for each “chunk” of info, like characters, setting, etc. I modeled it on Karen Wiesner’s “First Draft in 30 Days” workbook, so it has all the stuff, including timelines, summaries, etc. I find lately, though, I’m much more inclined to do the “outline” (which is more of a timeline than an actual outline) by hand. Now to discipline myself into using a notebook for only one story (you know, instead of using any empty pages for other stuff… 😀 )

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like you have a really structured story bible,Julie. I think I looked up Karen’s book before. I’m going to have to check again because I like the idea of an actual workbook (as you can see, LOL).

      With my newest WIP, I started outlining by hand–well, maybe more brainstorming–and when I had something semi-coherent, I started on digital files.

      And I’ve Gott admit, when I’m working away in my notebooks, some times other notes find their way in their too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  3. Wow… you are so an INFJ!! 🙂
    I don’t have THAT much detail in my bibles but a fair amount. The family trees were very impressive. PS – I love A Thousand Yesteryears much better than Negative Reach!

    Like

  4. Mae, thank you so much for sharing! Your attention to detail is outstanding! I can see why your books are so totally awesome! You give 100% of yourself to the story. I haven’t done anything quite this extensive with my characters, but do have astrological signs for them and that helps shape their personalities. I will have to try this on my next project!!

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    • Jan, I think Harmony uses astrological signs to shape character personalities, too. I remember her doing a Story Empire post on it a while back. That’s a great way to reference personality traits.

      This story bible is one of my more extensive ones. I do like creating them because they get me excited about writing the actual books….plus it gives me a lot of material to work with when I sit down to write. I’m glad to hear you’re going to give it a try on your next WIP.

      Thanks, Jan!

      Like

  5. Mae, I have a new-found appreciation for your craft! This is amazing. I’m reading End of Day (finally got my Kindle working again!) and, as in Cusp of Night, I love the dual timelines. Your writing blows me away every time. Cheers to you, my friend! 🙂 Heading back to Hode’s Hill now …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, I’m thrilled to hear you’re reading End of Day, and enjoying the dual timelines (yay for working Kindles, LOL). I have fun creating my story bibles, but the one I did for Hode’s Hill was all digital–aside from my handwritten notes. Those I always have to have in hard copy for some reason

      Many thanks for visiting and commenting. And happy reading! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a lot of planning for a panster:) Thanks for sharing your process with us. I do almost all of my planning by writing it out. Someday, I’d have a lot less papers to sort through if I’d learn to plan more on the computer, but for some reason, writing it by hand helps it gel more in my head. I’m impressed by all of the work you do before you start writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am amazed about the amount of work I put into pre-planning a novel, yet still manage to be clueless about where the plot is headed. I think that’s because I don’t factor out plot points by chapter. If I adapted your method, I’d probably do a lot better when writing. I made a stronger effort with plotting my current WIP from start to finish. I should sit down and work out the threads chapter by chapter. Reading your post the other day has inspired me. Between you and Craig (who storyboards by chapter, I think I should learn a new technique!

      But–like you–I will always hand write my brainstorming points (and research) longhand. I do think that helps everything to gel more!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I use a combination of both hard copy and saved files. I have all kinds of information in my bible as well. And you are right, most of it never saw the light of day, but was necessary to drive build the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like we work a lot alike, Michele!
      And even those things that never make it into the story, go a long way in helping me write the characters, as I’m sure you’ve discovered as well!

      Like

  8. I like make a binder to keep all the information together, Mae. I take notes and have character outlines in one place. I try to keep most of it my head, but I find notes are important.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d be lost without mine, Denise. I’m definitely a note-jotter. It’s just a matter of whether I use paper or add them to my computer these days. I think as long as they’re together and easily accessible you can’t go wrong no matter which avenue you take! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow! You really do create an extensive bible. All my notes are on one page for my stories. Maybe my storyboard is kind of a bible and my notes go on index cards. Even then, I don’t have quite the depth you have. Color me impressed.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I love to handwrite in the preplanning stage, and most especially, any research that I do. Like you said….easier to play with thoughts. I normally have pages and pages with crossed out notes until I’m done, but that’s all part of the creation process, LOL.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Irene!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Mae, this post comes at a perfect time for me because I’m about to begin research and brainstorm a new series. I’ve already purchased a Moleskin journal for brainstorming. I like your idea of putting research notes into a binder.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’m doing a launch for a new series, too, Joan, and am starting to build a new binder. I don’t do a physical book for all of my novels (some story bibles stay on my computer), but I like having the binder and notebook handy as a catchall for everything. I can’t tell you how many times I referred to the binder for Point Pleasant when writing my series. Good luck with your research. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the new series!

      Liked by 2 people

  12. I hate handwriting … mostly because I can’t read my own writing, lol! Thanks for sharing this, Mae. It’s always great to see how other writers do it and learn from them. I do have notes, etc., on my computer, often with folders for each section. Also, Scrivener offers me lots of ways of keeping track by saving webpages from my research, filling in character sheets, and much more. Space is tight at home, so anything I can keep digital is better for me. Sometimes, though, I do think it would be easier to find stuff if it were in the flesh.
    Reblogged this on: https://harmonykent.co.uk/an-example-for-building-your-story-bible/ 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • If I ever take the time to learn Scrivener, I might do less of a physical story bible. Right now some story bibles are only own my computer, but I have a several of the more elaborate ones like above. I’m glad you’ve got a system that works. I still go back and forth between digital and paper depending on how involved the series is. Hode’s Hill is all digital, but my next series is likely to be paper again. And I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point when I don’t write out research and brainstorming notes by hand. I create a notebook for each novel and boy do they get battered, LOL.

      Thanks for the reblogged, Harmony, and happy writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Those pictures are similar to my style. Since my characters age differently after they turn 18, I also had to keep track of when they were born and how old they were when my stories took place. Without my planning sheets, I would have made a mess of the stories. Lol!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. When I first started writing, it didn’t take me long to realise that so much of the writing occurred away from the computer.
    Some writers might be able to ‘just write’ but I need to know so much about them before I can do that.
    I wouldn’t call my scribbled histories a bible, but they sure help to flesh out my characters!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Maybe you’re not creating a story bible, but you’re definitely putting thought into characters, backgrounds, and relationships. I’m like you in that I need to know about my characters before I write that first word. And the more I know, the easier the scenes flow. You are absolutely correct that a huge chunk of writing has so much to do with what occurs before writing “Chapter One!” 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Thank you for sharing your story bible!
    It’s always interesting to see how other writers work.
    I like to write my musings and early plans for WIPs by hand too. I think it’s because while handwriting I have more time to process and play with my thoughts then I have while typing.

    Liked by 3 people

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