Story Bibles

book-863418_1280

Thanks to bensound.com for the intro and outro music!

 

ASK THE AUTHOR: From Curt Croel via Facebook: How do your families influence your writing?

AARON: Good question! We can take this a couple of different ways: 1) In what ways do the people in your family influence the characters you create? 2) In what ways does your family life influence how you see the world and what you write about? 3) In what ways does your family support your writing? Here are my answers in no particular order: My family has always been supportive of my writing, starting with my parents, and then my sisters, and then my wife and children. I’ve been very blessed in that regard. As far as my family influencing the types of characters I put in my books, I’m not sure they really do. I don’t model my characters after people I know. I may eventually do that, but so far, I’ve not reached that pivotal point in my career. In terms of how they affect how I see the world, I’m not sure they do. We tend to share a worldview, and so what I see, they see, typically. However, my sister’s struggles (and her daughters’ struggles) with Chiari Malformation has been somewhat impactful on me as a person, and I insist that I will, at some point in the future, feature a character who has Chiari. Hope that helps.

POPS: There is no doubt that a supportive family can make a difference in the art of the writer. Writing, by its nature, is a solitary affair, so there is little a family can do but provide encourage or give the writer a little space when the work goes sour (which it will from time to time). I never use my family as models for characters. I never use anyone I know as models for characters, although a certain trait might show up in some protagonist. My family (which includes Aaron, of course) has always been supportive. My wife is my first reader. She will see many of the small boo-boos I’m blind to. She also makes note of them because my typos make sense and can be as hilarious as they are humiliating.

Let me flip the question for a moment. The bigger question for the writer is how he or she treats the family. Writers treating families poorly is almost a cliché. It’s a cliché I’d like to see disappear.

MJ: I grew up in a family that loved books. Instead of toys, Mom would give me books as gifts and rewards. I remember wanting to stay in at recess and read or write instead of being on the playground. My family doesn’t influence my writing regarding characters or storylines, but they are all very supportive. In particular my mother and brothers consistently encourage me to keep at it, especially when I’m in the “I quit” mode. Of course, my daughter directly influenced The Unemployment Cookbook because it was the parental desire to provide for her without making her feel we were “poor” that resulted in creative recipes which friends asked for, which led to writing the cookbook.

Firsts in Fiction

Story Bibles

Adam Tourgeman suggested we do a cast on story bibles, so here it is. Truth is, I’m not sure where the term originated or when, but so far as I know “story bibles” are a pretty recent writing fad. The idea is simple: collect all of your thoughts about your project, all of the valuable information that you will need when moving forward. This is something F. Scott Fitzgerald advocated when speaking about writing. He encouraged writers to write down everything they could about their characters, setting, story, etc. and put it in a large file.

POPS: The term “story bible” is shorthand for a collection of notes that keeps the writer on track and consistent in the use of names, places, transportation and more. It can also be a place to make notes about plot devices, changes, etc. In short, it is a self-made reference book for a particular book. In visual storytelling (movies, television shows) the writing team keeps a “show bible” that documents any information that may relate to a future story. X-Files had an extensive show bible. So did Star Trek.

A word about “bible.” This is not a take off of the Bible (Holy Bible). “Bible” simply means book. It comes from the ancient city of Byblos, a city known for the harvesting of reeds and the manufacture of papyrus. In our case, “bible” refers to a book of details used by the writer.

Don’t let the word “book” fool you. I’ve seen writers use photo albums, three-ring binders, or any number of digital apps. It can be as simple as a yellow legal pad. The key is accessibility.

WHAT DID WRITERS DO BEFORE STORY BIBLES BECAME POPULAR?

Good question. I think they still made them. They just called them “files” or “outlines.” The idea is pretty much the same, the only thing that’s changed is the terminology (perhaps to indicate the importance of the supplemental work. The technology has also changed. Some good programs to consider using for your “story bible” would be wikipad, Scrivener, another Microsoft Word Document where you utilize bookmarks, page breaks, etc. to make navigation easier.

MJ: I like paper notes. I’ve always jotted notes, kept a notebook, or accumulated scraps of writing. For me, having documents to look at makes it more real than knowing it’s in some computer file. Putting forth effort to write things out, clip photos, jot notes, is more inspiring and keeps me accountable to working more toward the end goal.

POPS: I’ve tried different approaches. Aaron’s suggestion of Scrivener is a good one, but I don’t use it as much as I thought I would. I’ve used Powerpoint because I could insert photos of characters. If you’re tech savvy, then digital is the way to go. I can enter information in, say OneNote, on my computer and have access to it from my iPads, iPhone, and laptop computer.

Mostly, when writing, I use a stylesheet. I do this because I send it in with the manuscript. A stylesheet is a tool used by professional editors. When I edit, I make one for my client. It has a list of characters, transportation, buildings, etc. I consult it when I write to make sure the spelling is consistent through the book.

 

WHAT PROJECTS NEED A STORY BIBLE?

Some would argue that all projects, regardless of size, need a story bible, though I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to insist flash fiction required it. (Pops: remember, a story bible can be as short as single page, or fill a large binder(s) or even a file drawer.) However, most novella- to novel-sized projects can benefit from the creation of a story bible. The reason is simple: consistency. You want to make sure your character is described consistently from beginning to end. You want to know what happened in earlier chapters without having to spend an hour searching for the proper passage. Obviously, if you’re writing a series, the idea of a “story bible” becomes even more important. Generally, the longer the project, the higher the need for a story bible.

HOW DO YOU MAKE A STORY BIBLE?

From a technological standpoint, you can go low-tech (a notebook), or high-tech (buy a computer program). I’ve already mentioned wikipad and Scrivener. Scrivener is my preference because you can keep the story bible in the same project folder as your novel (or series of novels) for easy reference. I won’t go into details about how to use these programs, but they’re good.

MJ: Two of my friends and editing clients have created story bibles for their projects. They use large, three-ring binders with page protectors and inserts. This allows them to have several resources available at one time, spread over their workspace. Marilyn uses several sub-bibles, as her series is complex and she focuses on the sub-stories.

WHAT SORT OF INFORMATION SHOULD I INCLUDE IN THE STORY BIBLE?

Short answer? Anything that’s relevant. Here’s a quick bullet list:

  • Character information, including:
    • Full name
    • DOB
    • Physical Description (why not add a photo or two?)
    • Brief history/backstory
    • Dreams/fears, etc.
    • (We could take an entire cast on this, and we have, so why not go back through some of our old “character” casts from last year?)
  • Setting (especially important for fantasy and sci-fi)
    • Place names
    • Place descriptions (again, why not include a few photos?) Google maps is great for this. See Pops’ screencast about using this at https://youtu.be/VO6hbY2l6wg. The screencast covers other services of Google that help writers.
    • Economy notes
    • Flora and fauna
    • Brief history, etc.
    • Culture/Religion etc.
  • Important Events
    • Things that happened prior to the course of the novel (or series)
    • Things that may happen after
    • Important events and when they unfold
      • e.g. Chapter 4–Legolas kills Beremor
  • Miscellaneous
    • You can search the web for “character sheets” (or “bios”)  which are anything from twenty simple questions, to pages of details, to help you develop your character.
    • I include sketches and magazine clippings for visual aids. For NOLA, I include foodie photos and articles on architecture. Anything that may remind you or inspire you whether directly or indirectly, can be included.
    • First drafts and edits. They not only show how far you’ve come, but they can also remind you where you want to take the story and of the changes you have made or want to make.

Links to some of our previous podcasts:

Developing Your Character’s Spiritual/Worldview

Getting Physical

World Building

Keeping Research at Your Fingertips

1 Comment on Story Bibles

  1. Mary Langer Thompson | February 1, 2017 at 10:35 am | Reply

    Great discussion. I’m going to organize all my notes into a story bible!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*