With NaNoWriMo a little under two weeks away, now is usually about the time I start thinking about which story I’m going to have a bash at telling. I’m kind of a mix between a planner and a panster, to be honest. I always like to start out with a plan (however basic and vague it might be), though plots and characters often end up changing dramatically as I write. But as I get started with my own prep, today I thought I’d share with you a template for my version of a ‘story bible’.
Traditionally, Story Bibles are created for people who write for television. They’re designed to be a kind of lexicon for the fictional universe the series is set in, to make it easier for writing teams and guest writers to quickly get a feel for the world and backgrounds of the characters etc. It’s basically a massive reference tool and ever since having to produce once myself, I’ve found them an invaluable resource when writing any type of fiction.
Below is an outline for the one I use when brainstorming novel ideas. It’s a collection of sections that I usually put in a giant document (normally Google.docs, simply for the ease in which it will let me insert lots of different forms of media) and mess about with until I’m left with a pretty good idea about my world and the plot of the story. It’s a big mix of things I’ve taken from a lot of the methods I’ve encountered while trying to get a handle on this whole ‘become a novelist’ thing. It works pretty well for me, so I hope some of you will find it useful too!
Story Bible: [Title]
[Do you have any images, a front cover, video or other kind of media that inspired this story? Put it here! Something that sums up your central theme or idea is always good – it’ll help ground/focus you from the moment you open the document.]
[In this section – write about the universe your story takes place in. NOT THE PLOT (that comes later). Talk about the people, geography and history of this place. As much or as little detail as you want at first.]
[What can and can’t happen in your universe. Even the highest forms of magic in fantasy have limitations! Eg. if writing science fiction, think about the technologies your characters have access to and what they don’t.]
[Here write NO MORE THAN TWO paragraphs describing the entire outline of your story. Imagine the back cover of your book; you need to briefly tell a potential reader what happens, without spoiling anything. Make it punchy and interesting.]
[Okay, here you can go nuts. Outline your entire plot, from beginning to end, including subplots. This can be as many pages as you need. Tell the story.]
[These character sheets are pretty basic, which personally I like, but can be replaced with whatever you might normally use. Try to put the characters in order of story importance.]
Character Name –
[Time for the breakdown! Split your plot into chapters and give a brief description of what happens in each. Below is a c/p of the first few from my story bible on Underground, as an example.]
Departure – In a classroom in a small English town, Millie Cross is learning about the apostles. Her world is normal, plain and grey… Until she later finds her parents covered in blood in the middle of the night.
Carriages – The train Millie steps onto is packed and swaying with every turn, but its other occupants won’t even glance her way. She explores as they make a slow descent to a place Millie can’t even see out the window – there’s nothing but black. “Where am I?” “Somewhere else.”
Arrival – The other passengers disembark, but Millie is ignored by the monsters who roam the station. She is living, out of place and they want nothing to do with her. Aidan argues with the driver, who leaves them stranded together on the empty platform.
[Here’s where you can put little bits and pieces that don’t fit anywhere else in the bible. Odd bits of dialogue, a scene that got cut but you want to keep for reference. Rules that don’t apply anymore. Anything really!]
[Optional, but I like to keep a list of links/a playlist of music that gets me into the flow of the text when I’m writing. Some characters might have a certain song or a city might have an instrumental piece associated with it. Sometimes keeping a playlist helps if you need to break a block etc.]
So there you have it, a story bible to get help jump-start your novel this month. Just remember, none of what you put into it is set in stone, let the bible grow and change as your story does!
If you happen to be a planner, why not give writing one a try as part of your preparations for NaNo! And if you’re a panster? Well, you can always write it next month as you go! Make sure to leave me a comment if you plan on using the template, I’d love to hear how you get on with it. And if anyone has any ideas for more sections give me a shout too!