What is a story bible?
A story bible is a resource that you create for yourself that contains all the information you need to write your novel. It should contain all your facts and figures, names, places, maps, notes so that you can refer to them when writing the story to ensure consistency in your world.
While they can be used for any type of fiction, I think they’re particularly important if you’re world building.
With fantasy or science fiction not set in this world, you are the rule maker and keeper. Without a resource to refer to, it’s easy to get mixed up and write yourself into a plot hole. If you are creating an entire world, there is a lot to consider and a lot to forget along the way.
A story bible can help you keep track of all your ideas and the rules you’ve made for your world.
Ideas for what to include:
Unsure where to get started or what to include? Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Historical events and dates that made the world the way it is
- Maps of countries or cities
- Names of important figures, kings, gods
- Religious origin stories, differing beliefs, rituals
- Cultural norms, society structures & hierarchies
How to make one
First step, get a notebook or a folder on your computer. This is your story bible and nothing else. Don’t put story ideas or drafts in there. This is just for you to keep track of what you’ve built. It is purely practical.
I would recommend that you create the rough draft of your story bible (particularly if it’s on paper). Later, when you’ve decided on things, create a neater version that’s easier to refer to.
There are no rules on layout or formatting. A story bible might never be read by anyone else in the world. It’s entirely for your benefit so I’d say set it out how you want in a way that makes sense to you.
If you’re already been world building and are feeling a bit overwhelmed it’s not too late. A story bible will make everything much easier.
My Story Bible
I started planning my world with a small notebook which quickly turned into a mess. I hate mess, it drives me mad and clogs my brain up. So I quickly decided that I needed a story bible. However, as I’m naturally impatient, I couldn’t wait until the novel/plotting was finished.
Some people write the first draft of the novel and then make their story bible. This is useful because you’ve already decided everything, but how do they finish the novel in the meantime? I have no idea but maybe it’ll work for you.
As I was scribbling all sorts of ideas down, I started to decide on what I liked and wrote it up a little neater in a nice notebook. It’s easier to refer to if it’s all neat and structured, at least it is for me.
I’ve got a thing for stationery that a lot of writers have. My story bible is currently in a Peter Pauper Press notebook which you can find on Amazon. They’re the kind of ones that have a textured front and gold edges so you can stroke the notebook and look a bit weird.
I picked this one for my story bible (neat version). I’m also into fountain pens now and like to pretend I can do cursive. I won’t show you my efforts on that.
Because I am naturally indecisive, I still keep a rough notepad should I come up with a new idea. I did not want to scar the pages of this poor notebook with all my rambling rough notes. So I just got a Pukka pad and I write anything that pops into my head in there. It’s a mess and it’s quickly filling up but it gives me space to work things out.
I will write down several conflicting ideas and seeing it written down usually helps me decide what I’m doing with a particular idea. Then when I’ve decided on something it goes in the neat book.
Story bible sections
This is how I’ve organised my story bible. I have different sections, a contents page and an index.
The Physical World
The Natural World
- Natural resources
- Trade routes
The Fantastic World
- Time system
- The Gods
- Magic system
- World events
- Timelines for each empire/kingdom
- Social hierarchy
- Crime & punishment
- Family structure
- Art & architecture
- Death & Burial
Like I said earlier, there’s no set way of doing it and this is just how it works for me. It doesn’t have to work for anyone else as long as you understand it.
Depending on how big your world is, try to cover as many topics as possible. I try to have an answer for everything even if it never makes it into the story itself. The more detail you can add in, the richer the world will be for the reader and for yourself too.
What works for you? Have you ever made a story bible? What other topics would you recommend? Please share your thoughts below.