Story from the Start: 3 – Story Bible?

Before we go any farther into the stories, let’s stop and review.

We’ve looked at openings, and setting the scene. We’ve outlined some characters, and either hinted at or stated what the conflicts are going to be. We don’t have antagonists/villains yet, or motivations for the Bad Guy/Gal/Thing.

Before you go too far in your work, step back a little. One thing you need, especially for a book or a work in a series, is a Story/Series Bible. You can call it story guide, whatever, but it is a single document with all the important information about characters and settings in it. How detailed and how long depends on you and what you are using to write the story.“But TXRed, what does my computer or notepad have to do with this?”

Ah. Some programs, such as Scriviner, allow you to keep a running character/setting page on the side of the screen, and have functions that make it very easy to set up a character/setting/scene list. Others don’t.

If you are writing a one-off short story, or a book with a limited cast of characters and setting (say, Solaris), then a little tag at the bottom of your page is probably enough, something like this:

From ‘Magic in Darkness”

[Hungarian mage – blind, with Kuvazs Familiar/seeing-eye dog. music – piano tuner and repair man. Wife is secretary of local orchestra and school. Pregnant. Music for spells. Goes to tune piano, curse? Blood-magic? Revenge spell in instrument from Revolution? (100 lb, 30″ at shoulder, female, white double coat with mane, heavy body, ancient hunting and guard breed, not friendly with strangers, protective, sheds a lot ?]

I’ve got my character, a description of Csilla because I keep forgetting, a bit about Maria, and possible options for the mysterious piano problem. Since this is a short story, and since I know in my head what Obuda and Buda Hill look like, this is enough. If you need more setting information, you might include that.

I have a master document for the Familiar Tales series, with all the major characters, locations, and artifacts listed. Each character entry has name, working name (if appropriate) Familiar (if they have one), role in the story, and a bit of physical description. I learned the hard way with the Cat Among Dragons series that I had to keep a list of Azdhag markings, body-shapes, and ranks. Start from the beginning and you won’t have to go back through four books to collect and correct descriptions.

Ahem, where was I? Oh yes.

For a book-length work, you need a longer document. I’m going to include part of the notes page from Daughter of the Pearl, because one of the things I needed was a lot of minor character names. I didn’t use all of them, but I did use a lot. If you are doing cultural names, this becomes really important.



Empress of Yellow Stream: tall, slender, once beautiful with full face. Black eyes. Allied with Zhenniao, she thinks, and bandit leader – her bastard brother. Gamjinjinxi

Prime Minister/ Chief Eunich:



Leesan attributes – water and land, air lost and blocked

Chang – air and water, fire. Dark blue shading to lighter blue.

Zhenniao – land, air, water* gold and crimson

Western King – great cloud dancer with storms for eyes, coral antlers, whiskers of gold, scales of gold, rainbow talons, and water dancing around dais

Mistress Angsan – silver and mother-of-pearl with gold eyes.

Lin – Chang’s master of servants at the palace.

Lingsav – Chang’s older brother, pure fire attributes and is going insane – anger and rapid emotional shifts.

Hengyang – Lingsav’s wife, calm, acts in his place and raises children. Can soothe him, most of the time.

Xishi – one of the sisters, can’t cook to save her life.

Aan – owl servant at trading post.

Hailizhi – beaver master of frontier post. Good observer of the land.

Mistress Tongsat – catfish, owns estate upstream of the city. Haakwan is cousin and lives in palace fishpond.

Tangwu – frog in palace, nephew of Master Waa

Wei – maid possessed by Zhenniao

Chi – old woman of Old Blood.

Some of the names are Chinese, taken from late Tang and early Song Dynasty individuals. The names have meanings, and fit the characters. I don’t have descriptions of Leesan or Chang in this, because I had them on my working document instead, since I referred to them so frequently.

I’m in the process of developing a book-guide for Fifth River. At the moment I have a few names and jobs, nothing more. That will come this week, as I have time to sit and really dig.

One question that comes up is if I’ve ever considered using a spreadsheet program for this sort of thing. I prefer not to. It is easier for me to have two text documents open than a text document and a spreadsheet. No idea why. That’s just me. If your software allows you to keep a side-bar character/description/plot-ideas list, then more power to you. I know what works for me. Whatever works for you, works best. And you may find over time that your needs and options change, and that something new is exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Next Time: Conflicts and character tells – or ways to reveal what a character’s really like.

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Photo: Jessie Tree from Krakow, Poland. Author Photo.

14 thoughts on “Story from the Start: 3 – Story Bible?

  1. I should have started one before I started current WIP. Given recent health issues, I made the critical mistake of going “Oh, I probably won’t finish it, so no point.”

    And then I went and named every capital city a variant of “Landing” in one language or another. And I started having to search for how to spell the names of cities before.

    …and I made a story bible.

    Given my luck, this will be the one where I finally learn to write sequels, and I’m going to have to keep referring to the story bible and cussing why I didn’t do a better job for… years?

  2. Any project that’s more than a standalone short story and I have notes. Boy do I have notes.

  3. “Start from the beginning and you won’t have to go back through four books to collect and correct descriptions.”

    Laughs in disbelief . . . breaks down into tears . . .

    Not really _that_ bad, I do have have lists and genealogies and more lists and . . . but they aren’t organized or all together. I waste a lot of time trying to find the list that has the names and party affiliations of the people who ran for president in 1415 year of the Prophets . . .

    I really need to consolidate it all. Except there’s always something. “Wait, I mentioned the neighbor’s scrawny old cat back three books ago. I’m picturing tabby, but did I ever put anything in print?”

    1. Lee and Miller fairly often have treasure hunts for the fans, where they ask us to find whatever they said about the neighbor’s cat (in fact, either a cat or a dog was a recent question). Some of the fans really love delving through their books to answer those questions. You might give that a try…

      1. *Wry grin* Some of us have fans who do that voluntarily if we post excerpts in advance. “Wait, in Book Two, on page twenty eight, it says . . . ” I love ’em, but sometimes I do twitch for not catching things before other people have to.

  4. One project, way backburnered, I did an actual database for.

    Spreadsheets I can make work for me some, I have a couple on the current project. And, I think, near two dozen text files across two computers. Plus some pen and paper work.

    I’ve experimented with a mind mapping program called FreePlane, and forget if I ever created something in for this project.

    I bit off too big a project for my skill level, have a bunch of questions I need to brainstorm answers to, and don’t have a tool I’ve learned to use for organizing the answers. Which is much more organization, and mental process than need for a software tool.

  5. I always keep a character list but past that I need to discover, in the process, what I need to keep track of.

    1. Reverse outliners write down what they think they need to remember as they go.

  6. Generally I just go back and find out who said what to who in book 3. I did spend a bit of time the other day trying to find out if I’d specified a particular character’s hair style previously.

    1. That’s the point at which I know what other list I need. . .

      I can generally remember the hero/heroine’s traits, but it’s the red-head who was so catty and to whom I DID give a name who slips the memory.

  7. The dedicated ‘pantsers’ (I’m looking at you Dean Wesley Smith and Harvey Stanbrough) keep a ‘reverse outline,’ which is basically a story bible that includes an outline. They just fill it in as they write. I imagine it is very handy on a long story or series.

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