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What is a Story Bible and Do You Need One?
Anyone who writes a novel should make notes, or a character might begin with long fair hair and end with it brown and curly!
Where a Story Bible becomes essential is when you are writing a series of novels. The “cast” increases, and the characters age, marry, have children… grandchildren – the list of possibilities is endless. Even if you kill one, they’ll be remembered by others, as they are in real life, so if Grandpa’s hobby was model trains your Story Bible will ensure he doesn’t posthumously begin collecting stamps. Readers have good memories, and there are those who’d knock off a star, especially if your error were more serious, like misspelling a name.
A Story Bible comprises two parts – characters and settings unless you decide to add facts about the ongoing plot.
Age – birthday – you need to know because the month can change age by almost a year. If the novel is contemporary, stating 20XX or 19XX will date it. Use March the sixth or November the fourth for example.
Height – in whatever measurement you use, but remember children grow, and babies must change within reasonable parameters.
Weight (it’s unlikely you’ll write it in numbers though you can in the Story Bible) Note – slender, curvy, has a paunch, gym-fit abs etc.
Ethnicity – ensure names fit, even if the person was born in, for example, the USA. An Asian person might well have a name popular in America: what he or she won’t have is a blatantly Jewish name.
Skin – color must match ethnicity, but “white” is only applicable if the character is terrified. Enter tanned, freckled, expertly/carelessly made-up – these aren’t rules set in stone; they’re author reminders.
Hair color. The choice is much wider, and it’s a good idea to vary it for your main characters.
Dress – formal, informal, flamboyant, scruffy, sexy, demure. All of these can depend on the person’s work and income, or lack of it.
Car. This one is often overlooked, and yet it says so much. Who do you see driving a Maserati Gran Turismo? Not the same person who needs a Land Rover Defender or opts for a city runabout. Poverty is easy, but if you use an old car rather than a cheap one, check if it was available in the color. Colors are important. Red, or any bright color with flashes, indicates a character who likes to be noticed. Black can be menacing – grey, boring, or secretive.
Settings can be restricted to a house and its location if that is where most of the action takes place. If you use more, make detailed notes of each.
Writers of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Paranormal, and like genres may find “settings” more detailed than “characters”. Everything must remain the same throughout the series unless drama changes it. If your aliens couldn’t fly in the first book, they mustn’t in subsequent books. If you use an alternative universe for your human space travelers, they can’t suddenly “pass Mars”.
Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Sarah Stuart