Thursday, December 08, 2011

Creating a Story Bible

File this post under “Lessons Learned the Hard Way.”

When I started writing my first novel in the winter of 2008 and spring of 2009, I was just amusing myself, really. It was an exercise to try and rid myself of post-traumatic stress left over from Hurricane Katrina and severe homesickness for New Orleans, which I’d recently moved away from after almost fifteen years.

To condense a long, boring story, after a journalism career during which I pronounced several times that I had no ability or interest in writing fiction, I got the bug. Never say never. In July came the agent, and in the fall came the first contract. By that time, I’d finished with the second book, which also sold.

So, here I am at book three, and I’m almost three years older, if not wiser. And I find myself thinking: Wait, did (heroine) DJ use spellcast rubies or emeralds in the first book when she did the transport charm? What was that wizard’s name she met briefly at the morgue? What were the words she used when she summoned the undead Marie Laveau from the Beyond? Did she have to put blood on her summoning circle, or just place candles around it? What color were the candles?

Looking up all that stuff, I realized, was going to take for-evah. So I did something I should have done three years ago: started creating a Story Bible. Or, more accurately, hired a former student intern to read Royal Street and River Road and make a Story Bible for me. 

If you’re not writing a paranormal, some of these areas won’t apply, but here are the things I asked my intern to make note of:

--Each character, along with a physical description, physical quirks, specific words used in description (i.e., “eyes the color of dark chocolate”), likes/dislikes, family members, hometowns, type of species (wizard, shapeshifter, etc.), cars they drive, nicknames, and in which book/scene they first appear.

--Specific places mentioned: restaurant names, what they eat, places they have meetings, location of homes and offices. Physical layout/décor descriptions of places (i.e., layout of DJ’s house, layout of Napoleon House restaurant/bar, layout of Green Gator bar).

--Species traits. Quirks/abilities of species: wizards, varmpires, elves, fae, water species (merpeople, nymphs, naiads), shapeshifters, were-critters besides loup-garou, loup-garou, historical undead and difference between them and zombies, ghouls and ghosts.

--Worldbuilding. Magical hierarchy and skills/duties.

--Magic. Charms and potions DJ uses, and what she does/what ingredients she uses. Book and MSS page number where used.

Once my new Story Bible for the Sentinels of New Orleans series is complete, I’ll go in and insert photos of places, diagrams of house layouts and places—even characters if I’ve based them physically on an actor or actress.

So now, as I write Elysian Fields, to avoid stopping and looking up stuff from previous books, I’m plugging in the word ALBATROSS for every hole. That way, I don’t get slowed down in my first draft. Then, on second draft, I’ll do a search for ALBATROSS and fill in the holes using my handy-dandy Story Bible (Sarah—finish that thing!).

An example:
“It was a good sign. I’d met ALBATROSS during a harebrained foray to the temporary morgue that had been set up after Katrina.”

“Seven p.m. had barely come and gone, yet the line of people waiting to get into L’Amour Sauvage already stretched down ALBATROSS Street…”

If I had done the Story Bible from the outset, this would not be necessary. Doh.

Are you writing a series or shared-universe books? Story Bible. Really. Just do it. And if you do it, or a version of it, what’s your method? 


JoAnn said...

Wow! That is awesome! I'm so jealous of your intern. :-)

Carla Swafford said...

That can apply to almost any book I think. I forget what type of gun my heroine likes. Heck, I forget their eye color. I'm presently writing book number eleven.

So after a while you forget who did what with what and what are their tics? How many heroes have the tic of combing their hair back with their fingers when they're stressed? Answer: LOTS.

For every book, I have a file called by the title with "history" at the end. Everything goes into it. Hair color, present age, age when major events happened, eye color, tattoos, scars, quirks, etc. Plus deleted scenes and dialog. Diary of # of pages written each day. Notes (in red) of things I need to change before sending to CPs. Beat sheet. Pitch/back blurb. And so on.

Carla Swafford said...

OH! I'm with JoAnn. I'm jealous of the intern. Cool.

Suzanne Johnson said...

LOL. I hope the intern thinks she's so lucky :-) Sounds like you have a great system down, Carla. Do you keep that file as you're writing/editing, or put it together after the fact but before moving to another book?

Carla Swafford said...

I write the tidbits in the history file along the way. Helps to keep the hero's eyes from change color half way through. :-)

Both files (WIP and history) remain open as I write. Then I switch between the two as things come up.

Louisa Cornell said...

I keep one of these for every book. I have a binder for each one. I have photos of my image of my heroine and hero, at least, and sometimes even of other characters. I have a list of characters. I have a timeline. I have diagrams of house plans. I have photos of houses, rooms. I have character studies, lists of hero and heroines fears, conflicts, etc. Anything I think might help I put in the notebook.

Lexi said...

Help! Where can I get an intern???