Friday, October 7, 2011

Is Your Stuff in A Pile?

Marne and I are both working on new projects. Marne started the third book of “The Fae Dragon Chronicles". I’m working on a whole new project, which blends the old west, (my first love) and a little fantasy (my second love).

We’re both excited, motivated and diligently writing. Yay.

Normally Marne has a canvas bag sitting next to her computer when she writes. The bag holds notebooks, three rings binders, sticky notes, bits of get the idea. Her filing cabinet full of information regarding her stories. Character sketches, tidbits about her world and the creatures and people who live in it.

Me, I’m more of a electronic person. I don’t have a canvas bag, but I have a pile of thumb drives. Sometimes I pick them all up and play with them. They click together very nicely, kind of like dice. It’s a sensory thing.

Each thumb drive holds various files and folders, (and, truth be told, various versions of the same files). I pretend my thumb drives are color coded.

The blue one holds notes and research.
The black one, versions one and two (and maybe three and four) of my manuscript.
The red one submissions and feedback from critique group.
The other black one (with the little plastic cap) contains ideas for future work, brainstorming, and things. I don’t exactly remember what.
The purple one backs up the black one, because you should always have several backups, right?
The pink one with flowers, well it holds backups of personal stuff and important spreadsheets.
The red one with the black skulls doesn’t work any longer, but I’m afraid to throw it away. I don’t remember what’s on it.
You get the idea...Marne’s canvas bag on disc.

Unlike my brilliant husband, who doesn’t seem to need a story bible, my memory sucks. Between Marne and I, we’ve written more than a few manuscripts over the years and there are times I remember more about her characters than I do my own.

We were both spending too much time looking for information.

I don’t remember who first realized we needed story bibles. I’m pretty sure I was first to create my computer file, complete with an index and page references. However, Marne’s memory is much better than mine and she says her “big” three ring bible, with tabs and a written index, came into creation first.

Regardless, we are both stoked. We are organized!!!!

And, we’ve fed off of each other. Marne now has an electronic story bible, but I secretly covet that very cool binder that has a plastic pocket with colored pens and highlighters. When she isn’t watching, I run my fingers along the tabs, flip through the pages and doodle with her pens. What writer doesn’t love office supplies?

Our story bibles have morphed from mere information dumps, into the structure of our worlds. We can click on a highlighted page number and add to the paragraph explaining the rules of our world’s magic; with the push of a button, we are re-analyzing our villian's GMCs; in seconds we’re able to read what we wrote last month about our protagonist’s culture. And now when I can’t remember if my heroine’s eyes are sea-green or sky-blue (I am a romance writer, after all), it just takes a click of my mouse to find out.

Dang we’re good. Sometimes it just takes two heads to figure it all out.

What about you? Do you use a story bible. If so, how did you develop it? What’s in it?

If not, how do you keep all that info in a pile and accessible? Maybe you just have a better memory than I do. It wouldn’t be hard, cuz like I said, mine sucks.

Just as important, do you have critique partners and writing friends to help you solve problems?

I have a world to create, as well as creatures, religions and, of course, the characters.

All I needed was a story bible.


  1. I have a story bible. It's a file that holds the Hero's Journey worksheet I made to work out the story line, character weaknesses and hopes, arc, all that stuff. I also keep notes about other character names and descriptions so they don't turn blonde after five chapters of black as coal hair. I list world features like landmark, flora, fauna, food, etc. I also often create a spreadsheet with timelines and stuff on it to myself straight.

    I admit that I like the idea of being as organized as you guys. Mine are roughly organized into areas. But I'm afraid that any more organized and it becomes a way to avoid working. I see your point, it seem marvelous to click buttons and have info at your fingertips. I just know that details are like candy to me and I love a good organizational fling. I see, though, that it could become a time sink that I need for work.

    Good post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Wow, you are so organized! I used to be a long time ago, but not anymore. I'm one of those white heat writers who blazes through a project and collects research/character notes/plot points as I move along. I do keep a bible of sorts, but it's kind of a hodge podge of who's who, and a description of the charms, spells and curses I've invented. I'm so impressed by how thorough you are. :)

  3. Not that I'm the least bit geeky, but I used to keep everything in a SQL Server database of my own design... then I discovered magic!

    I'm using yWriter (a free program) to keep all of my scene, chapter, character, location, and special items (like Patrick Donleavy's TAG Heuer Monaco wrist watch, which suffered a broken crystal in the opening of Heaven's Lower East Side). I have a yWriter file for each project, but I can import and export all of the above between projects.

    I use iThoughts mindmaps for all the basic concept and logistical work and an Index Card app for scene study and sequencing. The iThoughts data can also export to FreeMind on my laptop, netbook, and desktop.

    Due to the integration and complexity of my projects I also use a couple of Wikis and some storyboarding toys to keep everything synched and organized.

    Used to use Open Project but now I use the Task Pro app, much easier since I'm the only resource.

    In regard to organization and timelines, I used to used a multi-user web calendar with a view for each character, but yWriter takes card of a lot of that by managing time and elapsed time in scene details.

    Last year, I put in all white surfaced storage cabinets so I could cover them all with colored Post-its.... Now I don't have to do that, and my stuff is with me ALL the time.

    I paid $1.99 for iThoughts. Everything else was free.

    B^) Whew!


  4. I'm with Marne, only my canvas bag is a three-ring binder with tabs for characters, scene ideas, research, etc. It'll be a drag if my house burns down, but otherwise it's the way my brain works around organizing.
    Good luck on your new work, it sounds exciting.

  5. Thea - our bibles are WIPs, just like our manuscripts. In other words we are not completely organized. It's an organic process that happens as we write. However, because Marne has already written two books, she's spending a little time getting some of that stuff that's already written in the first two books, down in her bible.

    Karen - I write much the same way and I think Marne does as well. We each spent a couple hours getting the bibles set up as Word files, using a table of contents and references and now we have them open while we write to refer to and add to as needed. Now that it's set up, we don't spend much time on the bible itself and we spend a lot less time looking for things. It seems to be working pretty well.

    Ron - no not a geek at all. LOL. I love it. When I have time, I'm dissecting your post and trying it out. Sounds like an interesting and useful concept. Just know, when I do that, I might be hollering at you for more information.

    Chris - gotta love those office supplies. I can't give them up altogether. My 22 year old son, whose is in his fourth year of college, wants to be a writer and is taking hard English and writing classes, says he is a semi neo-luddite. He has to live in the electronic age, but he hates it. It scares him. He tells me that when the world falls apart and the electricity and internet go down, he will still have his books and notebooks. I will only have a dead Kindle and dark computers. LOL

    This also means that every time he has computer issues, it takes up more of my time than his.

  6. Wow, Vicki, I would never have thought of thumb drives.
    I keep files in my NOVEL TITLE file: CAST, PATCHES, WAR OF THE ROSES TIMELINE, FASHION, VOCAB, stuff like that. I'm on the 4th of my historical romance series, and find it cumbersome to guess in which book I discovered that really effective medieval curse. Because of that, now I need to pull those special files out, consolidate them, and make them general files in their own hierarchy.

    I roll my thumb drives over into larger-capacity thumb drives, and save them all, just in case one becomes defective. The ol' "back up, back up" mantra. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Story Bible? Boy, there's more to this writing stuff than I thought.

    I guess I'll give the story bible thing a try because I have had to go rooting around my manuscript once or twice.

    Good post, Honey

  8. I use a story bible. My favorites are in a moleskin with no lines so I can tape stuff down, draw, and write on the pages at all angles. Most of the stuff makes no sense to anyone but me. I write two series so I can't keep all that in my head.

    I just had a pic of a page on my tumblr feed:

  9. When I first began to write I had a word processor that used floppy disk. I backed up ideas and information to multi-colored disk. Now I use a word doc on my computer and when that story is in use I can open them all if need be. When not in use, I store them on a flash drive so my computer doesn't crash. Hopefully, I won't lose anything, that would be a nightmare.
    Great post.
    N. R. Williams, Fantasy Author

  10. I used to do the binder bible, but I now use a computer program to keep track of things like character sheets, settings details, things of note, etc. I also keep a composition book for each book project in which I can jot notes wherever I am or stick napkins and other paraphernalia I've used to write notes. Such a great help to just be able to hop onto another tab in the program and have what I was writing auto-saved!

  11. Back when I tried out outlining and plotting and all that I had a HUGE 3-ring binder with tabs for characters, plotlines, research, miscellaneous stuff, etc. But it didn't work out because I'm a seat of the pantser. Once my first draft is done, though, I'll go back and create my story bible.

    My un-backed up thumbdrive was stolen (along with my computer, iPod and purse) out of my car in June so I don't rely on those puppies anymore. I use Dropbox. Everything is accessible from anywhere you have an internet connection. Or if you have it installed on your computer you don't need the internet (except to upload and refresh the files across the board). It's cloud computing and it's awesome. :)

  12. Claire - I've had the same experience. Spent hours outlining when I started a new project, just to find out that, as my characters developed on the page, they weren't so interested in following my plan.

    I don't use my bible to outline, just a repository of facts, for easy access later.

    My bible is an organic creation. I keep it open and as I write and add to it.

    For instance, recently, as I was writing, my heroine revealed to me...

    (don't ya love how I don't take credit for this, just in case it doesn't work LOL)

    ...some great stuff that is an important part of her belief system. Facts from her people's history and core to their spiritual beliefs and, most importantly, her motivation. Remembering those facts is going to be important. I popped over to my bible, which was minimized, and added those items to the Religion page of my heroine's character profile. Some of it, I just cut and paste.

    Works like a charm.