This weekend, I finished the basic outline for a new writing project* and am now poking at it and spackling over the holes and adding details where I can. I’ve also scribbled a list of questions I need to ask someone who knows more about the Matlock area of Derbyshire, England, than I do—which up until three weeks ago was probably anyone who reads this—as I’ve decided to set it over 900 miles and an ocean away from where I’m physically located.
I’ve never once made things easy for myself when it comes to writing. It’s a gift, like sky-diving lessons where you have to pack your own ‘chute.
And fly the plane.
But because I occasionally dream of exchanging my gift for a little sanity, this time I’m not only outlining, but have decided to compile a bible for it as I go, which is as new a concept for me as starting with a full outline.
A writing (or series) bible, for those of you who aren’t as obsessed with every aspect of this writing gig as some of us are ( cough),** is a document that keeps track of the pertinent details of all the characters (names, physical descriptions, relationships, hobbies, police records, etc.) the settings (maps, distances, geography, etc.), the laws or rules governing the place,*** any Off-Page stuff that happens, backstory (whether or not you use it), future story (if you’re working on a series and want to lay foundations) and whatever else you think is important to keep in mind as the story unfolds.
According to Nathan Bransford, the stuff you put in your bible depends on the project and your own memory:
If my stories are set on earth in the present day, I don’t need to add a page about gravitational law—though depending on the story, I might want to add a URL or a medical reference that gives information on what damages the human body can suffer if it submits to those laws after someone shoves it off a cliff. And maybe a Googlemap showing the shortest route from Matlock, Derbyshire, to the nearest cliff off which a human body might be shoved. And a note about that body’s eye color, pre-shove, because according to one of the medical references, it might be difficult to tell, afterwards . . . And since the character pages will tell me that the PCSO^ faints at the sight of blood, I know how the s/he is likely to react when my MC calls for help.^^
And so on. It’s your own personal bookwiki that keeps you from searching your whole manuscript—or worse, previous books in a series—for the single sentence in which you think you may have described the nose of the MC’s first cousin, so you know whether it’s likely that s/he won the spoon-hanging contest at the village fete, because you think it was hooked, but maybe it was snub instead, which means she couldn’t be the one who shoved the abovementioned human body off the cliff because of the spoon clutched in the victim’s hand, so you have to start over. Or change her nose. ^^^
Since I have trouble remembering names at the best of times (right, Steve Mike?), I’ve made Excel lists of characters before, but not in great detail—and nothing like this.
It also seems like a good place to keep research facts once they become pertinent to the plot, lest they bury themselves in the reams of research materials I’ll be generating for this one . . .
Memory aid and filing system—who can beat that?
Do you outline? Do you make writing bibles? How was your weekend?
*Not the anti-cupid project—that outline was done last week, but I’m still wrangling the POV and figuring out how much of a ditz the bride should be and if it’s inherent or for reasons. But I do have two songs on the playlist—“King of Anything” and “My Life,” which remains one of the coolest theme songs for one of the oddest successful TV sitcoms ever. A brownie point to the first person who can tell me what it was.
**Or missed that bit in Stephen King’s Misery (the book, not the movie/miniseries) where the MC wishes he had his, because it would make writing for his Number One Fan slightly easier—though for him that’s probably like wishing the metaphorical sharks surrounding his leaking boat had two fewer teeth each.
***This could include anything from Pennsylvania state laws about seat belts or the rules about magic in your created world or the physical ways lasers act in space. Whatever you need to know or remember about whatever needs to stay consistent.
^The websites of the various UK police forces and auxiliary support services are exceptionally user-friendly, by the way.
^^This whole thing is just for example; I’m not planning any murders via impact in this one—though I do have two pages on poisonous shrubbery.
^^^Again, example—and a disturbingly detailed one at that.
16 thoughts on “Writing on a biblical scale?”
So, what you’re saying, then, is if I created a ‘writing bible,’ or even an ‘outline (these foreign words),’ then there’s a chance I might actually be able to capture the elusive ‘plot development.’ Well that’s just nuts.
I don’t know, yet, Lisa—I haven’t written the book. But it would be pretty to think so . . .
This is a wonderful concept, but it seems an awful lot like writing two books. No, seriously I think it sounds great, very orderly and organized. I’d have to work my way up to such a thing, though, as I currently write from the gutter of disorganization and anarchy. 🙂
I’m planning on cutting a pasting most of the details into the bible once they’re written, so it shouldn’t be too much more work—and far less than sorting through a mess every time I need to check something. Theoretically! 🙂
But, yeah, disorganization and anarchy are tough habits to break, not that I’ve ever come close. Maybe this will work . . .
I really love the system outlined in http://www.amazon.com/First-Draft-Days-Karen-Wiesner/dp/1582972966/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370915397&sr=8-1&keywords=first+draft+in+30+days
Sounds interesting! I’ll see if my library has this.
I tried to create a ‘bible’ for someone else’s work. Does that count? (It was mostly because there were so many characters with similar names, and the story started out wide and kept narrowing to get all of the moving parts together, it was really difficult to keep it all straight as a reader.
It totally counts.
Was the novel Russian? I had to do some of that for Crime and Punishment.
I haven’t written a bible, but I’m definitely a born-again outliner. I don’t know why I fought it for so long…
For me it was the sense of creative freedom to not finish a MS . . .
Love this idea! I’m so glad I found a true WRITER’S blog!
I appreciate the compliment, but if you want great writer’s blogs, check out the sidebar! 🙂
I don’t go for too much pre-writing ’cause after a while it feels too much like procrastination. I wanna learn as I go! Don’t get me wrong, I do outline longer stories, but once I get cooking, I let the characters lead me down different paths.
If I may digress… Andy Griffith practiced law in Derbyshire, England? Awesome!
Ahem. I’ll see myself out.
I’m looking at the outline as a trellis for the character ivy, Mike. I’m just hoping to get everyone climbing in the same general direction, How they decide to get to the top (or not) is between them and my subconscious.
The bible isn’t a pre-writing thing, really, it’s a “Okay, so Reggie Curwood’s eyes are blue, better jot that down” memory aid. Because eyes are tricky.
I hear you. Reminders are important.
PS: Ryan says hello!