Writing on a biblical scale?

Too Tired to TypeThis 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:

cliffIf 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.


Reconstruction, compilation, salvation (?)

Last week, I celebrated the first Monday of the new year by pitching my exhausted and tattered 2010 planner in favor of a spiffy purple one with 2011 stamped on the cover.

Today, I celebrated the second Monday of the new year calling various receptionists and office managers to ask when my next appointments are and switching appointments that conflicted with my work schedule.  Because I’d also thrown out the last page of my old planner where I’d carefully jotted down all kinds of important stuff that extended into April.

It occurred to me after I’d recontructed my future that I also jump the gun when it comes to tossing—or saving over—old versions of whatever scene or chapter I’m revising in my WIP.  It probably doesn’t matter for the little stuff—the spelling corrections, word choices, and occasional continuity error—but for the major changes—the plothole spackling, the clue planting, the &$%$& replacement of Chapter Three—it might behoove me to archive.  

Because sometimes cool fixes aren’t and don’t and the plot threads get all tangled up.  A total chapter reset—like the Send folder of an e-mail account wherein lurks Chapter Sixteen—could be a writer’s Get Out of Hell free card.

I do keep a document full of murdered darlings, those snips and snails that don’t quite work where they are but are too full of potential* to delete.  Dating my chapter drafts and sweeping the older ones into a folder won’t take any more time than cutting and pasting those precious little pieces.  And will no doubt be more useful.

Along these lines, another thing I’ve been meaning to try is compiling a bible for my WIP.  The talented and ever-humble Pip Hunn posted a thorough how-to on the Write Thing a month or two ago.  I duly bookmarked it, bought a new binderjust love a venture that gives me an excuse to visit the office supply store—and didn’t think any more about it.**

But it makes more sense to check one place in a file rather than search an entire manuscript when I’ve mentally misplaced a character’s name, height, ice cream preference, or rap sheet. 

Especially since it’s no longer a secret that I’ve got a mind like a steel sieve.

Anyone have any advice or opinions on archiving, backups, or compiling a writing bible?  I promise to take careful notes, as soon as I can lay hands on that binder.   Or maybe I’ll just refer back to the comments. . . .


*At square one, everything’s full of potential.

**Which is a well-timed, if not quite ironic, example of why I might need an auxillary memory.