Earlier this week I started talking about my writing process, and about the “Project Bible” in particular. I thought there might be some interest in learning a little more about what, exactly, my Project Bible is. One thing’s for sure: it’s a mixed metaphor. It’s Holy Writ; it’s an Encyclopedia; it’s the Blueprint; it’s the Framework of the story. It’s something I can check myself against, but it’s also a living document that I can change and modify over time. It’s electronic, which makes it easily searchable. It’s a personal Wikipedia for my book, which makes it easy to interlink.
Here’s what my Project Home Page looks like in the “Book of M” Project Bible:
I’ve got a short preamble about what is contained in the Project Bible, followed by a bulleted list. Each bullet is a link to a main topic-area page, followed by a short description of what may be found on that page. Each page in the Project Bible includes a link back to the project’s Home Page. The bulleted list for “Book of M” includes:
- Idea Journal, where I’ve transcribed handwritten notes from my writing journal that relate specifically to “The Book of M”.
- Story, which is where I put notes about the plot of the book.
- Dramatis Personae, which has a list of characters that appear in “The Book of M”.
- History, which has notes about the history and background of the world.
- Mythology, which has notes about the myths and legends of the world.
- Magic, which is where all the notes about how the magic system work will go.
- Religions, where I write about the belief-systems of the different people.
- Nations, Organizations, and Peoples, which tells about the different groups of people that inhabit this world, and how they’ve divided their society.
- Languages, where I have notes about the languages these people speak.
- Geography, which tells about the physical world and where things are located in relation to each other.
- Glossary, where will go a list of terms unique to this world and their meanings.
- Calendars & Time, where I’ll have notes about how time is reckoned on this world.
- Philosophy & Theme, where I’ll write about “what it all means”, and the themes I’m trying to touch upon in this book.
- Research, which is where any notes on sources of inspiration and research details go.
Right now, almost all of the pages are effectively blank, except “Idea Journal”, “Story”, “Dramatis Personae”, “History”, “Languages”, and “Geography” – and some of those have more than others. “Story”, for instance, currently includes only a link to a page where I’ve transcribed my “30-Second Pitch” for the Book of M – what is basically the short-short-short form of the story outline, highlighting only the very interesting, salient points of the set-up. In all, there are about 7,000 words of notes stored here, which is a small fraction of the total wordcount I expect the Project Bible eventually to consume.
Each of the pages linked from the Main Page also serves as a topic “Category” – and I can tag any new page I write as belonging to any given category, and a link will automagically appear on the corresponding page. “Idea Journal”, for instance, has links to individual pages for each entry I’ve transcribed from my writing journal. Typically, when I write an entry in my journal, I’m writing about once specific aspect of the book, some background history, for instance, or details about a character, so I can easily tag that entry with category marks for those relevant categories. And it’s easy to crosslink to other pages. For instance, if I mention a character’s name in one page, I include a link to the page for that character.
Most of what I’ve written, so far, is in the “Idea Journal” and “Dramatis Personae” sections. For the “Idea Journal” section, I include what I’ve written in my Weekly Wordcount totals when I write it in the journal, but not when I transcribe it into the wiki, which can be days or weeks later. The “Dramatis Personae” section has links to a number of characters, but only two of those character pages have content yet. One is for the main protagonist and one is for a support character and close relative of hers.
Those two character pages have a few things in common. Each has another short preamble where I’ll include any notes about variations on the character’s name. The main character, for instance, primarily goes by a shortened version of her name – and it is under this shortened version that her character page is filed. Whenever I use the longer version of her name in my notes, it will link back here as well. Following that, there is a short list of vital statistics: Age at the start of the story and physical characteristics like skin, hair, and eye color and approximate height and weight. As the story progresses, at various points, these characteristics may change, so I’ll have to come back to this page and figure out a way to easily denote changes in each character’s appearance over the course of the story. After that, I include a narrative of the character’s history up until the start of the story. I intend later to write a first-person-point-of-view version of the narrative, to help me better get inside the character’s head – although I’ll likely only do this for characters with significant “screen”-time. I’ll continue updating the pages for each major character with other notes about changes to the character over the course of the book.
Each of the topic areas will be heavily interlinked, in the end: a character may espouse a certain religious belief, for instance, and so will link to the relevant Religion page, or belong to a certain group, or live in a certain area. This interlinking will allow me, as I write the actual draft, to double-check myself. When a character ends up in some mysterious place populated by a mysterious people, I’ll have at my fingertips relevant notes about what the place looks like, who lives there, what those people believe, and so on. At each point in the story I have access to a living outline that will tell me where I think I’m going and where I’ve been.
That’s what helps me keep things straight when writing a book. It’s what I need to make it work. There’s a lot to it – and I know it won’t be finished before I actually start writing the first draft of the book – it will change and update as I go along. But I need at least the basic framework there before I start: some understanding of all the major characters, the history, and so on. It’s taking me a little while to pin all of these details down, but I have to do it before I’ll have enough material to work with to actually write the story. And that’s where I stand.
My goal would be, in about a month from now, to have enough material saved in my Project Bible to feel confident with writing the first actual words of “The Book of M”.