Something that’s mentioned fairly often but doesn’t get talked about clearly is a story bible/story binder. I’ve loved the idea of having a story binder for a while, and I started making one for House of Mages, but it didn’t really go anywhere. There’s not a lot of guidance for writers who want to make one. Well I went looking back in April and decided to start a story binder for my Camp story, The Heart of the Baenor. It now also holds the notes for The Dark War Trilogy, since they take place on the same planet, and I thought I’d share with you what I included in my story binder in case you’re in the same boat I was in and are wondering what to include in your own.
This is the front of my binder, the cover of which I got from a blog I follow (I’ll link to all of the print-outs I used at the end of the post.) I believe it’s a 1 1/2 inch binder. It was originally the story binder for House of Mages, but I ended up not doing much with that, as mentioned above. Now what was in it from House of Mages is in a much smaller (but, coincidentally, still purple) binder, while this one is actually getting used.
Opening up the binder, you see some random notes and stuff sitting in the front pockets, like a choir announcement that I wrote the ages of my characters on, pictures for character profiles I haven’t put together yet, spare graph paper, a list of characters to make profiles for, etc. The first page is a short synopsis of the story that I wrote while at camp in case anyone asked what my story was about, because I stink at explaining things verbally. It’s kind of a lame synopsis, but it’s only temporary, so oh well.
After that we have the first forty-nine pages of my book, which I printed out so that I could reference back to things if I needed to while writing at camp. It’s about the first seven and a half chapters.
Next I have a prompt envelope. In there I have little tiny, flimsy strips of notebook paper with prompts copied onto them. I recommend that if you use a prompt envelope you put your prompts on something more durable than I did. ;P (Also, I stink at doing fonts freehand, so the font on both sides of the envelope looks really bad.) I got this idea from Alyssa at The Honeydrop Post, and I’ll link to the original post at the end.
Then we have a “novel overview.” It has the title (of the trilogy), the genre, estimated word count, date started (July 1st, if anyone was wondering), and a few other things.
Ah, my favorite part of the whole binder. Characters. I love characters. But I like even more that I feel like this part is pretty, and since I’m not generally very creative or good at visual art, I’m rather happy with that. ^-^
Unfortunately, we can’t jump right into the beautiful section. We have to start with my list of character profile questions. I adapted the list from Life of a Storyteller’s character questionnaire, which I’ll link to at the end.
And we’re still not quite to the pretty part yet. Now we have my character list, which I’ve color-coded according to book. Or rather, what book they’re most prominent in, since a lot of them are seen in at least two if not all three books.
Nissa Quail, the main character of The Shadow Raven (book two in the trilogy). I adopted the basic idea of this page from Alyssa Hollingsworth at her blog of the same name (I’ll link to the post at the end), and changed it to suit my needs. I added in the character’s aesthetic, their Divergent faction, and their top five favorite things to do. I also added, just for The Dark War Trilogy, which book they appear most in. The font on this one looks a lot better than those on my prompts envelope because I traced an actual font. #lifehack. I used graph paper for this, and I really like it because it helps me keep things even, which is nice to look at.
Beyond the character’s cover, which has just a few basic facts, we have the in-depth character profile. Each of mine is an average of ten pages, and it answers the questions on the list above. I do the headings in a certain color depending on the character, which helps it to stand out. Nissa’s favorite color is black, so hers are boring, but Coraline’s, for instance, are metallic blue. Most of them are colored pencil, because that’s what I have, but a few of them (like Nissa’s) are in pen, which I prefer for headings partially because it’s bolder and partially because the point doesn’t get run down and have to be sharpened.
My pretty tabs. ^-^ The main tabs came from the same package that a lot of my print-outs came from, but the patterned ones I made with scrapbook paper I never use and a square hole punch. I folded them over and glued them to the covers of each character and I’m really happy with how they came out.
I would say that the plot section is the one I use the least often, but that’s actually not true for this story. At least not at this point. In most cases, plot would be what I use least, but with overlapping storylines it’s kind of important to know what’s going on. ;)
I looooooove this template for this story. I ended up putting it into a spreadsheet instead so that it’s easier to insert times and extra POV characters, but I wouldn’t have thought to do that if I didn’t have this template. (I’ve blurred out some things to avoid spoiling anything. I’m too excited to share this when it’s ready to give away spoilers now. ;) )
And this section is the reason that the plot section isn’t the least used. I really need to flesh out this section. I have some worldbuilding for this world, but most of it is here on the blog. I keep meaning to print out my worldbuilding project posts and put them in here, but I always forget, so this section is pretty scarce.
This sheet is adapted from a deity worksheet printout from Jessica Cauthon’s blog. In physical form, I colored the headings as with my character worksheets and added in an aesthetic for each. Each of these is only a page long, and I should probably expand them a bit so that I know some more about the gods, like what their symbols are and what their preferred offerings are and stuff. *makes mental note*
These tabs aren’t very pretty. I made them out of file folders and used stencils on the font, so the titles aren’t even and they don’t look pretty. But hey, they do what they’re supposed to.
This is Kaloris’ flag. A lot of people have asked me how I made them, so I’ll answer that here, as well; I traced the emblem and then colored it all in with markers. I’m really happy with how it turned out. I have them for Mandoria and Roenor, too, but I’m keeping those secret for now.
This is the beginning of an info sheet for Kaloris. I haven’t done much with it, as you can see. I actually didn’t copy this one from a printout, I picked the questions after reading Storyworld First by Jill Williams (which I highly recommend. It’s great). The fields on here, since you can’t read them, are “origin of name,” “blessed by” (as in which gods they believe they’re blessed by), “values,” and “education.” I’m haven’t decided yet what else is going to go on there, but eventually it’ll be a lot longer.
Shae-Nir is one of four regions of Kaloris, and I have tabs for two of those four. The third is barely ever talked about (I regularly forget about it, actually, because it’s so unimportant) and the fourth is the bulk of the country, so its info goes under the main Kaloris tab.
Yes, I traced this. No, I don’t have the artistic ability to have drawn that on my own. I said in my notes that one of my characters has a “traitor’s brand,” so I figured I should probably know what that actually looks like. Thus the above drawing.
This is Roenor’s country overview so far, and it’s actually more fleshed out than Kaloris’ at the moment. It has the same four mentioned above, as well as its antagonistic qualities, beautiful qualities, three things I love about it and three things I hate, and its relationship with each of its neighboring countries. The ribbon is on there because I saw it laying around and immediately thought of Roenor, for whatever reason.
It was a massive pain in the neck to staple this thing in. The top staple took me one or two tries, and the bottom took me at least four. But it was worth it for it to look cool. This story binder is basically my creative outlet in visual stuff.
Story Binder Resources
Cover and the majority of the printouts – Ink and Quills. It has a lot more sheets than the ones I used in this binder, too. It has worldbuilding sheets, character sheets, goal trackers, a lot more plot trackers than I used, etc.
Character sheet basis – Alyssa Hollingsworth. Hers has more information on it than mine, so you should check it out and see if it suits your needs better than my adaptation or not.
Prompt envelope origin post – Honeydrop Post. This post actually has more in it than just the prompt envelope, that was just what I latched onto and borrowed.
Character profile questionnaire – Life of a Storyteller. I’m pretty sure I omitted some of these questions when I put together my own list, so I think hers has some “extra” to check out.
Other story binder posts to check out:
Creating a Story Workbook Series: Part 1 – Which Notebook? This is the first of a seven-post story workbook series on Jessica Cauthon’s blog.
Creating a Story Bible: The Basics. This one is another beginning of a series, this one on RJ Blain’s blog.
Creating Your Very Own Story Bible. This one is written by J.M. Butler on Farah Oomerbhoy’s blog.
Have you ever used a story binder? What did you include?
Want the original country templates I use? Sign up to my newsletter to get the download!