The Novel Bible

I started thinking about my novels’ bibles while reading Whitney Carter’s WorldBuilding Post today. Some good suggestions were in there and I’ve found and incorporated most of them on my own.

The one thing about naming and history conventions for me is to keep track of them. Not just what they’re named, but sometimes, why they’re so named. I keep a separate document for that, and usually have it opened and update it as I’m writing, or at the session’s end. The bible for ‘Long Summer’, sequel to ‘Returnee’, is over 7,000 words. That’s not really big; James Michener used to have binders of information.

More interesting to me is that I’ve learned that I do more research to develop and build the world than I do to write the story. While I will write from forty-five to ninety minutes on an average day (and end up with word counts from one thousand to three thousand words in a session), I spend several hours researching and developing the worlds, characters, settings and situations. This is true not just in science fiction, which is my preferred genre, but in mystery, which I also write.

For example, if someone was born in America in 1975 and the novel takes place in 2015, they’re forty years old. That’s easy. But what music did they listen to while growing up in America? Did they watch television, and what did they watch when they did? What significant historic events happened in their lifetime, and it were they affected? Technology is part of this, something that I remember from a comment my mother made. While she’d traveled across the United States during her lifetime, I flew on a commercial jet when I was eighteen, and she didn’t do so for almost twenty years after my first flight. As we work and live, it’s easy to forget that ubiquitous devices like computers and cell phones are relatively new to human existence. Our civilization and societies are rich with laws, technology and permanent solutions that no longer apply. It’s important for the novel’s honesty and integrity to bear these matters in mind to develop coherent characters and stories.

I like substantial verisimilitude to novels that I read, and I include it in the novels that I write. Some people would say that I put too much in but I love tangent explanations. It’s largely because I think people are complicated. Little is black and white to many. They may state that it’s black and white, and they may act like it’s black and white, but most are offering a sketch insight to their true beliefs. Some of this is driven by people being politically or emotionally sensitive (or the opposite, attempting to be deliberately rude and crude), acting out, or displacement. More often, people struggle to untangle the skeins of history, thinking and emotions. There is also a large contingency of lazy people, and people who are just too tired, worn out, or impatient to figure out what they think, so they take the easiest courses of thoughts and actions.

All of this is recorded, in shorthand, in the novel’s bible. In ‘Long Summer’, as in ‘Returnee’, it’s easy when addressing future Human development. Corporations dominate, so corporate structure and thinking dominate. These are calcified, turgid organizations driven by reducing overhead and increasing profit, crying out, “We are a team,” or, “We are a family,” when they need to encourage hard work and cooperation, shrugging and noting, “We are a business,” when they cut jobs. They’re governed by wealthy people living in bubbles. However, factions who oppose corporations do exist. They cite multiple issues with corporations for their existence as individuals and groups. They’re more challenging to develop.

Even more challenging are the other intelligent races that emerge in ‘Long Summer’. Six races, including another branch of Humanity (seven, if you include Humans that have spread out from Earth), dominate the known and settled galaxies. One of these races is a long gone race. Traces of them are found everywhere but there isn’t any evidence of where they went or why. Such vacuums aren’t acceptable; naturally, theories abound about what happened to them.

All of this is recorded in the novel’s bible. Brief entries are made about the order in which these races encountered one another and their relationships with one another. Two of these races (besides Humans) dominate but the others are written into the script in various manners. All of this is organized and recorded. My bible itself is an organic record, growing and changing shape. It began, as they always do, with a few bullet lists. I always go with what I need for the moment to move forward. As more information and understanding was demanded, I developed a more complex structure to impose order so I can easily find information (what colors was his/her eyes/skin/hair again?) without exploding with frustration.

It’s an odd confession to make as a pantser. Pantser is the term often applied to writers who don’t plan and outline their novels in advance. I prefer the expression ‘organic’ writing, in that you plant the seeds and let it grow. Others call it writing in the dark. That works, too, as your mind’s lights find and illuminate the way.

In a way, I think of this novel writing approach in the same way that journalism works. A story happens: scandal, an explosion, an attack, an arrest. We have the big picture. Details are needed. Motivation and other questions about what, how and why happen arise to be answered. Reporters rush to the scene. Interviews are conducted. Research is accomplished. Investigation are launched, and layers are peeled back.

That’s how I like it. I tried to be a planner. Frankly, I lacked the discipline. My ideas and characters excited me. Scenes and dialogue bloomed, and I was urged to rush right in. And I did.

Whatever works, is my motto. There is the perfect way, the classic way, the artistic way. Mine is an imperfect way, and I’m continually addressing it. Each of must survey and inventory ourselves as writers to learn our strengths and weaknesses and develop our preferences for how we write. And after we write, we learn to edit, revise, polish. Writing is a tangled endeavor.

Now, a quad shot mocha is at hand. Time to write like crazy, one more time. Tauren just encountered the Travail Avresti for the first time. This is an historic moment, the first time that Humans from Earth are facing another intelligent civilization.

I want to know what happens.


2 thoughts on “The Novel Bible

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  1. Thanks for this post–it’s always interesting to peek under the hood of another writer’s method. (Especially since I’m an outliner, so the world of pantsers is strange and scary.)

    I have something like a bible for one series I’m working on–and it has been helpful. (Especially when I collaborated with another author for one story.) It’s not a formal bible, though, so much as a series of notes in Evernote 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jenn. I also enjoy reading about other writers’ processes, trying to clarify what in the world I’m doing and whether it makes any sense. No, the bible has evolved into something formal. That’s the process each time, however; it begins with just one or two lines and then grows.

      Liked by 1 person

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