Story Bible? What's that? I'm glad you asked. A story bible is the repository of organized details about your story- a reference guide to help keep you on track. Have you ever heard a writer say "I don't take notes, I have it all in my head?" I have, and it's rather alarming, to say the least. While your story is likely "all in your head" it is also most likely a congregate of scattered thought globs that don't really take shape until you start writing. In some ways this is good. It allows you to tap into raw material, and at the start of a story it’s not a bad idea to write with that raw energy. But after you get further In, it can make it really difficult to polish your book without something concrete to refer to.
I'd also like to advise that this is different from a show bible, which while similar to a story bible, is geared towards TV series' and getting producers to continue to invest in your project by you showing them that you have content that can last a minimum of 5 seasons. Lots of the same elements are there but it's far more formal. What this is, is a personal reference guide for you. Now let's talk about the essential parts of it.
1. The Story Bible Itself
The most essential element of a story bible is simply having one. The fact of the matter is that a lot of people don't, and some don't even write anything down outside of chapters or script. Most of the time that's an amateur writer mistake. Eventually they will grow out of it and realize just how important it is that they have, at the very least, notes. Pantsers, you can still have a story bible, even without extensive pre-outlining. The story bible is not an outline, but if you like, you can have an outline as a part of it. What's important is that you are getting your thoughts down on paper so you can free up some of that memory (yes like a computer) for your brain to think up more awesome elements for your story. It works. You just won't know it works if you don't do it. So, get started.
Right beneath your title (which should be at the top in bold letters) you want to write your logline. A logline is a 30 word or less statement that states the protagonist, conflict, and emotional pull of your story. It's short, but it's not always sweet when it comes to execution. A logline usually states the catalyst in the midst of the statement, and takes you directly into the conflict that the main character has to deal with. I plan to write a full article that alone focuses on the Logline, but for now, understand that this is the statement that defines your story and it needs to be well honed. It should be your North Star when you start to get off track.
Examples of great loglines:
Armageddon- “After discovering that a state sized asteroid is going to impact Earth in less than a month, N.A.S.A. recruits a misfit team of deep core drillers to save the planet."*
The Matrix- “A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.”*
This is where you write what your story is about in far more detail. This should state the log line but with more specific details and can last a paragraph or two depending upon the story. This doesn't need to be pretty at first. Remember that your eyes are the only ones on it. However, it does need to be clear. This is what you're going to reference when you need to remind yourself the kind of story you're trying to tell.
Is your world different from the world we live in? What about the society? Cultures? This is where you answer how and why. Go back as far as you can and define the foundation for your world. If you're writing a slice of life in the normal world, the define the history of your main setting and explain that society. This is going to define the context in which you tell this story. A well written history can set perspectives and help to draw motivations and goals of characters or set the tone of the plot in a way that makes sense.
In your actual story there probably shouldn't be an area where you’ll info dump this, but peppering it throughout will give it depth which will only serve to better immerse the reader.
Most writers already have this, and for good reason. If readers aren't in some way intrigued by your characters, then you are already losing out. In order to create compelling characters, you must know them in and out. That means, for each one, especially the protagonist, antagonist and those the support them, you need to have a character sheet.
Start with information like name, job, salary, gender, ethnicity, physical attributes, religious faith (if any) sexuality, etc. Then dive deeper and ask yourself- what are these character's goals, and what motivates them? Does their backstory align with these goals and motivations? This is also where you'd go as far as trivial favorites with foods and clothing style, and anything else that sets them apart. Write these details out and keep them for reference.
Location can be one of things that truly makes your story stand out. Think about Zanarkand in Final Fantasy, or Zion in The Matrix. Think of how there are distinct locations and settings that set these worlds apart. Write about them, their culture, the history. What happened there? What's special about it? There are the questions you want to ask to deepen your story. If you can, draw it out, or hire an artist to draw some of the more important places for you. Sometimes having a visual to reference can help you as you write. Try it out.
8. Magic System
This really applies to fiction. It could apply to non-fiction if we are talking about a world of martial arts or something similar, but in most cases a magic system is the way in which some supernatural force works. This can be something magical, cosmic, or even technological. The Force in Star Wars, or the elements in Avatar: The Last Airbender are examples of magic systems. Well defined magic systems with rules can set context for how powerful characters are in the grand scheme of things. Writing these out will also keep you from breaking your own rules... until it's time to.
9. Broad Plot
Here you can plot your story. If you like to outline, you can put your five or three act structures here. Story beats can also be written out in these sections, and referenced as you write when you start to get lost or off task in your writing. This section isn't completely required, nor does it have to be long-winded, but there will be times when you get ideas for things you may want to happen in your story, but you can't write right at that moment. Write it down here, as a "maybe" path, and then write out other possible paths. This is where you'll direct your story.
This is where everything else goes. Does your book have a special kind of technology? Maybe a brand of vehicle that doesn't exist in the regular world? Names of magic powers, or gangs that control particular regions? As you write you may think up things in the moment that are very good. Write them here and then expand on how those things work, so that when you references those things later or go back for an edit you can better describe what that thing is and what it does. This section should be something like a glossary. Organize it how you like, but alphabetical may be a good start. In any case, this is where you define all of your miscellaneous story details and have it for reference.
*from The Hollywood Suite