Writing Discussion

The Novel Bible: A Useful Tool

The “Novel Bible” is a tool to help you keep track of your plot, settings, and characters.

It’s really just a spreadsheet with columns for chapter, scene, scene summaries, POV, the characters in each scene, the location of each scene, X number of columns for subplots, then a space for notes, and word count.

Here’s what it looks like:

Novel Bible Screen Capture

In this example, I’ve broken down chapter 1 of Alice in Wonderland. I’ve color coded the POV. I also color coded the action: blue indicates sitting around, green indicates suspense, red indicates action, and purple indicates magic.

If you’re interested, I’ve made up a sample you can download here: Series Bible Sample

While I’m writing the first draft, I’ll fill in the Novel Bible with a sentence or two about what happened in each scene. I’ll also make notes about what to add or change as I go along.

So with a quick read of the Novel Bible…

  • I’m reminded what happens in each chapter, and this helps me identify the major plot holes quickly.
  • I can see the POV distribution at a glance: I check if they are spaced adequately, and identify which characters need more scenes, which need less.
  • Color coding the action helps me check the pace of the story: if it’s all red in one place then maybe some of the action needs to be spread out, if it’s all blue, then I better break it up with some suspense or action.
  • I also can see if I’ve tied up all the subplots.

I’ll print out the spreadsheet, cut apart chapters scene by scene, and rearrange it like this. Keeping track of the chapter number and scene number helps me locate each scene in the previous draft quickly. The Novel bible has made going through revisions a little more manageable.

How do you keep track of your novel? I want to know.

14 Comments

  1. Interesting. I’m curious… I saw you mention previously that you use Scrivener. What added functionality does this provide you that you don’t get in Scrivener? Do you use some of the similar tools there simultaneously with this Excel device?

    That said, I’m realizing that it can be very useful to have easily moveable, color-coded and quickly referenced summaries of scenes and chapters, as this would aid greatly in editing the novel for story flow. It would be a pain in the butt if the novel were all in one file, or even if it was broken down by chapter if you don’t have a good summary of the scenes in that chapter somewhere.

    1. Ahh nope, I don’t use scrivener. I did use Liquid Story Binder for the first draft, but switched over to just a single MS Word document for revisions. I’m just using this Excel sheet, and a Word document right now.

      I’ve bookmarked each chapter in Word so that it’s faster to navigate through the file. Scene breaks are generally marked with a # (I think this is standard manuscript format), so at a glance, it’s not that hard to find a particular scene (I have an average of 4 per chapter).

      Hope that helps!

      1. Ahh… I was misremembering this

        Cool.

        I’m actually, as soon as I get a little free time, planning on giving Scrivener for Windows a spin, myself… just a test drive, mind-you, to see if I like it. Plus all those others for Windows… I want to see if I find a tool that I like. But this certainly works, and it has certain advantages over the pre-packaged writing tools, I think.

      2. T.S. Bazelli Author

        I think the biggest advantage is that if I want to work from a different computer I can just stick it on a USB and not worry about file format. Also, I’ll know it’s properly formatted for submissions. I can also keep backups on google docs, so I can work anywhere there’s an internet connection.

        Scrivener for Windows sounds tempting though. I probably won’t try it out just yet, but maybe for the next book. hmm

      3. It does sound tempting, simply since so many writers use it. And I understand that it’s a lightweight program – and can easily fit on be run from a USB.

        But I want to see if it works for me before committing to it on a project.

  2. I get so intimate with my long works that I make all my notes in the text files. I’m pretty liberal with bulletpoints and bolded notes, tossing them into chapters so that I can cross-reference what is linked between page 57 and page 136.

    As I’m composing, I’ll create sheets of bulletpoints with all the necessary plot nodes that will be crossed, deleting or crossing them out as I use them in the text. Then I’ll add more points when I’m not sure if something will gel, which I’ll try to temper as I move from rough to first draft. I also externalize, creating new files and tracking in my paper notebook, charting different elements like subplots. My style is pretty pellmell and wouldn’t translate easily to something as ordered as this software. The color coding is nice, though. Novel Bible free?

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      Wow that sounds complicated. I’m trying to imagine connected nodes and charts. How do you keep track of it all? You’re right, it probably wouldn’t translate well to this method. Yup it’s free, it’s just a spreadsheet I whipped up. You can download it above.

      Once I’m done with the Novel Bible, I’ll cut it up scene by scene, physically start moving things around, and adding notes. I suppose my method of chaos comes out with the scissors 🙂 If I had a big table or enough floorspace, I’d probably take it all up. I do make diagrams sometimes when trying to figure out a particular problem or character.

      1. Part of keeping track in my method is intuition. I spend so many hours of the day pondering the story that I can piece things together with ease, just like a mechanic knows where all the disparate systems go and how they function. Or, so it should be if I do it correctly. But a big slice of my method is only keeping the charts and nodes of distinct things. If elements overlap, I’ll pour them into the general bulletpoints. The charts and nodes work out for subplots that are independent of one another. If they crossover a couple of times, I know exactly where and can futz with placement for optimal impact. If I die, I’d guess my whole archive of unfinished work would look like nonsense to any canny person.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I have a brain like a goldfish. I can’t keep an entire novel in my head at once. I always forget things and get distracted lol. I really wish I could keep track of it just in my mind like you 🙂

  3. Yeah, I can’t handle all this, lol. I just have 1 main Word doc for the story, then my journal or a brainstorming doc for other notes. I have a “bank” doc for sections I delete. And then when I’m ready to do a new draft, I will date the old doc and create a new (date-less) one for the latest version.

    It’s silly, perhaps, but when there becomes too much “stuff” (meta) outside the story for me to think of, I feel very overwhelmed.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I also keep dated revisions – and boy sometimes I’m glad I kept all those old discarded scenes. I’ll find myself dipping back in there when an idea changes.

      Hehe yeah, it’s a struggle not to feel overwhelmed at times.

  4. This is an interesting way to capture it. I can’t tell from your picture whether you use filters/sorts on the top row, but I will probably borrow this idea and use it in that way. By doing that I could select all scenes that were written in Alice’s PoV (bad example if I recall, in this case). I might also separate characters into separate columns like protagonist, antagonist, supporting char 1, supporting char 2 to make filtering easier. But intriguing idea that leaves room to play.

    [*] Note, I don’t have excel on this computer, so didn’t download the example; so you may be using filters/sort and I didn’t notice.

    1. No filters or sorting built in, though I do that once in a while so that I can figure out something specific, such as POV. Ahh, the idea of breaking the character column further could work too. Plenty of room to play 🙂

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