An Author's Guide to Creating a Worldbuilding Bible
Worldbuilding is probably my favorite part of writing. Sure, there’s something magical about crafting memorable characters or intricate plots, but nothing compares to breathing life into a new world.
I’m talking about mapping out entire continents, writing timelines of historical events and eras, crafting legends about long-dead warriors and kingdoms, inventing languages, designing magic systems, crafting religions, and so much more.
But that’s a lot of stuff, and it’s easy to get lost in your fantastical worlds. So lost that you design things that you either forget about or just don’t have use for. That’s where worldbuilding bibles come in.
A worldbuilding bible is where you organize all the work you’ve put into creating your fictional world. It’s a reference guide to make sure you make use of all that god complex you have (not an insult; like I said, I’m right there with you).
What does this document look like, though? And what do you include in it? Great questions! We’ll answer those and more when we discuss:
- What a worldbuilding bible is
- The key components of your worldbuilding bible
- How to start crafting your fictional world’s reference notes
- Some bonus tips and tricks for worldbuilding
A quick note: this article is about creating your worldbuilding bible, not worldbuilding itself. We have a handful of other articles to help with this at DabbleU, but I’d suggest starting here to get the prep work done so you can be the best world builder you can.
What is a Worldbuilding Bible?
I briefly mentioned some elements before, but let’s paint a clearer picture of what a worldbuilding bible is.
No matter how expansive, any worldbuilding bible is a comprehensive document or collection of documents that details the various aspects of a fictional universe. It serves as a reference guide, ensuring consistency within your book and aiding in the development of stories within that universe.
The beauty of creating a worldbuilding bible is that it can be as minimal or as massive as necessary, tailored to the specific needs of the project. For some, it might be a few pages long, while for others, it might be a multi-volume opus.
It's worth noting that, while a worldbuilding bible aids in maintaining consistency, it also serves as a springboard for creativity. With a well-fleshed-out universe, writers often find that stories and character arcs naturally emerge from the depth and complexity of the world they've crafted.
Why You Need a Worldbuilding Bible
Technically, you don’t need one of these reference documents. I mean, no one is going to ban your book because you didn’t make one before or during the writing process.
That said, here are ten reasons why you should create one.
1. Consistency - This is the biggest one. When you have a reference guide, it ensures you don't accidentally change all the details of your world, whether it be the rules of magic or the layout of a city, either in a single book or across an entire series.
2. Immersion - A well-constructed worldbuilding bible can add layers of depth to the story, which in turn can provide readers with a richer, more immersive experience. Readers appreciate when a fictional universe feels tangible, and some read books just for an intricate, made-up world.
3. Inspiration - As you delve deeper into your fictional locale, you might stumble upon new story ideas. An offhand mention of a historical event might inspire an entire novel, or a historical character might inspire an entire subplot.
4. Exposition - When you have a great worldbuilding bible, it lets you see the bigger picture and the finer details all at once. In turn, this lets you more easily drip your exposition through your prose without info dumping.
5. Evolution - One of the things you’ll find about building a fictional world is that it’s a self-fueling process. If you take the time to organize your thoughts, it’s easier for them to grow on one another, organically growing your fictional world.
6. Efficiency - Instead of rummaging through past chapters or earlier books in a series to verify a detail, you can turn to your bible for quick answers. Don’t underestimate this time saver.
7. Collaboration - If a universe is shared by multiple creators (which is increasingly common), a bible becomes an essential tool. It ensures everyone is on the same page, avoiding conflicting storylines or interpretations.
8. Adaptation - When you make it big and your story is getting adapted into a movie, HBO series, or video game, a comprehensive guide can be invaluable for the new writers.
9. Engagement - Some authors choose to share parts of their worldbuilding bible with their fans, deepening their engagement with the universe. You can do this with wikis, appendices, blog posts, or even companion books.
10. Confidence - There’s a lot of doubt and imposter syndrome in the writing community, and that can be exacerbated by uncertainty about your book’s universe. Knowing your world inside and out can give you the confidence to write convincingly about it.
If you’re now a believer that a worldbuilding bible can be helpful, let’s chat about what you can include in yours.
Key Components of a Worldbuilding Bible
Like almost every guide I write about writing, there are no rules you need to adhere to; what your worldbuilding bible looks like is up to you.
Make it as long or as short as you’d like. It can be one document or a bunch of them. Want to include natural disasters? Different cultures? Religion? Pictures of landscapes that inspire you?
You can do whatever, but here are the options most writers want to include in their worldbuilding bible.
Geography and Environment
What does your world look like? This section of your bible maps out the physical world.
This can include continents, countries, cities, landmarks, climate patterns, and natural resources.
Flora and Fauna
Building off the geography, include detailed descriptions of the plants and animals that inhabit your world's countries, especially if they are unique to your universe.
A detailed chronology of significant historical figures and events that have shaped the world and its societies. This provides a backdrop for the current events of your story.
If you want to get intense (and I fully support this), you can create timelines of events to get a visual representation of your world’s history.
Cultures and Societies
Who makes up your world? The people of your universe are governed by their landscape but also affect where they live, explore, and exploit.
This section can include information about various civilizations, their customs, languages, rituals, religions, economic systems, and social hierarchies.
Magic and/or Technology
Depending on your genre, your world might have magic, advanced technology, or both.
If your world has magic, how does it work? What are its rules and limitations? Similarly, describe the level and type of technology, how it evolved, and how it impacts daily life.
Also, even medieval fantasy worlds have “technology” for their time and understanding. You might want to include more things, like plumbing, siege engines, etc. in this section (or make it a separate section).
Outline the power structures, major political players, laws, and the mechanisms that hold societies together—or threaten to tear them apart.
You might want to include profiles for primary, secondary, and even tertiary characters. This is not just characters but can include physical descriptions, backgrounds, motivations, relationships, and arcs.
Here’s where you put all the information on the dominant currencies, major trades, resources, and the flow of goods and wealth.
This will vary based on region, country, natural resources, transportation, etc.
Religion and Beliefs
Have fun crafting details on belief systems, gods, rituals, creation myths, and the afterlife.
While not everyone goes as deep into language as Tolkien did with Elvish, many worldbuilders enjoy crafting languages or dialects for their cultures. And we even have a guide for it, if you’re interested.
Art and Entertainment
What do inhabitants of your world do for fun? What stories do they tell? What art do they create?
While this can be included in any of the other sections, feel free to keep inspirational images, sketches of characters, artifacts, architecture, and maps you’ve made all close at hand.
Creating Your Worldbuilding Bible
Now that you know what you can include in your bible, let’s talk about how to put it together. You’ll develop your own style, but only after you’ve had the chance to practice.
So here are five steps to get you started on your worldbuilding guidebook.
Step One: Brainstorm and Conceptualize
Begin with broad strokes. What kind of vibe or feeling are you looking for in your fictional world?
Then start sketching out your story world and jotting down the basics: is this a sprawling fantasy realm, a distant space colony, a dystopian future, or a parallel universe? What ideas immediately jump to mind?
Lend some thought to the primary forces in your world—magic, technology, deities, or nature—and their influence.
Step Two: Detailed Planning and Note-Taking
Now it’s time to dive into the details of those key components we covered above. Develop cultures, histories, politics, and geography. Create profiles for characters, landmarks, and significant events.
For settings, think about climate, architecture, and everyday life. For characters, consider their backgrounds, desires, and conflicts.
Don’t forget to document the rules, especially if your world involves magic or advanced technology. This helps in maintaining internal logic.
This is a big undertaking, so take your time and approach one chunk (i.e., a city, province, historical event, apocalypse cult) at a time and let your ideas grow off each other.
Step Three: Organize Information
Structure is key to get the most out of your worldbuilding bible. Create sections, chapters, or entire documents for the different facets of your universe.
Be sure to include visuals where they are helpful, too. They won’t just add inspiration to your bible but will help break up the walls of text these documents can turn into.
At this point, you’re going to want to choose a tool to help. There are dedicated platforms like World Anvil and Campfire, but Dabble makes it easy to create a worldbuilding bible that’s always just one click away from your manuscript.
You can make it as expansive as you want, and it’s always there for you when you’re writing.
Step Four: Maintain Consistency
Regularly refer back to your bible when writing to ensure continuity. If a mountain range is to the east in chapter one, it shouldn't move to the west by chapter ten.
If you’re working with others, ensure everyone has access to the bible, understands its importance, and there is some process in place for everyone to keep it updated.
Pro tip: you can collaborate with up to four other authors on a project (including its worldbuilding bible) with Dabble in real time.
Step Five: Revise and Update
As your story evolves, so should your bible. If you change a character's backstory or the outcome of a historical event, update the bible accordingly.
On top of that, periodically review your bible to see if any sections need elaboration or if new elements have been introduced in your writing that should be included. This can even help if you run into writer’s block or some other obstacle.
Tips for Effective Worldbuilding
To wrap things up, here are a few tips to maximize your worldbuilding. I strongly recommend checking out our worldbuilding guides to become a true expert, though.
Balance detail and relevance - While depth enriches your world, not every detail needs to be highlighted. Prioritize information that's directly relevant to your story or characters. Remember: depth doesn't always mean density.
Incorporate diversity and complexity - Real worlds are diverse. Reflect this by populating your universe with varied cultures, languages, and beliefs to add layers of conflict, cooperation, and richness to your story.
Avoid stereotypes - This should be a no-brainer. Challenge conventions and breathe life into your world by creating multifaceted characters and cultures rather than relying on tired and harmful stereotypes.
Use research for inspiration - Drawing from real-world cultures, histories, and sciences can lend authenticity to your world. However, be respectful and avoid cultural appropriation. Blend inspiration from multiple sources to create something unique.
Consistency is paramount - A sense of consistent internal logic makes your world believable. If you establish rules or facts, stick to them or provide a compelling reason if they change.
Start Developing a Worldbuilding Bible
Understanding the structure and function of your bible is the easy part. The next step is to start crafting your fictional world.
Luckily for us, that’s the fun part, too.
Want to save this info for later? Click here to download a free PDF of everything you need in a worldbuilding bible.
So get that imagination running and start bringing that world to life. And let Dabble help along the way.
Like I mentioned before, creating your worldbuilding bible in Dabble is a breeze… and to make it even easier, we have this easy-to-use template all set up for you to use, including all the things we spoke about in this article. Just click the link to access the template.
Not a Dabbler yet? No problem! You can try out all Dabble’s premium features and start working with the worldbuilding bible template for 14 days for free, no credit card required, by clicking here.
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