Publicity Tip #59
Appendices and Story Bibles: when to use them and when not to ~
By Quan Williams, Author.
When crafting a story, especially a novel or series of novels, a writer will accumulate a lot of background information on his or her characters and setting. You could possibly come up with pages and pages of extensive character study and research to flesh out your characters and settings. If you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, then you’re doing heavy amounts of worldbuilding, research and ideation on how to make your fantastic worlds believable. You could be charting magic systems, or creating maps for your lands or even inventing new languages. Yet for all of the extensive work you’ve down to build the foundation of your story, there’s a good chance that only a fraction of that information will make it into your novel. So you may be asking yourself what to do with all of that extra information?
You have a number of options, including the option to not make any of it publicly available.
One good place to put the extra information is in the back of your book, as an added bonus to readers. It’s not uncommon for a high fantasy story to have a map of the world in the back, or a series that has an extensive history to contain a timeline of important events. This adds extra value to your story and provides a good reference point for readers who are intrigued by certain details of your stories.
There’s also a chance you could use the material as a marketing tool. On the website for my sci-fi horror novel Godmode, I have sections specifically set aside for bonus information on my characters, monsters, and setting. You will find Character bios, a sample Bestiary (with sketches), some background information on BAAL Pharmaceuticals, as well as a listing of some of the more important weapons used in the story. People stumbling across this can see these items and want to know more, which will lead them to checking out the book. If you are promoting via website, like I am, the added content will also boost your SEO.
Be very selective with which of your materials you make available, especially if you plan on revisiting that setting in future stories. You don’t want to give away important plot points or character development beats too early. The secret is to have just enough background information to flesh out and tantalize, while drawing in your readers – both new readers and repeat readers who will reread your story armed with new information that will bring it into a new light. For instance, Donnie Darko’s special edition features include actual text from a book on time travel and alternate dimensions, which explain the meta of what is happening in the movie to people who don’t understand the significance of certain events.
You must be careful in that you don’t give away information that will lock you into an inflexible continuity. There is always a chance you might want to change certain details for future stories but if the old information is out there, you might have a hard time explaining any inconsistencies. This is a reason why many of Magic: The Gathering’s story bibles for their various worlds, as well as the universe bible for popular anime series Tenchi Muyo, are very seldom published. As those franchises grow, details may change, and keeping those bibles close to the vest helps avoid discrepancies.
Regardless of what you decide, you should consider your notes and background information a valuable resource that will help in growing the readership of your story. Used wisely, you can greatly expand your universe, bring new readers in, and create a loyal fanbase of your current readers.
Quan Williams, author of GODMODE, has previously published three other books and various short stories, as well as spending two years as a journalist for The Michigan Daily Newspaper. He studied creative writing under the tutelage of Jonis Agee, author of “Strange Angels” and “South of Resurrection.”