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When it comes to revising/reformatting a setting bible (for a video game) to make the setting more internally consistent and better organized, which place is the best part of a setting bible to look? (I didn't feel this question fit in with the world-building stack exchange which is more dealing with a world's mechanics and dynamics than how it is organized.)

The genre of the game is sci-fi, and one of the aims for this setting bible was accurate astronomy and generally some attempt at being relatively in line with reality to the best of my abilities (with a few willful deviations that are normally expected of in a space opera/sci-fi setting, mainly FTL usage and the claim that intelligent life is a very cosmically recent phenomena).

In my setting bible, I have formatted my setting into 5 major sections:

1 - Worlds & Systems

2 - Sapients

3 - Civilizations and Cultures

4 - Technology

5 - Individuals and Characters

Each of these sections are compilations of various societies, cultures, alien species and worlds which are stated to all exist within the same universe. And they have sub sections too.

Worlds & Systems section

Worlds & Systems gives different sections for home worlds, sterile worlds, biospheres and megastructures.

Of the sections I feel this one has the least problems beyond perhaps still needing more worlds (you always need more worlds!). A few dozen worlds remains underwhelming when making a galaxy. Not to mention there is the issue of there being more sapients than worlds.

The Sapients Section

Sapients meanwhile tries to differentiate sapients by their advancement/relevance (with an arbitrary 'major' moniker for the sapients who I spent much more time developing than the other 'minor' sapients or 'ancient' sapients who are advanced but less 'relevant').

I feel my sapient classification is the most broken of the sub sections I have as it seems I couldn't decide if I wanted to classify sapients by advancement or by relevance.

Civilizations and Cultures

The civilizations and cultures section is organized into first a sub section detailing various belief systems that exist in the setting and than you get sets of "civilizations"- or blocs of multiple factions with a longer history between each other than other civilizations. This organization is mainly done as a product of how I bottle necked FTL development in the setting meaning these different civilizations are defined by having separate independent FTL developments from some non-FTL society.

Technology

Technology is a section that details the tech of the setting and gives separate sections for tech from specific major sapients/civilizations. I am unsure if the tech section should actually exist or if tech should be elaborated in in the civilizations and cultures sections given the way technology does impact culture. Indeed I feel like that separating tech from culture may have been a mistake looking at it again.

Characters

A set of characters. Notoriously underdeveloped and this I will try to fix this summer. It includes historical figures as well as various protagonist candidates.


And it is in the revising stage that I find a lot of the inter connectivity of a setting is formed as internal consistency, plot hooks and such all start to become important.

I had not looked at the setting bible for months due to school work and wanting to wait until I could see my universe in a clearer lens that I could when I drafted it out. I realized I may not have as clear an idea of what to do as I thought looking over things.

To avoid open endedness, let's focus on a single question- Given the above information about the priorities I have and the organization of the story bible, what would it be best for me to focus on first?

  • I revised the title, because I read it first as a question about the actual Bible. I also moved the info that this is for a video game up to the top. I'd also encourage you to edit this down to the key points. Questions that are this long tend to get skipped over by many people. – Chris Sunami Jun 14 '18 at 15:37
  • Much of that was because I spent too much time on explaining the sub sections for the sapients section that may not have been useful to know as I thought it would be. – InterstellarTK Jun 14 '18 at 15:44
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    How can you revise a bible? It will be a blasphemy! :) – Alexander Jun 14 '18 at 17:53
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One thing to keep in mind is that your setting bible is an internal document. Your players (or readers or viewers or audience) will never see it. As a result, the moment you spend a single second working on improving your bible that doesn't result in saving at least a second's worth of work later on, you've started wasting your time. Your players will notice if your setting is inconsistent, but they'll never know whether your bible was well-organized, formatted prettily, or contained some cool details that didn't come up in the story.

Furthermore, a huge part of the writing process is being willing to revise repeatedly and heavily. Whatever you write in your setting bible must be changeable later on because you will realize that some details get in the way of your story and other details are missing and need to be added. I'm working on a ten-page screenplay, and the biggest change I had to make after my first draft was adding and changing many details about the setting in order to make the magic more believable and the stakes more palpable. The consequences of this unavoidable aspect of the writing process is that the more time you spend on your setting bible up-front, the more details you will ultimately have to throw out or rework, increasing the amount of time you spend on the story altogether. In addition, spending too much time on the story bible up-front can lead to you being afraid of throwing details out or heavily revising it later, which will either make writing take more emotional and mental energy or keep you from making helpful changes altogether.

As a result, my advice is to stop focusing exclusively on the setting bible sooner than later. In fact, I suggest seriously considering starting on your story now. Once you have the broad strokes of your setting figured out and a handful of specific details that you already know how you'll tie into specific characters, themes, and plot hooks, you can write the story and always add missing details to the setting bible later.

If you're working on this project by yourself, even if only for now, you can err on the side of starting writing the story sooner than later. The primary purpose of the setting bible is to help you keep your thoughts in order, but you can very easily edit it as you go. If you're collaborating with other people, erring on making sure your bible has most of what you need to start writing is reasonable. Any changes you make to it need to be clearly communicated and agreed upon by everyone, and changes that help out one person might require someone else to do some rework, so making changes is harder. Either way, though, you will have to make changes to your setting bible as you work on the story, so continuing to work on the bible without writing the actual story will prevent you from making progress towards your final product.


Even though I've said all of this, there's definitely a lot of wisdom to doing your research and homework ahead of time to make sure you know where your story is going. The polar opposite of spending too much time on a setting bible is spending no time planning your setting ahead whatsoever, and that is a much worse mistake to make. I'm very glad that you have the good sense to plan your story out carefully!

The reason I wrote this specific answer in response to your question is that it's clear your setting bible is already detailed. I'm not sure whether you've done enough that you're best off getting to writing the story itself now or if you should spend a little bit more time on your bible, but it's clear to me that you are very close.

This doesn't tell you which of the five categories you should spend the most time on. This is because I think you might be close enough that the answer is to work on none of them and instead get to writing the story! You'll continue to modify all five categories as you go. But I believe you're close to the point where it's better to let your story tell you which categories need modifying and how.

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Let me second what @ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere says, and elaborate.

Fiddling with a setting is an endless task: you can delve into sociology, millennia of history, technology, geography, geology - all the endless scientific endeavour thousands of RL scientists are trying to figure out with our real, existing world. You can easily keep building your world for years and years, and never come to write anything in it. That's a danger you must beware of.

In the end, the setting must serve the story, not the other way round. Imagine you start writing a story, and then some idea comes up that doesn't quite match your "bible", but serves to show some really poignant idea. What do you do - discard the brilliant story idea? Or discard the endless time you've spent on your bible, and change it?

The main goal of keeping a "world bible" is keeping in an ordered way the facts you've already written into your stories, so they don't come to contradict each other. Facts that don't come into play in your story serve no purpose. Facts that get in the way of what you want to write do damage.

It follows that, like @ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere, focus on the characters, and start writing a story. The story will guide you with what parts of your world you need to get deeper into. The scope of a game can be bigger than a novel, in terms of bits of the world the player gets to see, but the guiding element is still the story and what serves best to tell it.

5

Selecting one thing from a list of five as being most important is usually tricky and often subjective, but I think this list has an easy answer.

While consistency in the in-book universe is important and discrepancies will cause some readers to react strongly, I'm seeing this exercise as a tool to enable writing of a book (or a series of books) and not as an end in itself. One item on that list stands out as being part of the book rather than part of the setting.

If you think of it as a theatre stage, you have actors and you have props. You have the characters, and you have the furniture.

I'm not saying 1 to 4 aren't important, but a problem with number 5 would have serious implications for the story. Maybe you're looking to establish the setting before the story, which is a valid way to do it, but you won't have a story until you know whose story it is.

Edit : I'm using the word "book", but the same would apply to a story-driven game or anything else with a story.

  • The setting bible is meant to be for game worlds and/or books. It's why I feel the need to elaborate so much on worlds, factions and species. This doesn't tread into game design since game design covers multiple topics, writing being one of them. – InterstellarTK Jun 14 '18 at 7:54
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    @InterstellarTK - If you're saying that at this point you're only considering the setting, and that the story for any subsequent book or game will follow later, pop that in an edit to the question and I'll delete this answer. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Jun 14 '18 at 8:09
  • I am to a degree considering the story since I really need to at this point. Your point that the character section matters a lot and needs more work is still relevant. The current phase I suppose I am in is the "okay, I wrote out this setting, now what to do with it" and that means story consideration. – InterstellarTK Jun 14 '18 at 8:16

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