Building a characters’ bible is always optional and not an essential element of the screenwriting process that could ever stop you from getting started on your script. Not every screenwriter creates the characters’ bible, just like not every screenwriter works with an outline or a treatment. All those screenwriting tools can speed up the writing process but not focusing on developing any of those tools shouldn’t hold back your writing ambitions or a story.
Keep in mind that not every story needs to have a character bible; some stories simply flow without one, when the characters come out of the pages with ease. However, many TV screenwriters recommend building a characters’ bible if you are writing a TV show. Checking back and forth with your bible will help you be consistent in the characters’ arcs, development, or growth over the seasons, or however many episodes you are developing.
Keeping the characters’ bible while working on the TV show will also help you if you need to pivot directions. It will be much easier to map out the change in your character if you already have all the information about them in one place. If you are working with multiply characters over a long period (many episodes and/or seasons), having their likes, dislikes, traits, characteristics in one place will help speed up your workflow throughout the season/s.
For period dramas, the characters’ bible can be an essential tool to keep all your research in one place for quick and easy access, especially if you are writing about historical figures. If you are working on the script based on real-life characters, the characters’ bible could be your information hub, where all your critical research goes, which in the long run could make your writing process easier.
Sometimes it takes years and many re-writes to finish a script. Having your characters information stored in one place for easy access will undoubtedly help with the re-writes, especially if you are coming to the script after a long time away from it.
When I build/create characters’ bibles for my characters, I use visuals (photos, videos, links to visual art) and written ideas/information to fill in my bible pages. Using any medium that works for you is the best way to go about building your characters’ bible:
- I often keep a physical folder with all the information I collect over a period of time. Nowadays, I also keep a folder on my computer, which allows easy access from any place.
- I collect cut-outs from magazines and newspapers that could visually define the characters (kept in the physical folder). The cut-outs often provide information for the characters’ wardrobe, interior decoration, places they like to eat in, possible books they might want to read etc.
- The character traits are a little bit trickier. Many features come into existence during the writing process. However, the initial characteristics come into life the moment the characters start living in my head. From the beginning I can answer all the questions I consider important in my character’s life, such as: What does the character do for a living? Where do they live? How old are they? Their values, religious beliefs, etc. Everything and anything I consider important before the character gets into the story. From those initial building blocks, I start building up my characters. The rest of the character traits come into existence the more I develop the story.
- I don’t write historical fiction, so I never research that far into the past. But if I were looking into historical fiction, I would want to know how people walked, talked, their interests, what they did in their spare time, what type of food they ate, what clothes they wore, what class they were from, etc.
There is no rule saying how the characters’ bible needs to look like. So be creative; let your imagination go free and wild. It’s for you only to make your writing process easier and help you get unstuck if something doesn’t fit with your character or the character becomes too wobbly and inconsistent.
Sometimes you might have a character in your head, but you don’t have the story that could/would accommodate that character.
Create/build the characters’ bible for that character and keep holding onto it until the right story presents itself.