How to: In-character books

I’ve been asked many times on how to craft an In-character book. I am not someone with the tenancy to write a book, but over the years I managed to fill over a hundred pages with Elrian’s thoughts, stories and songs. So, if you are looking to start your own in-character diary, or spellbook, or something else entirely I might have some experiences to share. Maybe want to know what materials I have used, or you are intimidated by the sheer endless task of filling all these pages.

If so, this guide is for you.

The Book

You will be spending a lot of time with these pages, so choosing a paper that suits your needs is what is most important. I have most often found what I needed using artist sketchbooks. On the other hand, a number of pretty leather bound books I found on markets proved to be unsuitable for writing in ink.

First row: Fabriano Quadrato Artist’s Journal, Moleskine Watercolour Notebook, Kunst & Papier Sketchbook with Pasteboard Cover
Second row: Fabriano Watercolour Book, Midori Notebook, Paperblanks Grolier Notebook

So when choosing your book, ask yourself: What will you put on the pages? Do you want to use ink, or pencil, or charcoal? do you want to do watercolor or will the paper remain dry? Do you want the paper to be slightly translucent so you can use a line sheet? If you unsure if the book you have bought suits your needs you can carefully remove a pair of pages and perform some tests with the materials you want to use.

First Row: Midori Notebook Paper is very smooth, slightly translucent and takes getting soaked okay-ish. Works well with quill and Ink.
Second row: Moleskine Watercolour Paper can still be translucent by using a light tablet. It gets less warped when using watercolour and the paper has a distinct texture. Writing with quill and ink also works well.

If you have chosen a book for its quality paper, it might not look they way it should, so let’s change that. You can use any material you want, like Paper, leather, cloth, tree bark, metal bits… but if you want to take your book everywhere I would recommend sticking with sturdy materials like cloth or leather.

For this example I am made a new cover for the Fabriano Watercolour Book. The First was is to separate the book block from the old cover.
I reused the original cardboard cover pieces here, but if you want more protection for your book you can also use plywood or plastic sheets. You can also leave out the cardboard and make a softcover book. I glued the cardboard to some beautiful Lokta paper and attached some cotton cloth to the book spine, using waterproof glue.
The cloth attached to the spine is then glued to the sides of the cover, while the spine part itself remains free.
Since the Lokta paper is quite thick, I wrapped the thinner paper I wanted to use on the inner side around some thicker paper first.
I cut of the excess paper only after gluing the whole thing into the book. This way the edges align perfectly to the book’s pages.
I also brushed some more waterproof glue onto the Lokta paper since it proved to be very fragile. The finished book should now be more sturdy

Filling the book

Now here is the intimidating part… a LOT of empty pages waiting to be filled. There are a few things that work well for me and a few things I have optimized over the years. This is by no means the only way, but it is the way I will always recommend to others who ask me for input.

Its a process

Start (roughly) where you are now with whatever your character does at the moment. Do not try the immense task of starting ten years ago and recording your whole character’s history in handwriting.

I started in 2011 on a random larp by taking notes on the plot. afterwards I transcribed these notes into a book. No special first page, but If your book should have one and its blocking you, you can always leave the first page empty and add it later

Not every page will be perfect.

There are a lot of crappy pages in my book, some by design, but most because I made a mistakes, or just had a day with bad handwriting.

In my songbook I used white paint to correct mistakes and keep readability, but in the diaries these pages are part of the whole experience. Also, the technichques and styles used change all the time.

The Tools

I actually have two sets of tools I use. One to take to larps and one I use at home.

During a Larp I often only take notes and do sketches in pencil and then finish the pages at home, but if there is time I also write directly in ink.

I also glue things like notes, copied images or pressed leaves in, but try to not overuse it. Extra pages add thickness, and will strain the binding eventually.

The Full set of equipment. I used various water-proof inks and watercolours, but also fine liners, brushpens and more like it. Sometimes I will sketch out pages, either in photoshop or traditionally and then transfer them using my Etchr Mirror or a light tablet.
If you want your writing to be water proof, I suggest to perform water proofness tests on any ink or marker you use… sometimes “water proof” only means that the text will remain readable, even though the ink will still blur.

Keep going

Its okay to skip stuff. Nothing of note happened during a game? Just continue with the next one.

Need more time to do that particular scene justice? leave the page empty and continue with the next one for now. But try to not build a mountain of stuff you still want to add, but instead try to keep the book in a state where you can always write into it during a game.

Thank you for reading, and I hope this helps you in some way to realise your own projects. If you have any additional questions or think there is a topic this guide should maybe cover, feel free to leave a comment below.

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