The Series Bible

Okay before I forget, Kristen Lamb (fab and funny author of We Are Not Alone: A Writer’s Guide to Social Media–which you should all buy a copy of and read because she knows her stuff), has an awesome and hilarious post today about how Self Publishing is the America Idol of Publishing.  Go read.

And now back to our regularly scheduled post.

I’ve heard of series bibles before.  This is a compilation of information all about a world that authors create in order to keep themselves straight and not contradict themselves in future works in the series.  It’s one of those things that I always thought sounded like a good idea, but lots of work, and I hadn’t actually WRITTEN a series yet, had I, so why put in the time?  And seriously, I love these characters, these stories.  How could I ever FORGET all those important details?

Well, here it is the beginning of 2011.  Last year I put out two novellas, Forsaken by Shadow and Devil’s Eye as the start to my Mirus series.  I’m winding up a short story set in the same world for a paranormal romance anthology releasing in March.  I am 3/4ths finished with a third novella, Riven (3/4ths…that’s how much material I culled from that novel attempt from last year that I’m going to be able to actually USE!  How cool is that?) that I hope to finish and release by summer.  And my brain is hard at work weaving the plot strands and details for the first full length Mirus novel, Revelation.  That’s 5 stories in the same universe.  Not to mention the fragments of future novels and characters floating around in my brain.

That, combined with the fact that I couldn’t actually remember the name of the book that I wrote that started this series (the one that I declared DOA in 2009–it was Hunted in Shadow, in case you were wondering), was solid proof that I need to put together a series bible.  Because, yes, you CAN forget the important details of your preciouses.  My dad once forgot my birthday.  It happens.

I’m envisioning sections for each book that list the major characters, with detailed profiles on each, as well as all the secondary characters that we might someday see again, with any salient information like, “dude is tall with green eyes and blond hair and can electrocute people”.   A timeline organizing events that happen both in the books and outside.  A glossary of my terms and races.  And then separate sections dealing with the mythology of the world, as well as the politics of the different groups.  This latter is particularly important given the massive changes in my metaplot.  It’s all somewhat muddled in my brain, and I think I need to write out to really organize it so that I can remember crap.

Anybody done this?  How did you organize yours?

23 thoughts on “The Series Bible

  1. I’ve had the same reluctance you describe about doing a series bible for my series. But I was in the original second book (it’s since been redesigned into a 6-book series from the original trilogy) when I started finding myself going back to book one, again and again to match things up.

    At one point, I realized one of my character’s eyes had changed color, so I put everything on hold and knocked out a series of documents that I filed into a “Setting bible” folder. I built individual docs for each character – photo references, key elements from their personal timelines, speech patterns, etc. I also developed a world timeline document, since my books are in an “alternate earth” setting, sketched out the map, as well as some of the elements specific to that world. I did another doc to address religion, cultural structure and elemental philosophies. I also maintain a sketchbook to show the designs for the gadgets and items employed there.

    On a similar vein, I set up playlists on my iPod to address characters, different major settings and the like. So when I’m writing a particular scene or locale or character, the music helps put me in the proper frame of mind for it, requiring a bit less conscious effort to do so.

    How did you do yours?

      1. I have playlists for my stories, too! You can use it when you’ve done working for the day or got stuck, and it helps to keep your subconscious ticking over on it, even while you’re doing other stuff. 🙂

  2. I’ve never done a series before, but I’ve been mulling one over in my head. But I would definitely have to have some sort of way to remember the world and the characters. I’m finding that I’m having trouble remembering things about the characters even in this one book I’m writing. This means I have to scroll back up and find what I wrote earlier. I will never again write anything without a detailed character list. In fact, I’m going to go back and do that with this story before I make some glaring errors. LOL Oh, and I’m also going to make sure I have a floor plan for the house the story takes place in.

  3. Hey Kait,

    I’m thinking about this a lot lately. You know how I LOVE to write things down on paper, but I’m starting to think maybe making my series bible something on the computer is smarter. Because then I can use the find and replace feature to find a key word to go through my long-ass series bible when I’m looking for a reference. If I’ve got a giant paper notebook, that’s going to be hard.

    Maybe i can do it on the computer and periodically print it out and have a hard copy too.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile too, as I have one book nearly done and the second started in a series I plan to work on for quite some time (at least four, possibly more books). Last week I had a part of book two that intersected with book one, and it was pretty rough going back and forth between the two to make sure I kept the continuity (and I use yWriter, so can’t have two drafts open at once). Not to mention I’m doing a lot of world building in this first one (the setting is completely fictional), and I’ll need to keep that consistent throughout.

    I was thinking I’d use excel (well open office version) to create mine in, with different spreadsheets for characters, setting, plot lines, and whatever else I need to keep track of. Then I can just have it open while I’m working to refer to.

    I’ll be interested to see what you come up with…

  5. It’s on my ever-lengthening “to do” list….

    Actually, I do have a file on my computer where I dump all of the bits and pieces of backstory, exposition, character stuff that I don’t use in my world. But it’s not very organized… I have a couple of files where I’ve just spewed forth all the crazy magical conventions of my world… Again, not very organized…

    So really, I’m no help at all. But someone as organized as you are can probably figure out a brilliant method and then share it with the rest of us… Pretty please? 🙂


  6. I have always done it – even before I found out it was known as “series bible”. I do it for stories even if they are planned to be only stand-alone, because during the process of writing 90K to 100K words, things may change a lot, and it’s handy to have the accurate information handy, so you have something to check against while editing.

    Mine haven’t always been organised, because sometimes I would have this information, and then things would change in the story half-way through and I wouldn’t update the Bible. Now, I try to do better. Now, I am also fine-tuning my methods.

    Initially, I used to keep this information in MS word, powerpoint and excel. Now, without a doubt, Excel is my ultimate choice. I use it for every single stage, except for brainstorm and actual drafts of novel.

  7. I have a Mac, so I use wiki-like software called VoodooPad to organize my world building, and it pretty much works as a series bible. Some time ago I found a helpful article by Sarah Smith called “Bibles as a World Building Device”, and it looks like it’s been reprinted on her site.

  8. This can be VERY helpful. I’ve done this a couple of times with my Earthshine books, and the most successful version was one that I modeled after Wikipedia articles. I typed it all up in Word, so I didn’t do linkies to a bunch of different pages or anything. But where I WOULD have inserted a hyperlink, I bolded the word, and made a glossary out of those bolded words.

    I started this “encyclopedia,” if you will, with an overview of the series overall, and then hort, one-paragraph summaries of each book. Then, I talked about settings, important organizations, creatures, and literary themes. Then, I had short profiles of all the main characters, and even shorter profiles of secondary characters. I ended with detailed synopses of each book, going through scene by scene. In the glossary, I defined any terms I had bolded in the above sections and elaborated upon characters even further in their glossary entries.

    It turned out to be a very clean, easily navigable document, helpful to me AND to others who have requested notes on the series. 🙂

  9. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term series bibles. I thought you were talking about a devotional or perhaps someone rewriting the bible as fictional pieces. 🙂

    I make so many changes while writing and revising, I have a hard time keeping everything straight. Now that I have a word for it, I do keep a series bible.

    I found a great software program a while back called StoryBook. It’s open source (free) but the creators are all for accepting donations. I imagine the programmers designed it so each file to include a single book, but I like to abuse software. I have seven interrelated novels plotted in a single file. They’re separated by strands, and I use dates to show where the stories overlap. It also has a feature for characters (awesome for referencing physical characteristics), locations, and items.

    1. Yeah Storybook is one of many MANY writing software programs I’ve tried over the years. Martin (its creator) is awesome and fantastic about taking suggestions as well.

  10. I always enjoy a series Bible for its own sake, especially if it’s written by the author, like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlandish Companion. Anecdotes, backgrounds of characters, recipes, side stories, FAQs… even family trees! (I love the Appendices as much as the rest of the book, in The Lord of the Rings.)

  11. Kait, I use Microsoft’s OneNote to capture everything. I see something out on the web I want to sve, I print it to OneNote and it creates a page that I can tuck into one of my dozens of OneNote notebooks. I save my images (characters, houses, furnishings, maps, etc), bits of research. You can create different tabs in each notebook. And when you open it, all the notebooks are right there in the sidebar. No hunting for anything to open. This is, hands down, the most indispensable software Microsoft has ever come out with.

  12. I have had to start one this year but didn’t know it had a name! cool or book as predictive text will have it – my friend and editor loves excell and has saved all names, locations and which book they appear in but I just can’t do with them, keep thinking I ought to hang them up where I can see them, but they get lost at bottom of the piles – I have discovered mind mapping software and am much more comfortable obviously I am a visually planner – didn’t know that – ow I’m colour coding the different people ferals etc different relationships and then I’ll be doing incidents in the same way – I have to keep re-reading the books to check names ect – so it needs to be done before no 3 is finished with no 4hammering to be released

  13. I do this almost to the level of OCD for ALL my stories! 😀 In fact, I’ve only just got this compulsion under control to the extent that I actually manage to WRITE the jolly stories! 😀

    Hey, when your series is well along, maybe you could bring out this info as a separate book, like all those Discworld-extra books. Just a thought. 🙂

  14. Having now read the other comments, I see that everyone’s comparing methods, so here’s mine, in case anyone finds it helpful.

    I use word for everything, but have a lot of separate files, which I keep in folders on the desktop. (This is SO much easier with a Mac!)

    For each character, I have a Character File and a Back-story File. Character file contains physical attributes and mannerisms, personality traits (including strengths and weaknesses), interests, likes and dislikes, aims in life, internal and external conflicts, and miscellaneous notes for anything that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else! 😀 Back-story File has a section for each major period in the character’s life. I also try to find pictures that look like my characters and keep them in a file as well.

    I divide characters in Primaries, Secondaries, Tertiaries, Minor and Utility (e.g. ones that only appear to facilitate something specific in the plot, like if you need a policeman to call or something). I go into different levels of detail depending on the importance of the character in the story. I usually don’t bother with back-story at all for Minors and Utility.

    I make out files with descriptions of specific settings, to make sure I don’t contradict myself. This may include drawing maps and/or houseplans.

    I keep a list of plot threads for each story, which is very helpful for making sure that all the threads develop properly. And I produce timelines, etc. as needed. When I have each document complete (or at least think I do!) I print it out and keep it in a nice binder. 🙂

    I do all this as part of the outlining process, because it helps me understand my own story better. And I keep blank templates of my document types to use in the next story.

    Some of this I got from a helpful book on outlining. Some of it I was already doing anyway. I would recommend the book, but am not sure if that’s the Done Thing on someone else’s blog! 😀

    Anyway, hope at least SOME of that is helpful to SOMEONE out there! 😀

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