Creating a “Series Bible”

When you’re writing a single book, it’s sometimes hard to remember by the time you get toward the end what some of the little details were that you included early on. (Was that character’s hair blond, or black? How many years has it been since this character left home? Was the bedroom on the right side of the hallway, or on the left?) But if you think it’s hard when you’re writing a single book, just imagine what it’s like for a series. Then imagine what it’s like when you write multiple series.

When I wrote the Guardians of the Night series, I kept track of all the details in my head, and when I forgot something, I had to go back and look it up. Which, as you can imagine, became harder and harder as I continued to add more books to the series. Not only did I have to find the reference I was looking for, I had to figure out which book it was in. Talk about making more work for myself!

Finally, with the Morgan Kingsley series, I decided I had to stop winging it and make what many authors refer to as a “Series Bible.” This is a one-stop source for all the little details you might need to remember sometime in the future. I’m sure no two authors create their Series Bibles the same way, and in fact, when I made mine, I’d never seen another author’s version. (I have since, but I like my format for what I’m doing.)

I cut my Series Bible teeth on the Morgan Kingsley series, and now with the Faeriewalker series, I’ve refined it so that it’s perfect. (Hah! Let’s just say it works for me, and leave it at that.)

My preference is to work on my Series Bible when I’m in the proof-reading stage of a manuscript’s life cycle. That’s because up until the proof-reading stage, everything is still in flux and the little details might change. I have enough trouble keeping up with all of the edits on the actual manuscript without having to go back and revise my Series Bible along the way. I prefer to do my proof-reading on paper, because I never enjoy reading on the computer. I sit down on the sofa with my legs stretched out and the manuscript on my lap. On a table right beside me are a handful of worksheets that are what I need to later create my “formal” Series Bible. The worksheets I have are: Recurring Places, Major Characters, Minor Characters (these being the “mentioned once and never heard from again” set, and Recurring Characters (these being secondary/minor characters who I know for sure are going to appear again). For my Morgan Kingsley book, I also have a calendar so I can keep track of how much time is passing (e.g., how long has it been since Morgan’s house burned down?), but I haven’t yet done that for the Faeriewalker series.

As I read through the proofs, I jot down notes on my worksheets. For places, I have a place name, and then a description, which is a bulleted list of all the description I’ve ever had for that place. Here, for example, is what I have for Avalon on my Recurring Places worksheet for Glimmerglass:

  • Population less than 10,000
  • Exists in both Faerie and mundane world simultaneously
  • About 25 minutes from London
  • Situated on mountain rising up from the English countryside
  • Buildings built into slopes of mountain
  • Single paved road spirals from base to castle-like structure at summit
  • Cobblestone roads lead off of main road
  • Surrounded by murky moat
  • Access at 4 compass points, each with a gatehouse
  • Need a visa to get in
  • Main road is 2-lane and steep

Of course, I don’t know which of these details will become important to remember in the future. Will I ever again need to remember that Avalon is a 25-minute drive from London? Maybe, maybe not. So when I make these worksheets, I write down every little detail that I can possibly imagine having to remember. What I’ve shown you above is just the pieces of description that refer to Avalon as a whole. I have separate entries on my worksheets for specific places within Avalon, like Dana’s father’s house and the southern gatehouse. I’ll even sometimes have entries for specific rooms within a house, if I think there might be something there I need to remember.

For my character worksheets, I have columns for Name, Physical Description, and Notes. For example, here’s what I have for Dana’s Aunt Grace:

Under Physical Description:

  • Tall, imposing, 5’9 or 5’10
  • Model-thin
  • No curves
  • thick, lustrous pale blond hair almost to small of back
  • angular face
  • blue eyes with upward Fae tilt
  • appears to be in mid-twenties

Under Notes:

  • captain of the border patrol
  • Wears navy-blue uniform with gun and handcuffs on belt
  • “weird” accent–sort of British, sort of not
  • drives a new black Mercedes

I jot all of this down by hand as I’m reading the proofs. Later on, I’ll enter all of this information into a series of tables in Word (I hate using Excel, so I don’t do spreadsheets), and then I’ll print them out and put them all neatly together in a folder. That part, however, seems to take me a while to get to. In fact, I still haven’t done it for my Glimmerglass worksheets, even though I’ve already finished writing Shadowspell. Guess that means I’ll have some extra work to do when I get to proof-reading Shadowspell!

None of this falls under the category of what I find fun and enjoyable about writing. Creating and updating the Series Bible feels like drudge work to me (hence, the reason I haven’t put all my Glimmerglass worksheets together yet). But I must admit, having the information all down in one place makes writing later books in the series much easier. For instance, when I started writing Shadowspell and couldn’t remember what color Keane’s eyes were, all I had to do was glance at my worksheets, instead of having to search the manuscript, looking for the place I first mentioned it.

A question for readers: do you like reading about the process of writing a book and having it published? Or is it kind of like learning how sausage is made and you’d rather not know?

About Dame Jenna

Jenna Black got her BA in physical anthropology from Duke University. She dreamed she’d be the next Jane Goodall, camping in the bush making discoveries about primate behavior. But then she did some research in the field and made this shocking discovery: primates spend about 80% of their time doing exciting things like sleeping and eating. Concluding this discovery was her life’s work in the field of primatology, she moved on to such jobs as grooming dogs and writing technical documentation. She writes urban fantasy for Bantam Dell and young adult urban fantasy for St. Martin’s.

Comments

  1. Linda D. says:

    Thanks for the great post Jenna! This is actually super helpful and I’m definitely going to start doing this with my WIP as well. I run into the same problems and I never even thought of this!

    I love reading about the writing/publishing process…I think all of you (the Dames) have been an incredible influence and inspiration to all of us aspiring writers out there. You all have been so helpful and informative. I’m the type who likes to know what I’m getting into, so reading about the processes have been very beneficial for me. Definitely keep it up!

  2. I LOVE this! Great post, Jenna. :)

    I’m totally stealing lots of your Series Bible headings/sections. Thanks for sharing!

    Kaz

  3. As a reader/writer, I love reading both the process of writing and production of the novel.

    A “Series Bible” is a great term. Just recently, I realized that I was going to have to take better notes so I didn’t have to keep going back to the first book to see where I posted the information. Now that I’m working on book 2, I don’t think my notes were clear enough because now I find myself still needing to go back to check out what I wrote.

    Thanks for the great organization tips.

  4. Thank you so much! I am disorganised in just about every aspect of my life. Maybe this could help me improve both my writing, and my organisational skills. :)
    And I always look forward to posts like this. They’re interesting and helpful.

  5. Pamela L says:

    As a writer, I’m always interested in other author’s techniques.
    It’s a great opportunity to learn and get new ideas.
    Haven’t done a series bible yet, but have compiled
    the excel spreadsheet because I forgot what a character looked like. LOL

    Great post, as usual. :-)

  6. I find posts like this really helpful, it lets me know that a) I’m not totally insane (lol) and b) how to improve/ useful tips.
    :) I wouldn’t be half as good without the help of you dames.

  7. Dawn Y. says:

    Jenna, I absolutely love reading the process on how a book is written and gets published. Love your tips on your Series Bible. I’ve been getting into trouble with my current WIP: what was Bill’s haircolor? eyecolor? last name? What did I name the town? What was his fiancee’s last name? How did he meet Rebecca? How did he meet Sheryl? What are Gregory’s personal characteristics? What color is Mitch’s eyes? etc. I’m trying not to be a rolling editor, but I need the details to keep things writing smoothly.

    Thank-you very much for sharing your process :)

  8. Oh, process is my personal favourite part. I started doing something like this for my one novel before I even heard about “series bibles”. But if it ever gets picked up, and I turn it into the first book of a series, I think I may extend my little notes! Thanks for the inspiration of headings and such.

  9. I keep meaning to write one of these. And then I think, “Oh, how could I possibly forget that the name of the school is Bayview and not Bayville? Yes, I’ve forgotten it five times, but this time the shame has burnt it into my brain.”

    And the next day inevitably has me looking for the name of the stupid school. But have I folded on the series bible? Nope. Not yet. I’m stubborn. Hopefully, this is the kick in the pants that I needed!

  10. I love reading about how other writers do what they do. I picked up one of those novel writing software things a few years ago. It’s kinda helpful and a bit like your ‘bible’. All those categories are listed on the left (Chapters, characters, Events, locations, ideas, notes, and submissions). It’s in a tree format like windows explorer (not internet explorer). By the time you get done with a novel that list is pretty long. I’m not always on top of getting those minor characters, events and locations added in. Oh yeah, you can add links from a character to a location, to a event and into a chapter so I guess that’s kinda handy but I rarely use it. This one was cheap. Is called Write It Now and found it recommended by Writers Digest for around $30. You could do the same thing with a database or word and a spreadsheet. I’m still on version 3 but they have a new one out. There are other handy gadgets in there but I already sound too much like an advertisement. SO FAR, I haven’t written a sequel to any of my novels.

  11. Firewolf says:

    Yes, I like reading about the process. Thank you.

    I’ve been looking for ideas for a series bible for a long time now. Thanks so much!

  12. The time and effort you and the other Dames put into giving people like me this information is amazing, not to mention highly appreciated.
    I’d love to become published someday, and all the articles you guys enter here really help.
    I have a kind of bible for my WiP, mines very different from what you mentioned but from reading this there’s definately things I can improve on mine.

    Thank you for another terrific post.

  13. I love reading about the nuts and bolts of the process, partly because I want to eventually be a professional writer myself. :)

    I find this sort of post to be both encouraging, and of practical use!

  14. I am strictly a reader and love hearing about the process. It helps me understand what makes the books I love the books I love. It also helps me be more patient while I wait for new releases. As for the series bible, I love it.

  15. Adelina says:

    This is great! Love reading about the process writers use to write their books.

  16. LOVE LOVE LOVE hearing about the process. It increases the value of a text knowing the, how does the saying go: all the blood sweat and tears that go into a novel. keep it up :)

  17. This is a great idea! I love how you shared this with us. I always wondered how everyone kept all the “little” details straight. This sounds like a wonderful little bible to have on hand. Might want to keep a copy in a save somewhere just in case of misplacing it though. :)

  18. i really enjoy seeing how other writers do their thing,especially ones that i love! im only in high school but i like to entertain the idea of getting a novel published someday, although not as a complete career choice. but at the moment reading about writing techniques is fun (and maybe a sense of procrastination too….) but its also kinda helpful. because even if none of the suggestions work, its still entertaining trying them out!

Trackbacks

  1. […] purple binder is my Harlan County Bible. (what’s a series bible?) That’s where I keep all of my working notes, timelines, calendars, Harlan brochures, the […]

  2. […] Black (author of the Glimmerglass series) had a wonderful post last year about her process using Word to create her character sheets and categories for her bible. […]