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
- 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
- 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?