Do You Have a Series Bible?

Do you have a series bible? I wish I did.

There are various types of writing bibles. Some include everything from the plot line and motivation for the stories to character descriptions and proposed sequels. Writers who know they’re going to write a series may include the overall arc of their main characters from the first book to the last.

I wish I could say I was that organized. When I started writing the P.J. Benson Mysteries, I had no idea it was going to be a series. It wasn’t until after The Crows was published and readers started asking when the next P.J. Benson Mystery would be out that I even thought about writing a next one. And it wasn’t until I finished that book and was searching for a title, that a friend said, “Well, if this book is part of a series, it has to have the word ‘Crow’ in the title for continuity.”

Continuity. That’s the key and why a bible is necessary. If you are writing about the same characters and where they live, you must be consistent in how you describe these characters and their world. Oh, they can grow and change from one book to the next (if that’s what you want), but the basics have to stay the same. And if they don’t stay the same, you need to have a reason why your blond is now a brunette or why she hated guns in book one and is a sharpshooter in book four. (And no, P.J. is not a sharpshooter now.)

Because I have never created a bible for the P.J. Benson Mysteries, I am spending a lot of time going back to The Crows, As the Crow Flies, and Eat Crow and Die looking for information that I need in book four. Thank goodness Microsoft Word has the “search” option. By using “FIND” I can discover if I’ve ever mentioned what kind of car a secondary character drives, or what P.J.’s mother’s boyfriend’s last name is. Was Howard in Special Forces? I don’t remember. I think I might have mentioned something about that in The Crows. I’ll have to look it up.

Some people have wonderful memories and can pull that kind of information out of their heads in a second. I’m not one of those people. So, if you’re like me, and are planning or working on a story that might become a series, here are my suggestions. Go out and buy a loose leaf binder, some plastic sleeves that you can slide letter-size paper in and out of, and dividers that you can use to separate characters from settings from any other section you might need to refer back to.

Yes, you can do all of this on the computer, and for some writers, that’s definitely the best way to go. I, however, want a notebook. I spend too much time looking at a computer screen as it is. With a notebook, I would be able to review information while relaxing in my easy chair or at the library or by the pool. Each page, I hope, would have everything I would need about a character, a pet, town, house, weather…whatever. With a character, I want the character’s name, if there’s a reason for that name, when born, physical looks, any particular beliefs that character has, education, family, and on and on. The more information I put down, the more valuable that page will be for me.

Today I wished I had that Bible. I needed to know what kind of car Wade’s sister Ginny drove. It took me ten minutes of scanning through all three Crow books before I discovered I’ve never mentioned what kind of car Ginny drives. If I’d created a “bible” for this series, I could have simply turned to Ginny’s page and I would have had my answer.

So, be smarter than I am. Create a Bible for your series, either a loose-leaf binder or a file on your computer. (Or both.) Include and organize the information about the characters in your story and the world they live in so whenever you can’t remember a detail, you can look in one place to find what you need.

By the way, here’s a video on creating a series bible for a Novel and below that is an article on creating a character bible.

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14 Responses to Do You Have a Series Bible?

  1. Diana Stout says:

    While writing the 2nd of a 7-series novella, I realized I needed a series bible because I have 7 sets of characters with everyone in and out of each other’s books, plus 9 of the 14 went to school together. Lots of details were coming out. I now have this HUGE printed spreadsheet of a timeline that I plotted out, plus an ongoing Word document that I keep open as I write. It enables me to simply copy/paste details I’ve written into the document. I’m thinking I need to record from which book the details first appears, too. I’m now writing the 6th & 7th novellas and am so glad I started that bible.

    Great post!!!

  2. Clarice Cook says:

    My first novel was a stand alone and then I started to publish books I had been writing all my life. When I wrote that first series books, I didn’t realize the characters just wouldn’t die or leave or go away…Lordy, what a lot of manuscripts. I knew these characters inside and out. When I published these manuscripts, the end result was a series. I am now working on the 4th and final sequel…I promise. Anyway, I’m wondering if my decision to describe my characters at the beginning of the first two sequels was wise????? I guess I shared what is my bible?

  3. Carole Price says:

    A series bible is a must for me. No way could I remember details without it. From their appearance, their likes, desires, to the character’s motivation behind her/his actions.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Not remember all of those fine details is what I’m running into. I have some information on a spreadsheet I created for the characters, but not enough, not the details that didn’t seem important enough to list back when I finished the first book but which I wish I had at my fingertips right now.

  4. I think a series bible is advisable. My fifth Kim Reynolds mystery Blood Family will be published by Encircle on May 15th. It follows The Bad Wife, #4 in the series. Each novel picks up where the previous novel left off, although with a separate, new mystery to solve.

    • Maris Soule says:

      My P.J. Benson books also go on from the ones before, which makes it necessary to remember things from the ones before. Problem is, I have a rotten memory.

  5. Anne Stone says:

    Hi Maris,
    Great blog post. Looking forward to the video.

    This might be a dumb question, but when we use the term “series” are we talking about several books with the SAME main characters? Like Stephanie Plum.

    Or different main characters in each story but with a commonality between the stories?

    For instance, I’m writing a trilogy that takes place in the same small town. My characters are all interwoven, so is this considered a series? Book one introduces characters who will be featured in book two. In book three, characters from book one and two are present.

    Or am I overthinking it, lol?

    • Maris Soule says:

      Yes, Anne, your trilogy would definitely be a series, and I strongly recommend you start a “bible” whether it be in notebook form or as a spreadsheet. (The spreadsheet became too complicated for me. I want a lot of little details for each character and setting.)

  6. Lucy Kubash says:

    When I wrote the sequel to my first book, I had to reread the first one to recall a lot of little details. Now that I’m working on book three, I really need to do this. Thanks for the information on setting up a series bible. It’s very helpful, especially since I plan to go back and rewrite book one in the trilogy!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Lucy, I have spent more time than I like to admit going back to remind myself of those little details that are only important if you make a mistake and a reader catches it.

  7. susan payne says:

    I didn’t know I was writing a series either but ended with 8 stories and multiple characters. What my plan was to have a sheet for each character of ANY story I was writing. Physical descriptions, education, little back-ground ie orphan, rancher, duke…
    Never used them. I never stopped the story long enough to fill them in. Thank goodness I have a great memory and continuity has always been strong. I ‘drop’ into a story and am off. I don’t recommend it but it works for me.

    • Maris Soule says:

      The key words in your comment, Susan, are: “Thank goodness I have a great memory.” That’s my problem. I don’t have a great memory, so I do need to go back for those little details that can make a story seem real or can get you in trouble if you screw them up.