Tips to Create a Series Bible

By Sue Coletta

Lately, I’ve been consumed with creating a series bible for my Grafton County Series. So, I thought I’d share some tips to help you avoid making the same mistakes. Mistakes like thinking highlighted notes on my Kindle were enough to jog the ol’ memory bank. Mistakes like scribbling notes on scrap paper or a whiteboard. Mistakes like tabbing umpteen pages in the previous paperbacks.

Yep. I’ve done all of the above and more. Hence why I’ve had to reread every book in the series. It’s been months since I’ve written in the Grafton County Series. When I set out to plan my WIP, I’d forgotten a lot of details. In my defense, I did write a true crime book, another Mayhem Series thriller, and new true crime proposal in between.

Though it’s fun to spend time with my characters, it’s also a ton of added work, work that could’ve been avoided if I had a series bible in place. Don’t be like me. Even if you’re writing book one, start your series bible now.

Format

We first need to decide on a format for our series bible. Some writers use Scrivener. Others prefer Evernote or a Word.doc. The most popular choice is to print the series bible and organize in a three-ring binder. Pick the format that works best for you.

Organize by Color

Choose one color for each book in the series. Every detail you list in the series bible should correspond to the book’s color.

Example…

Book 1: Blue

Book 2: Red

Book 3: Purple

Book 4: Green

By color-coding, if you need a detail from the series bible while writing, one glance will tell you when the fact occurred.

Details to Include

  • Description of main characters
  • Description of secondary characters
  • Description of villains, including monikers (if applicable)
  • Victims
  • Characters’ profession
  • Killers MO (if applicable)
  • Pets, including deceased pets (if applicable)
  • Tattoos/piercings (if applicable)
  • Scars, emotional and physical
  • Jewelry
  • Marital status/relationships
  • Important dates
  • Family ties
  • Themes
  • Setting
  • Backstory
  • Housing
  • Accent (if any)
  • Décor
  • Cherished treasures
  • Timelines
  • Future scene ideas

Most of the above list is self-explanatory, but I do want to point out a few things.

Character Description

An important part of the series bible is character description. Savvy readers will notice if your MC has a small ankle tattoo from her college days in book one, then claims s/he’d never be stupid enough to get one in book five or six.

In this section be sure to include the basics: hair & eye color, height & weight (approximate, if you’ve never detailed this attribute), style of dress, skin tone/complexion, tattoos & piercings (if applicable), favorite perfume/cologne, injuries and physical scars.

When I listed Sage’s injuries/physical scars, I couldn’t believe what I’d done to this poor woman. Here’s a small sample from my story bible.

  • thick neck scar that tugs at the skin
  • white lines zigzagging across her right forearm
  • lost unborn child from rape
  • scar from incised wound on right wrist
  • orbital floor fracture (broken eye socket)
  • fractured cheekbone
  • broken nose
  • faint scar from stitches on left wrist
  • faint scar from stitches on upper lip
  • faint scar from stitches on right cheek
  • faint scar from stitches on forehead

And that’s only the first two books!

Emotional Turmoil

Since I write psychological thrillers, it’s vitally important for me to track each character’s emotional toll. Past experiences define and shape our characters into the people they are today. An emotional sketch of each character allows us to find triggers and/or weaknesses to exploit in future books. *evil grin*

Incidentally, I do the same for pets. For example, Sage and Niko have two dogs, Colt and Ruger. These dogs have lived through harrowing experiences, and they’ve developed certain habits that stem from those experiences. Animals feel things as deeply as we do. If the pets emerge unscathed, the characterization won’t ring true.

Details

Tiny details matter. For example: When Sage gets nervous, she plays with a Gemini pendant, sliding it back and forth across the necklace. Now, the pendant is turquoise and silver, but for some reason, I wrote “gold” chain in book one. Because this necklace holds sentimental value, Sage would never switch the pendant to a different chain. This minor detail has never been a problem for me. Rarely, if ever, do I mention the color of the chain. Too much description slows the pace.

But what if I decide to kill her some day? Or fake her death? That necklace could become a key piece of evidence. See what I’m sayin’? Even if we never intend to use the minor detail when we list it, we still should include it in the series bible in case we change our mind.

Smell

The nose knows! In my Grafton County Series, the medical examiner practically bathes in Aramis cologne. Anyone within fifteen feet knows he’s entered the crime scene before they ever spot him. It’s become a running joke. I could never forget that detail, but I still include it in the series bible under his name just in case.

What did slip my mind was Sage’s perfume. This might not sound like a big deal, but for this series, it’s an important detail. During tender moments, Sage’s husband Niko breathes her in. The soft aroma of Shalimar mushrooms across his face, with notes of lemon, iris, jasmine, rose, patchouli, sandalwood, and vanilla. He loves that about her. If I didn’t include this detail in the series bible, future books wouldn’t ring true.

Side tip: If you’re struggling for a scent, ask your husband/wife or significant other. We all have a scent that’s uniquely ours. Maybe they love your shampoo, skin cream, body wash, after-shave, or scented deodorant. Once you find the answer, transfer that scent to your lead or secondary character. Or show your character cooking, baking, or eating. Food is an easy way to include one of the most under-appreciated senses in fiction: smell. If the character is eating, be sure to include taste, too. Bonus!

Décor

Does your character have a favorite chair? List it in the series bible.

Does your character hate the hard sofa? Jot down why in the series bible.

Did you focus in on an antique timepiece or cuckoo clock in a past book? Describe it in the series bible.

What about a wall safe or gun cabinet? Be sure to include the combination in the series bible.

Example: After a hard day at work, Niko collapses in his Lay-Z-Boy. I’ve never described the recliner in detail. Never had a reason to. Instead, I simply wrote “Lay-Z-Boy” under Niko’s name in the series bible.

He also has a favorite coffee mug, with #1 Dad inscribed on a gold shield. If Sage poured his coffee into a different mug, fans of the series would wonder where it went.

Minor details can impact series characters in an emotional, conflict-driven way.

What if Sage came home to find Niko’s mug shattered on the kitchen floor? Better yet, what if she found it on the bedroom floor? I’ve made it a point to mention this mug in every book. It’s a Grafton County series staple. One glimpse of the shattered mug, and Sage would leap to the conclusion that someone’s been in the house. In reality Colt or Ruger might have knocked it off the counter or bureau. How it wound up on the floor isn’t important (yet). What is important is that I’ve created conflict just by showing the shattered mug.

Future Scenes

A funny thing happens while creating a story bible. Scene ideas flood the creative mind. While working on my series bible, not only have I finished planning my next Grafton County Series thriller, but I gained at least one new premise for a future book, as well. I even stormed through writing the first few chapters of my WIP. And that may be the best reason of all to create a series bible—to get the creative juices pumping in the right direction.

Can’t think of a plot for your next WIP? Review the story bible. It’s a lot easier than re-reading the entire series. Trust me on that. 🙂

Need tips for writing a series? Check out the group TKZ post.

Do you use a series bible? If you do, any tips to share? If not, what’s your process to ensure consistency throughout the series?

His name is Paradox and he poses his victims in RED cocktail dresses, RED roses in place of eyes. He will kill again if his riddles aren’t solved within 24 hours.

Can Niko and Sage stop him before the clock runs out?

Look Inside SCATHED: https://books2read.com/SCATHED

 

 

+13

48 thoughts on “Tips to Create a Series Bible

  1. One of my critique partners created a series bible database form. (Pandemic Project). I can see how using Sue’s suggestions for what to include, and her framework to get it all listed would be a great system.

  2. Wow, Sue. Another great post! Great ideas, and thanks for listing the details. I went back and reviewed the previous article on series writing that you coordinated. Thanks for organizing that one. Definitely worth reviewing along with this post.

    In answer to your question, I don’t use a series bible. Unfortunately, my system is tabs sticking out of the previous books. I now have my New Years’ resolution.

    Love your pictures! Go Pixabay, Canva, and BeFunky!

    • Thanks, Steve! I did the same thing…until it became overwhelming to leaf through all those pages. Sounds like the perfect resolution!

      Haha. Looking forward to your pics!

  3. Thanks for this post, it is so timely for me.
    Yesterday, I started a list of what I need in my series bible. I have a 3 book deal with a publisher and am wrapping up book 2. I’ve had to go back and check facts from book 1.
    Your list is comprehensive and helpful!

  4. I’ve used a series bible for a number of years now. Not only is it great inspiration, Sue, but it’s been a blessing to help keep me organized. (Which is not a strong point of mine) I enjoy flipping through mine, reorganizing, adding and so forth.
    So much so, that I’ve started a binder even for my stand-alone stories, just in case I want to write sequels or side-stories from those.
    By the way, all my “Bibles” are paper, pen, page protectors, color-coded tabs and so on. (It enables my love of the stationary stores, LOL!)

  5. I used to keep track of those things i a spreadsheet, but I developed a database to track everything this year and transferred all the information to that. At my fingertips!

  6. Sue,

    Why didn’t I know you back in 2015 when I started my Tawny Lindholm Thriller series???? Of course, with the first book, I didn’t know it would become a series.

    I think that happens with many writers–they believe they’re writing a standalone but readers ask for more. Before you know it, you’re six books in and don’t have a bible. That happened to someone I know quite well. [wink, wink]

    2021 resolution: write my series bible!!!

    Great tip that reviewing the bible triggers new story ideas! The subconscious has been busy planting tiny seeds all along the journey, just waiting to be discovered.

    Excellent post!

    • Haha. Debbie, if we knew each other in 2015, I wouldn’t have started mine either. Apparently, I needed years of aggravation and wasted time to get my butt in gear. 😉 Now that I’m wiser (allegedly) I wonder how I pulled off switching back and forth between two series without mixing up details. Or maybe, I just haven’t found mistakes yet. *gulp*

  7. Very important post, Sue. Great tips.

    I knew I’d need a series bible for my Mike Romeo thrillers. For one thing, he likes to toss out a Latin phrase every now and then. I keep track of all those so they’re not repeated. Particulars of backstory come up in other books, so I cut and paste these sections into the bible. I also keep close watch on his fights. I don’t want him overusing the same tactics and techniques.

    I also have a very specific inner journey model for each book.

  8. Valuable exercise, Sue. I’ve never used a bible but it makes total sense, especially as a series progresses and mistakes get made like turning my blonde Norwegian into a redhead. I had that pointed out to me and I had to go back, make the change, and republish the manuscript. I guess the closest thing I’ve done to a series bible is a style sheet like editors use. Thanks for this – you might have converted me 🙂

  9. Fantastically helpful post, Sue. I didn’t use a series bible for my first series, The Empowered, so I had to do multiple “find” searches in previous books. I did create the bones of a bible for my new library mystery series, in Scrivener. Your post is going to help me flesh out that bible. Thank you!

  10. Love this post, Sue. I’m saving it for future reference.

    I do try to keep story bibles, but it usually ends up just as a list of character names with their ages and my current novel outline. I’m planning to do a lot of writing in the next month, and I’ll put fleshing out my bibles on the list.

    • Thank you, AZAli. I’m so glad you found it helpful.

      Like you, I settled for notes, lists, tabs, etc. Creating a series bible may be a lot of work up front (depending on the number of books), but it’s also a fun exercise that will save you valuable writing time in the future. Write on!

  11. Great post, Sue. I have a Google Doc tab for each main character with the details color-coded per book (I’m just wrapping up #2 of my first full-length series). My slight additions are:
    — I have a photo (pulled from the Internet) at the top to remind me and jog additional details out when I’m stumped. (e.g., GOT actress Sophie Turner with her red hair, pale skin, green eyes);
    — I add sample MS texts under certain characteristics so I can keep ’em straight and avoid dupes. (e.g. she has a “deep voice” > “sonorous” > “low-pitched” > “rumbling” etc.) I find seeing how and what I said (and where) in one spot helpful.

  12. At the risk of being confoundedly (just made up that word…) repetitive, I never visit TKZ without learning something cool.

    My debut novel, to be released next year (cue finger-crossing), has a sequel in its infancy.

    A series bible sounds like a must-have. Thank you, Sue, for this excellent post!

    • My pleasure, Deb. I think I can speak for everyone when I say, we never tire of comments about helping fellow writers. Thank you!

      Yes, indeed. Now’s the perfect time to start your series bible. Crossing my fingers for your debut!

  13. I’m not new to reading everyone’s post but new to respond. I’m almost finished with a 52-week (4 weeks to go) challenge of writing fiction short stories for Dean Wesley Smith’s 52-week challenge. I’ve saved all of the stories in a Dropbox folder and have a binder as well. I don’t remember all my stories and wonder if doing a miniseries Bible might work for short stories (2000-to-4000-word count). I can see some of these stories developing into a novel.
    Your thoughts?
    Great post!

    • I’m thrilled you commented this time, Sherry. Sounds like a fun challenge. The short form is also an ideal way to master how to write tight.

      To answer your question, a miniseries bible is a terrific idea, especially if you plan to expand a short story into a novella/novel one day. Even if you don’t have plans to expand some stories, still include them in case you change your mind.

      Best of luck with the challenge!

  14. Engage your fanbase. If you already have a book or three, or more and don’t have a Bible, you probably have a fan who does know that David Rosen never wears jeans. They can fill in all of the details on everything.

    I am a ‘puter geek. I have been using Evernote for years. It has a free version is on line only, an app, or on a mobile device. Everything syncs. You can have a tablet or your phone open while you are working. It is tagable and very searchable. You can find every note you have made on Det. Rogers and make sure you don’t add a mustache if you didn’t mean too. https://evernote.com/

  15. Or you could do what JK Rowling did. Have a fan create one for you with a concordance, then thank him by suing him for copyright infringement.

    My first four novels were written pre-PC. I used a spiral notebook with sections for each book in my trilogy. Standalone novels should have a bible, too. Even after I got my first Mac, everything was hand-written because my creativity works best with pen and paper. I added notes and details after every writing session. This isn’t as tidy as using a computer where you can move things around and color code them, but it worked for me.

    My first book was set in a large mansion filled with secret passages and doors. My maps were carefully thought out with the logistics of how real-world architecture works. Also, I put compass points on the maps because I didn’t want the hero to have sunlight in his room in the evening when it faces east.

    The bible isn’t just for a work-in-progess. It’s for having information ready for when you need it later. There’s back story, research details, plot ideas, etc.

    Research sources were listed with Dewey decimal numbers and the library or the personal bookshelf where they were. (This was pre-Internet.) For later books, I created a file specific to the book in my browser’s bookmarks. Articles and pictures I’d clipped were added.

    One page was nothing but names I could use for random characters. Each name was dissimilar from the main characters so readers wouldn’t be confused by a similar sounding or spelled name. I also picked names that were common in the area where the novel was set.

    Another handy page or two to have, particularly if your book is a fantasy, is a word bible. Each character’s name, made-up words with a brief definition, place names, and unusual capitalizations are listed. When your book is edited, this list will keep the copy editor from hassling you about words that may appear to be misspelled.

    • Thanks for adding your experience, Marilynn. And thank you for adding tips! Yes, I agree. Each standalone needs its own story bible. We can always expand to a series bible later, if the need arises.

      The maps sound fascinating. I bet all your meticulous planning paid off in the novel. Just the fact that you took the time to detail when the sun rose and set says a lot about you as a writer. Those tiny details can make or break a storyline. Impressive.

  16. This post is invaluable, Sue. I’m building character studies for my WIP. But now, I’ll be going back and adding so much more information. And I’ll definitely give the Scrivener template a whirl.

  17. I have not yet but definitely need to create a series Bible. It’s bizarre-o–I’m an “attention to details” sort of girl, yet it’s like pulling teeth to get me to sit down and create a story bible to keep track of details. Humans are such contrary people! 😎

  18. Very helpful post, Sue. I’m writing my 6th Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, and FINALLY started a bible. I got tired of scrolling through the old mysteries to find the name of Dr. Katherine Stern’s boyfriend. (It’s Montgomery.)

  19. Thanks so much for this, Sue. It’s incredibly detailed. I can think of at least three series I currently read that badly need this. I may anonymously email your post today to their authors. But if I do that, then they’ll know it’s me! What to do?

    Have a Merry Christmas and a great 2021!

  20. Great reminder Sue and thank you. I have a character detail spreadsheet in Scrivener and all my research on separate tabs for each book in scrivener but I still spend too much time keyword searching or peeking back in older epub files for the answers. I really think your list of things to add will help a lot as I start the 4th in my series. Thanks so much for saving my time.

Comments are closed.