Creating a Series Bible

by James Scott Bell

It may be the most famous (infamous?) case of writer’s block in the annals of American lit: George R. R. Martin is having trouble completing his epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire (of which A Game of Thrones is the first volume). It’s been over ten years since the last book, A Dance with Dragons, came out, and there is no pub date in sight for the next one, titled The Winds of Winter. 

So what’s the trouble? Martin himself admits:

Looking back, I wish I’d stayed ahead of the books. My biggest issue was when they began that series, I had four books already in print, and the fifth one came out just as the series was starting in 2011. I had a five-book head start, and these are gigantic books, as you know. I never thought they would catch up with me, but they did. They caught up with me and passed me.

Another clue to the blockage comes from something he told his friend Diana Gabaldon, “I’m having all kinds of trouble. Have you ever killed somebody off that you later realized that you needed?…I just painted myself into a corner.”

Now, Martin is a famous “pantser” who writes and writes and tosses and writes some more. But with the enormous cast of characters and plot lines in this series, it’s surely impossible to keep track of everything just by way of the gray cells.

Enter the series bible. This is a master document that keeps track of all the essential information you write, from book to book. It’s both a time saver and a mistake avoider.

When I began my Mike Romeo thriller series, I knew it was going to be more than three and less than 100 books. (Ha!) So I started a series bible that I add to when each new book is completed. I use Word for this, utilizing three layers of TOC headings. For example, I have epigraphs in each book. So part of my TOC looks like this:


Romeo’s Rules

There’s only one thing I need to know: Whose side are you on? – Paul Simon, “Paranoid Blues”

Wherefore art thou Romeo? – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2

Romeo’s Way

Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles. – Homer, The Iliad

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. – Mike Tyson

The most important sections of my series bible are:

Titles and Plot Lines

Under each title I have a squib of the basic plot line, which is usually all or a portion of the book description copy I use on Amazon.

Main Characters

Each recurring character has an entry so I can recall how they were described the first time they showed up. Nothing worse than having blond hair in Book 1 and auburn in Book 5.

I also have a summary of their backstory. Sometimes I drop in more backstory in a later book. I’ll paste that material into the master backstory for that character. This way I don’t repeat the info (unless it’s in short summary form for readers who are getting into the series other than by way of the first book) or write something that contradicts previous material.


Romeo is always reading a book, or recommending one to his young friend Carter “C Dog” Weeks. This list keeps me from referring to the same book in different novels.

Philosophy References

Romeo is steeped in philosophy, and usually makes several references in a novel. To keep track, I list them in this section. That way he is not expounding on Plato’s Cave in more than one book.

Latin References

Romeo also likes to drop some Latin, which usually confuses bad guys. My go-to reference is Amo, Amas, Amat and More. I keep a running list so Romeo does not repeat himself (except for the tattoo on his forearm: Vincit Omnia Veritas. Characters ask what it means, others ask if his name is Vincent, etc.)

Fight Scenes

Romeo used to be a cage fighter and thus makes use of a wide variety of moves and blows. I choreograph the fight scenes using books and YouTube videos. I don’t want the same moves over and over. This section is a refresher on what I’ve done before.


I have sections with possible titles, possible plots (mainly What ifs), possible wisecracks, and bits of wisdom to impart. These things occur to me at various times and places. As soon as possible I record them here so as not to forget them.

That’s basically it. One thing I’ve been asked is if I keep a running list of every single character I put in a book. I used to do that on a spreadsheet, but not anymore. So how do I avoid using the same name when creating a new character?

First, I come up with a list of potential names using the Scrivener Name Generator (which is seemingly infinite in its offerings). I’ll choose one and run the first and last names through a Spotlight search on my Mac. Thus, if I’m thinking of naming a character Mandi I do a search…and up comes Romeo’s Town. Ah yes, now I remember! Then I can pick another name and run that one through Spotlight.

My series bible has saved me a lot of time and searching around in previous books. My way is just one method. Scrivener guru Gwen Hernandez has an article on how she uses the program for her bible. See also Sue’s post here. There are lots of ways you can do it…so long as you do it.

If you are a series writer, do you have a bible? What goes in it? How do you use it? Additional tips are welcome.

34 thoughts on “Creating a Series Bible

  1. Agreed, Jim. A series bible can save hours of searching for a minor but important detail. I don’t add to the bible while writing the first draft, though I can see the benefit. During the first read-through, I add scars, favorite lines, decor, physical attributes, pets, a quick summary of each plot, books, movies, and more.

  2. Great post, Jim. Thanks for all the ideas of ways to organize a series bible. I’m starting book #5 in my series, and I know I should get a series bible started. It just seems like such a time consuming task. Your post may have just given me the nudge I need.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a program (?The Compartmentalizer?), into which we could load all our books in ePUB or docx format, and the program would sort and compartmentalize all our data for us. With subsequent books, we could just do a search.

    Thanks for the nudge. Have a great weekend!

    • Yes, best to start the series bible when you start the series! But better late than never, even though it’s a bit of a chore. The benefits will become apparent.

      As for a compartmentalizer, who knows what AI is capable of? (I suppose The Terminator knows.)

    • Back when I taught journalism one of the basic intro to reporting texts had a town directory in the back. In assignments throughout the text, names and titles were often wrong, and students were expected to look the damn things up! I wish I knew how he did that. Although I suspect it was laboriously hand-done. I’ve thought that there must be some kind of indexing program that could at least flag proper names, but apparently that too is done during the writing process not after the fact. (I suppose it could be done at the editing stage. Of book 1.)
      So yes, if someone could create a program that would generate a town directory a la Fred Fedler, I’d like to hear about it!

  3. It’s ironic that Martin’s penchant for killing off popular characters has bit him in the butt. A lot of fans are thinking, “Serves him right!”

  4. A single series bible is one of the most useful tools. I’ve known this for a while but have not taken the time to make one.

    This means I have notes posted on my bulletin boards, in multiple notebooks, and stacked on the coffee table in my writing room for birth dates, eye colors, novel beginning and ending dates, and forms of usage such as in the first book of the series, did I refer to his office at home as library-office, office-library, home office, etc.

  5. Halfway through my third novel, I was writing a chapter featuring detectives Carlioni and McNeil when I realized I was using the wrong name for one of them. He was MacMillan in my previous books. That was obviously an easy fix, but a series bible would have avoided the problem (and the angst) altogether.

    I like the way you’ve organized your Romeo series bible. I’m going to set up something similar for the Watch series as I begin book #4.

    Interesting about Martin killing off characters and later wishing he hadn’t. My characters are breathing a sigh of relief.


  6. Whap, whap, whap! That sound you hear is me kicking myself in the butt. One of my 2021 resolutions was to create a series bible (prompted back then by Sue’s great post).

    [hanging head in shame]

    Carrying the resolution over into 2022, thanks to your excellent reminder, Jim. I esp. like your “miscellaneous” section for wisecracks and bits of wisdom. Don’t want to repeat the same old, same old from book to book.

  7. Great post, Jim. A series bible is a very handy tool. I really like how you’ve laid yours out. I started one in Scrivener for my new series, but definitely need to update it.

    I was video chatting with another author friend on Friday and she talked about the value of not boxing yourself in too much at the beginning of a series with lots of established details about locations and supporting cast’s backgrounds, that way you have room to create as you go. She has a restaurant that she didn’t go into too much detail about in the first few books in her series, and then realized, oh, it has another level, which suited the plot of a later book.

    Today’s post made me realize that a series bible will help remind me what I’ve nailed down and what I’ve left open for the future.

    Have a fine Sunday!

  8. Well, I just wrote this lengthy comment which disappeared (my fault; I clicked away by accident), so I’ll recap.
    I should, but I’m too far into my series to start now. Going on #11 Blackthornes, 10 Mapleton Mysteries, 4 Triple-D Ranch, 6 Pine Hills Police …
    I guess I’m going to keep relying on my notes and spreadsheets.
    And, when I find a fact I need, it’s usually the sort that wouldn’t have made it into my nonexistent bible anyway.

  9. Since I’m only on the first book of my series, I’ve decided to fill my bible with character excersises instead of facts. When Sue wrote her wonderful post, I tried making a bible, but ended up erasing it since “I can remember that easily.” The character excersises help me now; whenever I get around to writing a sequal–maybe when I run out of new ideas, or the first one gets picked up?–I’ll put in important, don’t-you-dare-forget information.

  10. To quote a romance writer’s mantra. “Never waste a perfectly good hunk.” In other words, don’t kill people willy nilly just for a few pages of material and shock value because your fans may like him enough to give him his own novel.

    Martin should do what JK Rowling did. Use a fan’s online bible then sue him for copyright theft when he attempts to monetize the information. JKR was a dick long before most woke types considered her a dick.

    The fact that GRR Martin has been in Hollywood making deals, writing stuff, and hanging out with stars has absolutely nothing to do with his unfinished books. Absolutely nothing. Snort. Famous people are a lot more attractive than an empty room with just you and a blank screen.

    I found the bible for my first books, a trilogy, not too long ago. Mine was considerably more detailed, and it included info for the books before and while I was writing them. I had maps of the hero’s house including the secret tunnels with a compass indicating directions so I’d get the sunlight right, a comparison map to my real world since I used my hometown as its model, names of their friends and servants, a family tree, and notes on the history of stage magic with descriptions of some of the large historical illusions I used during a chase and fights in the house. I also included detailed descriptions of all the characters, possible names for other characters, and lots of info needed for my McGuffin in the first novel that involved Edgar Allen Poe and a more obscure Southern poet. Hey, I had to use those degrees in literature somehow.

    And in my ongoing mission to educate us old foggies on what the kids are interested in, here’s a link to a rap battle between Martin and Tolkien as played by actors/singers.

  11. I’ve always used a form of story bible, Jim. Sort of a self-invented format, but I find it very valuable. On Friday, I found out it’s not just bookish story tellers who use a story/series bible. I was approached by a television producer to get involved with a non-scripted documentary about a high-profile case. She referred to putting me in her “story bible” and wanted to get more information on my background. I grinned and asked, “You use a story bible in TV producing, too?” She immediately replied, “Oh, heavens, yes. I’d be lost without one.”

  12. I promised myself I’d start a bible with my new Angela Richman series, Jim, and I’m now at book 7 — and well, I swear on a Bible I’m going to fix this. Good blog.

  13. I studied Latin for four years, so the temptation to drop some in is always present. As a former owner of British cars, I’m particularly fond of Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit. [“Perhaps some day it will be a pleasure even when these things are recalled.”]

    Regarding series: I have yet to write in the same genre twice, let alone about the same characters. At seventy-twelve, I’m lucky to finish a single WIP. But constructing a series bible applies even if it’s a series of chapters. I pantsed Tenirax one workshop reading at a time for two years, reaching >110,000 words when “done.” Done? Haha! The m/s was like a battlefield, craters everywhere, plot holes in its plot holes.

    I belatedly constructed a timeline, a synopsis, and a dramatis personae, all of which I should have at least begun before the second workshop. Writing my KillZoneBlog comment yesterday took over an hour, but uncovered another unaddressed plot hole. Argh! Yaay!

  14. I created a bible for my first series, but after I started using Scrivener, I have all the characters at my fingertips. But I like the idea of adding the lines the characters use…like He’s crazy as a road lizard. First time I ever heard it, I was sitting in an ICU waiting room listening to the people around me and one man used it for his b-i-l.
    And now I find that Owen Wilson uses that saying all the time!

    I was about to ask what Spotlight was and googled it…turns out I use it all the time, just didn’t know that’s what it was called. Thanks for a great post.

  15. These are great tips for a series bible. I’ve started one but don’t think I had a solid enough idea of how to make it work for me so this post and comments help me formulate more solid ideas.

    To the point about Martin regretting killing off a character he wishes he could’ve used later, I see that the idea for the series bible is doing it after each book is complete. What are your thoughts on using the series bible with regard to avoiding potentially killing off characters?

  16. Jim, You’re so right! I work in Scrivener and don’t have an official bible, Instead, I make a document I call a Style Sheet (a copy editor’s term — In my youth I worked as a CE) — which has character names, descriptions, quirks, timelines, geographies & other pertinent details. I bookmark my StyleSheet so I can refer to it in the Inspector & I add to it with each new book as I go along. Fast, easy, invaluable.

  17. Heavens, yes. For my 3-book Neanderthal time travel series, I created a 4-column table in Google Docs to keep things straight (e.g., “When they come back to the Present, has more time elapsed or not?”).

    And to dupe what Garry said, in TV-land, a Story or Series Bible is a must-have, and it’s negotiated upfront with the Option.

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