Friday, July 5, 2013

Tips for a Series Bible

by Jemi Fraser

I'm in the process of working on two different contemporary romance series and thanks to some brilliant blogger about a year ago, I've created 2 bibles for each series to help me save my sanity. I wish I could remember which blogger posted about this - if it's you, give yourself a shoutout in the comments!

If you're writing a series, you know how hard it is to keep track of the little things. Here are a few of the things I've had to ask myself:
  • what's the name of the sheriff's wife?
  • does the gossip maven wear glasses?
  • what's the name of the hardware store?
  • who's the crazy guy who believes in aliens?
  • what's the meaning of the horse's name?
  • what's the name of the bay off the northwest of the lake?
  • what's his favourite fudge flavour?
I use spreadsheets to keep track of the information (I love my spreadsheets!!). If you don't use spreadsheets much, you might want to try it for this. I use Excel (comes with Word), although I've used Calc (Open Office) & Quattro Pro (Corel) in the past - they all work well.

One of the advantages of a spreadsheet is the ability to have different sheets within the same file. Currently I have 4 sheets for each series. Within each sheet I use the columns to create categories to help me quickly find the info. Here are my current choices:
  • novels (title, main characters, season, major settings)
  • main characters (name, nickname, love interest, height, hair/eye colour, body type, personality basics, job, quirks, food (faves, hates, allergies...), vehicle, important stuff)
  • minor characters (books they show up in, job, connection to main characters, significant other, physical description, personality basics, important stuff)
  • locations (building name, type of business, owners, moose (you'll have to read the series to find out about that one!), location in town, exterior description, interior description)
I may add more sheets and/or categories in the future, but for now this works to keep it all straight. Of course, if you want to try it, the categories may need a little tweaking depending on your genre and writing style.

It does take a bit of time to set it up - and it's SO much easier if you remember to add information to it as you're drafting! - but I think it's well worth the time you invest. Searching through your ms or multiple mss for the info you need is a big time waster - even with the Find feature. Much easier to open your spreadsheet!

If you write series, do you use a bible? Do you have any tips to add?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.


jwtroemner said...

This is good advice~

I use Scrivener, which usually has a section set aside for research and notes.

Since I'm playing in the fantasy pool, I also include things like history and cultural taboos, and a record of all the new words I've used and what they mean.

Outside of fantasy, though, generally I'll have characters associated with a particular theme-- one character always has some kind of fire-related word in her description, while another is more associated with felines, and so forth-- and I include those themes in my notes.

Kez said...

Great idea Jemi! I'm writing my 3rd book in the same setting so I need to borrow your idea. I'm a spreadsheet queen, so it's right up my alley!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't use a spreadsheet of any kind, but I write down character details in a notebook. Plus I note things about the storyline and surroundings.

Jemi Fraser said...

JW - sounds like you're well organized! I use Scrivener as well (love it!!) and it does help with a lot too :)

Kez - yay another spreadsheet fan! This has saved me tons of time already - hope it works for you!

Alex - a notebook works just as well! I rarely use paper for anything writing related (I'd lose it!) but I know it works so well for so many!

JeffO said...

I don't write series, but there are times when I could use this sort of thing for my stand alones. I have a hard time keeping track of some things, especially when I'm just starting out.

Jemi Fraser said...

So true, Jeff! Keeping track in all stories can be tough!

SC Author said...

Ooh, I don't use a bible but I think I should. It'll really help me keep track of everything.

Jemi Fraser said...

SC - it's saved me a ton of time!! Hope it does the same for you :)

Belle Wong said...

I love the idea of using spreadsheets to keep track of things - although I can foresee for myself that the first obstacle would be remembering to track things in the spreadsheet as I go. I haven't yet gotten to book 2 in any of the series I have going yet, but I probably should think seriously about getting spreadsheets set up sooner rather than later. Great post, Jemi!

Jemi Fraser said...

Belle - it is hard to remember to input the data as you go - I tend to do it in chunks - not always the most efficient way :) Glad it helped you out a bit!

Geekamicus said...

Scrivener had some awesome character profile sheets when I was using it. So now I have a character bible. Now, on a separate page, each person has

"Character Name:
Role in Story:

Physical Description:

Internal Conflicts:
External Conflicts:

Notes: "

Really helps keep me from having to do a search for "did I ever mention..." I'm a pantser and can't figure out how I managed to go as long as I did without keeping it all laid out.

Jemi Fraser said...

Geek - I love Scrivener! But I have to confess I rarely use that template. I've used a few of my own character pages under that folder, but not the templates :)

I'm a pantster too - & it can be so hard to keep track!!

Medeia Sharif said...

I never really gave Scrivener a chance, but I do love spreadsheets.

Jemi Fraser said...

Medeia - I love Scrivener - so many handy features - but I'm not giving up my spreadsheets yet!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I do use a bible. I buy journals and keep a page or two for each character and ... well a whole book on everything I need to keep safe.

Jemi Fraser said...

Susan - that's a good idea! I don't have a desk area at home but if I did, I might have started that way too! I like not being able to physically lose my computer files! :)

Charmaine Clancy said...

Spreadsheets give me a rash. But I do record all the character and setting details in Scrivener. Great post!

Jemi Fraser said...

Charmaine - too funny! I love my spreadsheets but I use the Scrivener folders too :)

erica and christy said...

I haven't needed to for my current WIP, but in the past I just scroll up to the top of my document and jot notes. It's not organized, but it works for me. :) Christy

Jemi Fraser said...

Chrisy - that actually works really well I'd think - you would always know where the notes are and they're in the same file!

DMS said...

Great advice and it sounds simple to set up! I haven't set anything like this up yet- but have thought about it. I will start a file like this sometime this week. Thanks for sharing! :)


cleemckenziebooks said...

I love spreadsheets, too! I'm definitely going to put that tool to use. Thanks for this, Jemi! Great suggestions.

Jemi Fraser said...

Jess - it isn't bad to set up - my biggest problem is adding in the info at the right time!

Lee - yay another spreadsheet fan! They're so fun! Glad to help :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I keep detailed character profiles and a timeline. With five books in a series that overlapped, I had to keep everything straight.

Jemi Fraser said...

Diane - no kidding! Having them overlap is a HUGE challenge! You're a very brave lady :)