I was involved in a message board discussion the other day about how I set up a series bible. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a series bible is a summary of all the information you need to write multiple books (or television shows or films or what-have-you) in the same setting/story world. Since I do the same thing for my stand alone novels as I do for series work, I thought I’d share that process with you all.
The first thing I do is assemble all of my organizational materials into a three ring binder. I use tabbed dividers so that I can find things easily once the project has begun. I usually use the same set of tags on every project – Characters, Setting, Plot, Timeline, Research, Unanswered Questions, and Reminders.
– The Characters section contains all of my character summaries, my back-story notes, and a physical description sheet that allows me to easily reference things like eye color, height, weight, etc. I also make a habit of cutting pictures out of magazines or off the web to remind me of what certain characters might look like and I keep these with my notes for visual cues when it comes time to develop descriptive passages.
– The Setting section contains all of my setting sketches (one page summaries of everything I know about a particular place or setting) as well as any miscellaneous notes I might have lying around discussing how those setting relate to each other. As with my characters, if I have any images that I’ve saved, I put these in the binder as well.
– The Plot section contains my one paragraph, my four paragraph, and my four page plot summaries, as well as my individual scene breakdowns. I think I’ll talk more about these in my next essay.
– The Timeline section contains my spreadsheet mapping out exactly when things happen in the storyline. If I need to keep track of more detailed events I’ll also draw up one page sheets that outline these as well.
– The Research section contains not only my original list of research topics, but also the research itself. It I usually start with a list of topics I need to research and then let it grow as I fill in the missing pieces. Do whatever feels right to you but remember, you shouldn’t be spending so much time researching that you never get around to actually writing!
– The Unanswered Questions is, appropriately enough, full of unanswered questions. These can be specific research issues (also filed in the Research section) or they can be character and/or plot issues that I haven’t yet worked out. Putting them in their own section and making a point to review it every few days keeps me from forgetting to answer them in the manuscript.
– The Reminders section is particularly important. The last thing I want to do is stifle my creativity and forward momentum by constantly going back and fixing things in my first draft. Instead, I keep notes of anything I need to fix, add, delete or otherwise adjust on a legal pad while I write each day and then transfer those pages into my binder when I’m finished each session. That way I know I won’t forget to come back and do them, which in turn allows my creative side to just get on with finishing the rough draft.
Once I’ve got my binder in order, I’m ready to get to work.
Since I write my chapters entirely out of order, this level of detail ahead of time is necessary for me to achieve my goals. I map out each and every book this way, taking one or two months to get it all squared away. The benefit, however, is that the actual writing time is greatly reduced as I’m not trying to figure out where I’m going while in the process of getting there.