Why You Need a Book or Series Bible
Even though we created the worlds, characters, and conflicts in our stories, we can forget the little details. That minor character from book two might come back in book five, and you might accidentally move their birthmark from their thigh to their shoulder. Eye color is especially prone to these discrepancies. Readers notice the details. They fall in love with characters in a different way and can be jarred out of their reading experience by the discrepancies and point them out in reviews. That’s why you need a series bible.
What Is a Series Bible
A series bible is your guide to the details of your story. It’s like a cheat sheet for your book. If you don’t like the term bible for its religious connotation, you can call it book series notes, journal, companion, whichever term you prefer.
Usually series bibles are divided into sections by character and setting. That way if you need to look up that birthmark, you can turn to that page or use Microsoft Word’s find feature to locate the detail faster. I have a sheet for every character and room of my novels.
I prefer to hand write my book bibles, so I can quickly locate a detail while I’m drafting without having to open another computer document. I use an accordion folder to store the bibles for all my series. Other authors prefer to type their notes, so they always have their guides with them. There’s no right or wrong way to store your details, so find something that works for you.
Character Chapters of Your Series Bible
So what do you actually put in your series bible? It’s different for everyone, but generally, you start with your character’s description and how they fit into your story. In each character’s section create a list like:
Names and nicknames
Ways of speaking/phrasing
Relationship to other characters
This is not a character sketch, but if you do character sketches, consider keeping them in your series bible. The difference between a series bible and character sketch is you fill in the bible as you write whereas you complete a character sketch usually while plotting.
As you write add details you come up with and write into your story. In particular keep track of little things like your character’s favorite color or the drink they hate. It’s the little details that don’t necessarily impact our stories that we tend to slip on. Also include key backstories and events.
Here’s an example of a character section for Jeb in my necromancer trilogy
Says “you see” and “you know”
7 when learned Izzy’s a necromancer
Favorite color = green because of blanket growing up
Sandy brown, longish hair
Doesn’t like belts
Has two older brothers and a younger sister
24 years old in the present, 6 in the past
A series bible doesn’t need to be super long or contain the descriptions you actually used. It’s a reminder for yourself and a way to make sure your characters are consistent or purposefully inconsistent.
Setting Sections in Your Series Bible
Your setting section is similar to your character chapters. This is where you put the nuances and specific details of the setting featured in your descriptions or that your characters interact with. It can even be a drawing of a room’s layout. Here are some aspects of the setting you might want to add to your series bible immediately.
Names. Names of streets, shops, parks, benches, official, and unofficial
What that space means to your society and character
A map of items within
What changes over the course of the story
Where your characters prefer to sit or hide
The feeling of the space (might vary by character)
Again, these are details you add as you go along. My setting sections of my series bible tend to be smaller than the character ones because I have less settings and less nuances to keep track of. However, if you’re writing historical fiction, you might have a larger setting chapter to help you store handy facts from your chosen era.
Other things you might include are how much time passes, how the seasons or years look, or where your character carved their initials in the waiting room when no one was around. I find a map to be the most useful aspect of my setting sections because I’m a visual learner. I need to be able to picture the space. You can use and include photographs, but most of my settings are entirely invented, so I draw wonky pictures like this:
Why an Editor Recommends a Series or Book Bible
You’ll be surprised by what you forget. If you’re completely immersed in your story, you might not be able to fathom forgetting anything about it, but once it’s published or set aside and you’ve written other characters, places, and plots, the details of this story will become hazy. That’s when you turn to your series bible.
In addition to character and setting sections, you might need a technology chapter if you’re writing science fiction or historical fiction. A family tree can be particularly helpful for romance and contemporary series. I have a magical powers section in my necromancer trilogy. It’s a list of all the potential abilities of a necromancer and the consequences of using them. Next to each ability, I write the age Izzy is when she acquires that skill or encounters it and decides not to use it.
You’ve crafted a world that’s real for your readers, so you can’t become lazy about the details. A series or book bible will help you quickly keep your details straight, so you write a consistent story. If you haven’t started your series bible, begin filling out the character and setting chapters to Ignite Your Ink.
What’s a crucial detail you’ve included in your series bible? Share it in the comments below. For more tips on writing series and a free Guide to Building Strong Settings, subscribe to Ignite Your Ink.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.