Not content with writing just one book, some writers tackle a series.
I did this for the first manuscript I decided to write seriously (either bravely or stupidly, I still haven’t decided), and one thing I learned was that it pays to have a series bible.
A series bible is a document made up of all the notes, secrets, and information relating to your series. The same principles can be applied to standalone books, but where a series bible really shines is keeping everything straight amongst multiple books. This is the reason why all writers should have one.
What To Include In Your Series Bible
List everything you can about your characters. What they look like, who they’re related to, who they’re friends with. Note down their goals, dreams, where they go to school, if they have a job, what happened in their past. It doesn’t have to be paragraphs of detail, just enough to remind you where they’ve come from and where they’re going.
- Age/Birthday (if you’re that detailed).
- Physical description.
- Connections (which characters know/come cross each other during the events of the book/s).
Does your series take place in the same town with the same coffee shop visited regularly? Does every installment take place in a new world? Are your characters teenagers who go to the same high school? Are they adults who first met in high school? If it’s a location that will be visited or mentioned regularly, sort out the finer details and write it down so you can refer to it at a glance.
- Town name.
- Character homes.
Do you have a character who always dresses in long pants no matter the weather? Is your series set in a specific time frame and you need to know the clothing style to make it authentic? Don’t forget things like accessories too. It’s the details that matter.
- MC always wears jeans.
- Villain has a fondness for capes.
- 90s set high school drama—cue Doc Martens, flannel shirts, and denim everything.
Is it advanced? Is it the Zombie apocalypse and there is no technology? Is your novel historical and phones haven’t been invented yet? Is it modern day and help is only a text message away? Do characters get around in flying cars Marty McFly-style, or are vehicles only for the rich elite? Once you know how your technology works, add it to the bible.
- Social media.
How do you mark the passage of time? Do you refer to specific holidays so the reader knows it’s December when it’s mentioned your MC is Christmas shopping? Do you name actual months or refer to summer’s hot weather or the chill of a winter’s night?
Add a blank yearly calendar to your series bible and map out when events happen, making notes of what month/season it is. That way, if a character refers to spring, you can check your book timeline and make sure it’s the right month (adjusted for wherever your book is set as the seasons are in different months around the world).
Keeping track of how time moves in your series using notes or a calendar will also help to avoid continuity problems and placing events either too far apart or too close together to be believable.
Are we in a world similar to our own or is it mythological? If you’ve created your own world or one that has very different rules to ours, put it all here.
If your world has magical systems or superpowers, this is the place to write down the rules that govern those powers.
- Never feed them after midnight.
- There can only be one Highlander.
- Each district must provide a Tribute.
You could put these under characters or you can give it its own section, either way, list the arcs. How does your MC change from the first book to the last? What redemption or damnation does the villain go through? List it all here.
- Hero to villain.
- Winner to loser.
- Ordinary to superhuman.
- Against love to embracing it.
As you get deeper into the series, it’s a good idea to have a summary section that briefly lists what happened in each previous book. That way when you get to writing the last MS, you can refresh your memory about what has happened in the series so far.
- Book one events.
- Book two events.
- Book three events.
- Book four events (and so on).
For each book in my YA series, Blackbirch, I have a document of notes. These notes are snippets I’d typed on my phone or scrawled on paper in my terrible handwriting relating to each book.
It was plot ideas, dialogue, events that needed to happen. When writing each draft, I referred to these notes to make sure I included everything I wanted. Having them sorted into each book made it easier. I would even go through each note and mark it off so I knew I had included it. If you have similar notes and your writer-brain also works this way, make yourself a “notes” page in your series bible.
- Plot point.
- Cliffhanger idea, etc.
Another handy section to add to your bible is a section listing your research. Include links, pictures, and your sources so you can double check things when needed. Some of mine included.
- Black birch trees.
- Town sheriffs.
And there you have a basic idea of what to include in your series bible. You can even go the extra mile and channel your inner Monica Geller by color coding your notes to each book.
- General/Whole Series Notes = Purple
- Book One Notes/Events = Red
- Book Two = Blue
- Book Three = Green
- Book Four = Yellow
Keep the details of your color key at the start of your bible so you remember what color is assigned to each book. That way when you see a note about the MC being involved in robbery highlighted in blue, you know it needs to happen in book two.
Don’t forget to build your bible with each draft and keep it updated whenever you complete an MS. It will cut into your writing time, but it’ll also help you create a series with connections, details, believable characters, and worlds that feel real.
Also, keep in mind that just because you add details to your bible it doesn’t mean it has to go into the book. Sometimes just you knowing these details is enough to subconsciously influence how you’ll write a certain character or event.
My final tip is to keep your series bible where you can refer to it easily, whether that’s in a file you always have open or printed out in a binder (any excuse to buy stationery), and don’t forget to back it up!
— K.M. Allan