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How to Make a Series Bible (Guest Post by Michelle Schusterman)

How to Make a Series Bible

A guest post by the fabulous Michelle Schusterman, author of the upcoming middle grade series I Heart Band (Penguin 2014).

Organization fanatics, ready your labeled folders and color-coded font system. It’s about to get real.

Did you ever wonder how all the Francine Pascals out there kept track of it all? Why did Jessica have to kiss Winston again?* When did a teacher trick the twins and co. into playing a game based on the Holocaust? (Yeah. That happened.)**

The answer is a series bible – a document (or several documents) containing everything from character descriptions and class schedules to timelines and setting details. It takes some time to put together, but it’s worth it when you don’t have to go flipping through pages trying to remember whether the best friend lives on Walton or Walden Street.

Step one: Assign colors

Each book gets a color. This will look weird in the beginning, since pretty much everything will be one color as you work on the first book, but it’ll work out later. Example:

Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, Book 4, Book 5

Keep this as a key at the top of the bible.

Step two: Choose a system

Depending on the length of the series, you might be able to do this all in one Word document. For longer series, it helps to give each section its own document to save on scrolling time.
Scrivener users can create a new folder in the binder of the first book, giving each section its own document if necessary. Then just copy and paste the folder into the binder of each book in the series as you go for easy reference.

Step three: Character details

The types of sections you have will depend on the type of series you’re writing, but everyone should have a “Character” section to keep track of not only ages, relations, and physical descriptions, but also quirks, traits, likes and dislikes, birthdays, and any personal details that you mention once and may need to reference again in future books. For larger casts, you may want to split this into two sections: main characters and peripheral characters.

To clarify: This isn’t exactly like those character descriptions sheets that ask for hair color, weight, blood type, and everything else imaginable. Just include what you’ve mentioned in the book. That means you won’t have eye color for some characters, or you might have hair length but no color. You might have no physical description at all for Jenny, but you know she picks her teeth when she’s nervous and she has a chai latte addiction.

Every time a character reveals a bit of him or herself to you while you write, click over on your series bible and copy and paste it in the appropriate color. For your main characters, a lot of this will occur in Book 1. But for minor characters, it might take longer - color coding will help you go back and find when these details were first mentioned. Example:

Curly hair
Brown eyes
Overbite, braces
Picks her teeth when she’s nervous
Drinks a chai latte every morning
Has a dog named Jackson
Wears red rectangular glasses
Braces removed, retainer at night
(Remember: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, Book 4, Book 5)

Step four: Timeline

Some writers go nuts with timelining, others get a headache just thinking about it. If you’re one of the latter, no worries – this can be very minimalist. Just take note of how long (in days, weeks, months, or years) each book is, along with any other important detail. Example:

Book 1: Six weeks, starting the last week of summer break on a Monday
Book 2: Three and a half, including Halloween, starting on a Tuesday (four days after book 1 ends)
Book 3: Five weeks and two days, starting the day after Thanksgiving and a week after book 2 ends

Step five: Settings

Bedroom, house, school, math class, dungeon, subway station, smoothie shop – wherever your characters hang, this is where you keep track of the details. And of course, keep it color coded so you know when you added what. Example:

On Shift Road
Three stories, seven portables
“Pea soup” green lockers
Cafeteria has bench seats
Graffiti on the west wall right outside of the gym
You get the idea.

Step six: Style

Consistency is just as much the author’s responsibility as it is the editor’s. Is it email or e-mail? Does Jenny wear t-shirts or T-shirts? Does she say “okay” or “OK”? When she talks about books, are the titles in quotes or italics? Keep track of as much as you can in this section.

Step seven: Backstory

Infodump away! Get it all out here – how the main character’s parents met, how the new system of government came into being, why the land was divided this way, what happened at Kevin’s party two weeks before school started, why freckles don’t exist anymore…write it down. All of it.

Step eight: Other sections

If your characters are in school, class schedules can be massively helpful. Include teacher names (if any) and any other relevant details. As with every other section, color code it and add to it as you write. Example:

(Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, Book 4, Book 5)

1 English
2 Computer lab (Dawson) (usually runs into Brad when she leaves)
3 Gym (Spencer)
5 Science (Mikels)
6 Art
3 Computer lab (Dawson)
5 Science (Mikels)
7 English

If you’re writing a series with any sort of fantasy, sci-fi, or paranormal element, create a section to keep track of details related to that element. For example, let’s say Jenny learns some of her fellow students are mind-readers. Screw it – she lives in the Village of the Damned. (Sorry, Jenny.) Let’s keep track of what Jenny learns those creepy kids can do over the course of Book 1, Book 2 and Book 3.

Platinum-white hair, pale, extremely blue eyes
Rarely show emotion
Eyes glow when they use their powers
Don’t understand the concept of pain
Victims can block them from mind-reading by imagining a brick wall
(For like thirty seconds)
Are the result of some paranormal activity that is never satisfactorily explained
Can be destroyed by a massive amount of explosives (duh)

(Worst. Trilogy. Ever.)

Again depending on the genre, you might need several sections for things like special powers or abilities, “rules” in your fantasy or futuristic world, etc. And again, color code it so you know when each power, rule, or whatever was introduced.

The most important thing to remember is that your series bible is for you and only you. (Okay, and all the future ghostwriters keeping your characters fifteen years old old until the end of time.) Feel free to add and/or omit any sections that will help you keep track of your stuff.

*They were in a play together. The Slime That Ate Sweet Valley, #53
**It Can’t Happen Here, #86

 ~ Michelle Schusterman
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. ...It's so preeeeetty! I'm going to do my best to adopt some of this planning.


  2. Looks like a good tip, I'm definitely going to try this out!

  3. Ooh, love these tips, MiSchu. My story bible is an Excel document, but I didn't think to put the world-building tips in there or to color code it by book.

    I WANT TO GO TO CAPSLOCK HIGH SCHOOL TOO. Except for that whole Village of the Damned thing.

  4. A few months ago, my mind stayed on the topic of series bibles. However, I had no idea how to create one.

    In the aspect of being a "how-to", this is actually interesting. I'm the sort of person to feel iffy about planning so I don't know if I will do this, but I'll try it one day.

  5. *reads this and tries not to hyperventilate* While this makes it look a whole lot easier to plan a series, I still get hives over planning something so big. I'm in the throes of a series myself (book two, entire series length undefined) so when I sit down and finally organize, this will help.

  6. CAPSLOCK HIGH FTW! (The mascot is a lolcat)

    Thanks, everyone! Donelle - part of the cool thing about the process is that all you really need to do is set up the different sections of the bible. Keep it open when you write, and any time you add a detail that you'll need to remember in future books, just copy and paste it into the bible. You don't actually have to put in ALL THE THINGS in the beginning; it's a gradual process.

  7. This is really helpful. Thanks!

  8. Very helpful! I'll definitely have to try this one out. I've never known where to start in planning and documenting a series. My notes always end up scattered and jumbled.

  9. Wonderful. :) I do many of these things, but I didn't think to color code. I do all my planning on hard copy - just makes more sense to me that way for some reason - but they make colored pens for a reason. :) Thanks for the tips.

  10. I'm about to start outlining book 3 in my trilogy. This is going to be so helpful!

  11. Goodness, I so should do this, but I'm not sure I'm organised enough! Mind you, I don't have a series past book 2 yet.

  12. Thanks for the detailed info on creating a series bible. This sounds like a great idea!

    I'm in the midst of writing a series (though not young adult) and I think this will turn out to be invaluable in keeping track of things over the five books. Much better than my current system, which consists of odd bits and pieces scribbled here and there, and the random Word document.

  13. Looks like I'm about 4 years late to the party, but it's never too late to say THANKS! (Or, at least, I hope it isn't...)


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Item Reviewed: How to Make a Series Bible (Guest Post by Michelle Schusterman) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard