Friday, November 24, 2023

The series bible


I’ve just delivered book three, starting on book four. 1000 words done, and a few more yet to go. It’s a book where the geography of the location and the situation is important. The setting is an old castle that has been bought over by a celebrity couple to use as a wedding venue. The castle sits at the top of a very high cliff, with jaggy rocks on the beach below. What could possibly go wrong at the big opening party when every body has had a wee drinkie poo or five?

You get the picture.

Well today, I’ll be drawing a wee map of the area, naming places, working out distances, and times. How long would it take to walk up the cliff path if you are a) sober  b) drunk c) in high heels.

How fast would a fit cop do it? How slow would somebody carrying a body do it?

At what point on the path does the wind and rain hit you in the face?

Such things are important to the scene and the method of murder and body disposal. There are many other things that are important to the series as a whole.

My last series was 13- 14 books long.  The same dog would have to be a puppy at the start to still be alive and tail wagging at the end. A kid could be old enough to be at uni now, a  baby would be in their early teens.

And then the author, me, gets hit by the great thought to revisit a character in book 12, who was last seen in book 4. That could be considered a visit from the Bad Idea Bear. It involves re reading book 4, spotting all the mistakes, the plot lines that could have been used differently, characters that could have been exploited more because they were good value and fun to write, yet they were thrown under the bus. Literally. And literally.

Who uses a series bible? What form is it? What information is recorded? Spreadsheets or post it notes on the forehead? These are the questions of today.

Me? I am supposed to use a character card that gets updated with every novel, and an entry on that card when something happens to that character, i.e. get pregnant then, gives  birth…. nine months later.

Explains to hubby how to work washing machine in 2023, hubby finally understands in  2028.

I say that I do this. I do it in my head. The actual cards exist but they don’t have anything written on them apart from the character’s name. Maybe a date of birth. If I’ve really been paying attention to myself, it might note where the scar is - right or left. Or which ankle was injured….

My friend though, is bonkers. She’s very organised and keeps a massive Excel type database for EVERYTHING. I bet she does her Christmas dinner by spreadsheet.

She does, I’ve just texted her to ask.

She has a tab for each book, and then different pages for the character, the type of character and their role in the book -  hero, cop, witness, friend,  running comedy character, neighbour, child, dog, ferret.  Then she fills in the traits that she might want to mention in the narrative - hair colour, type of car, type of house, address, pets, wife’s name.  Then she has another whole tab thing for the recurring characters. And another one for the locations – even the layout of the main character’s living room, the police station, whose desk is where.

And, another one for ideas so that she doesn’t use the same idea in two books.

And, another one for her overused words….mine are ‘just’ and ‘seemed’. If I take those out the novel the word count drops by 5k! ‘Shrugged’ is another one, as is ‘nodded’!  But I know all my habitually overused words. I can’t live with the horror of looking at a spreadsheet with its smug little lines and neat boxes, reminding you that you have used “just” 5600 times in  35000 words.

Somethings we do not wish to be reminded of.

My friend has yet another tab….. it’s the action tab. Who gave who what to do. Did they do it? If they did it, what was the result? Was there a result? Or did the poor investigator  get thrown under a bus or off the top of a cliff that faced west but was behind an isthmus.

My friend scares me. I think she’d be very good if she was organising some kind of ongoing conflict.

She admits it’s a very good way to play with the colours on a coded spreadsheet, and  that means that she can avoid writing.

But does she do that at the start of the book, or does she add the info as she goes? What starts to lead the dance?

But still, her ability to do that is awesome.

Other ways of organising the bible are cards of character arcs for the main characters across a series of books.

And there are the digital people and the notebook people. Notebook people tend to use highlighter pens- blue for physical traits, orange for character traits, yellow for ongoing actions in that book etc until they run out of colours. Or pages.

One writer famously uses a scrapbook with character names, the family tree, who died where and when and how, pictures of them and the house.  She cuts a lot of pictures out of magazines and actually looks at the page of the scrapbook while she’s writing about them.  Really, she views it as an art project, with stickers and drawings, anything that makes it fun and that stimulates her imagination.

Or I think we have the Excel tribe and the scrapbook tribe, and probably every variation in between.

And that’s exactly how it should be.


  1. Congratulations on Book 3…or is it Book 4? Which reminds me that my form of Book Bible is a three pronged memory shtick. I at first deny any inconsistencies, followed by suggesting it was planned all along as a test of my reader’s familiarity with my overall body of work, and if all that fails to satisfy my inquisitor, I fall back on that old standby chestnut, “Oh, sorry, the copy editor should have caught it.” — JMS

  2. Could you have someone video you while you're testing how long it takes to "walk up the cliff path if you are a) sober b) drunk c) in high heels." Pretty please. I'd watch that on YouTube. Good way to waste time when supposedly writing...