How to Write a Book Series Bible
What is a Book Series Bible?
A book series bible is a document created by authors to assist them with their writing process and to keep track of all content related to their... you guessed it... book series!
It covers characters, story, world(building), arcs, themes, and structure.
Do You Need a Book Series Bible?
If you're writing a book series, then the short answer is yes.
The bible helps you keep track track of all the details in the series. Even if you're publishing each book within one or two years, details can get fuzzy and they can get fuzzy fast. With books linked to each other, and some readers binging all the books in a short space of time — I read the Harry Potter series in six weeks — you can't afford to slip up.
Pitching your series to a publisher along with your first book? Use the relevant portions of your book series bible to elaborate on the series's overall arc.
How to Use a Book Series Bible
When writing a book series, it's important to have an accurate reference that can check every detail. This could include minor details such as the colour of someone's hair to the sound and atmosphere of a particular location. It's difficult to remember all the details that are pertinent to a series with so many books either planned or released. You may already have trouble keeping track of what happened in a standalone book. Imagine how much worse that's going to get in a series! Which book happens when and how do the storylines connect?
Every time you introduce a new character, location, subplot — you get the drift — add it to your book series bible.
When to Start a Book Series Bible
I had the idea for my book series, The Bacchus Chronicles, while I was writing my latest romance novel, Behind the Seams. It's not a series in the strictest sense — more of a collection of stories about distinct characters and time periods in a shared universe — but the principles of a Book Series Bible apply. When I'm working on a book, I know I'll have characters popping up from previous books. I'll need to know how old they are. Assuming they do, I'll need to know how timelines overlap. My bible is growing fast — and I have nine books in different planning stages.
If you know you'll be writing interconnected books, I'd recommend starting your Book Series Bible as soon as possible. I started mine halfway through writing Behind the Seams, and even then it took more time than I expected. In addition, I noticed I hadn't actually worked out the day-by-day timeline for the current book. It saved me from making one particular faux pas I'd never have lived down.
Most times, the first book in a series provides new readers with background information and plot points that are integral to understanding what's going on in the rest of the series. If you can get as much down as soon as possible, you'll also have the luxury of building in foreshadowing.
What Goes into a Book Series Bible?
Whatever you want!
Not helpful, Stuart. Try again.
Okay, okay. Here's what's in mine:
Logline and/or series jacket copy. I wrote my book jacket copy — sometimes called the book blurb — as though all books were being published in one volume.
The reason I chose to write The Bacchus Chronicles.
What inspired me to write The Bacchus Chronicles.
Structure, including a decision whether the books follow a linear or nonlinear timeline. During my interview with Susanne Dunlap and Margaret McNellis, Susanne revealed the last book in a trilogy bookends the trilogy in terms of the timeline. The first part of the third book happens before the first book. The second part of the third book happens after the second book.
Themes, including the point I'm trying to make with the series and each book. I know items 1, 2, 3, and 5 will be perfect to revisit when I'm running out of steam. Yes, they're there to keep me on track, but they'll also serve to re-energise me when I get to thinking, "Why am I even doing this?".
World-building. I'm making lots of decisions during world-building, and it's the perfect place to compile images of locations.
Characters. I have to know who my characters were before the series begins, what they're like as the series begins, and how they'll change over the course of the series. It takes time. Do the work! My supporting characters — those who serve a function, not that gardener in the background of scene three in book two — need describing. What do they bring to the table? Conflict? Support? Something else? I have to think about how everyone fits into the series's narrative.
Series breakdown. How will the series play out? Where does it start and end? What conflict winds its way through the series as a whole? (This isn't strictly true for The Bacchus Chronicles because they're standalone spinoffs.)
Book breakdown. I use the same Blueprint for a Book I use with my book coaching clients. It's a robust tool that outlines a book. If you already have a tool of choice, use that. Either way, you should have a concrete plan for where each book's going.
There's no right or wrong way to compile your Book Series Bible.
Want to use Pinterest for world-building and OneNote for character sketches? Go ahead. Want everything in Scrivener? Do it.
Some writers will say they don't need a Book Series Bible. That it's all in their head. That's cool, too, but a bible will save most writers a headache when they're in the weeds of book four and can't remember why Charlie's so attached to the cucumber he pickled in book two.
If you're still not sure which direction you’d like to go when planning a book or series, I'd love to help. Go ahead and book a free, thirty-minute call with me, and I'll be happy to talk things through.