This post comes from one of my newsletter tips and was requested by Harvey Stanbrough. I’m planning on eventually doing a workbook, and now, come to think of it, it might need a book itself.
I’m working on book 4 of my GALCOM Universe series. When I wrote the first book, it started as a short story for an anthology call and turned into a novel. Halfway through, I realized I’d stumbled into a series. By the time I got to Book 3, I knew I needed a series bible. Most of the examples I found were uninspiring. Even the variation from Dean Wesley Smith (Research for Fiction Writers workshop) didn’t do much for me (my creative brain is very fickle).
The term “series bible” comes out of TV. A typical TV show may have so many different writers come on the show. The series bible is a guide for the series so that they know Captain Kirk is from Iowa or Gibbs Rule #9 (“Never go anywhere without a knife”). It just helps keep track of continuity details. At least that’s how I’m defining it. Jane Friedman adds things like snippets of dialogue, which I don’t really get. The dialogue comes in naturally as part of the story, so snippets of random dialogue would be flotsam. But I digress.
My Guiding Principles
It shouldn’t be a lot of work to do.
The priority should be on the writing, not on filling out endless worksheets and questionnaires.
It shouldn’t turn into a junk drawer.
Really, it is possible to track too much information. A lot of my decisions about whether to include something start with: Am I going to use this again?
It should be easy to scan through.
Seriously, you’re in the middle of the scene and you can’t remember the number of people on your space station. Do you really want to spend fifteen minutes hunting it down or get the information so you can starting writing again? There are priorities.
I have my character one here because it’s the one that has the most details, and they’re always changing:
- JOB BACKGROUND
- FAMILY GROWING UP
- FAVORITE FOODS
Appearance, contrary to just about everything I’ve seen, does not include eye color. I don’t notice it unless it’s very unusual like Elizabeth Taylor’s violet eyes. I would tend to assume most characters wouldn’t notice either. It’s just what’s in the stories.
Clothing is the style of clothes the character wears, favorite colors (if I’ve mentioned it). Most of my characters are military, but they’ve worn civilian clothes. One of the characters wears sweats to sleep because he expects to be woken up in the middle of the night. Stuff like that.
Job Background is essentially what crops up in the story about the person’s military career.
Family growing up – my main character (the team lead) has extensive details about what her life was like growing up (ghosts do not make for a good family life).
Favorite Foods – well, if you’ve had any of Dean Wesley Smith’s workshops, you know that the five senses are pretty important. The characters eat a lot, and they have favorite things like chocolate (well, someone has to!).
Tags – These are things about each character that gets repeated over and over. An example is Jack Reacher being a really big guy. Just read one of the books and see how many times it gets brought into the story.
Dialect – I included dialect because I started doing it for some of the characters (thanks to another workshop and a skill I want to work on). One of the characters is a Hoosier. I looked up a lot of dialect for him for Cursed Planet, put them in Scrivener, then deleted that file once I compiled the final version.
Yeah. So I had to redo the research when that character became the main character in last stand. The dialect includes some common words, and also some general rules like adding an s onto words. (“We haven’t been down to the planet’s.” It’s still a work in progress. I know it looks like a typo.).
I’m also thinking about what I want to do for setting and timelines. Timeline would most likely be dated events that I mention. In the current story, I mention the Gold Rush days, which is 75 years ago.
One of the biggest things about the series bible is that it’s time saver. Writers tend not to think of their time as valuable, but every moment you have to spend hunting down information is time not available for writing.
Good post, Linda, and I’m glad you decided to tackle it.
IMHO, which personal traits the writer includes in character description depends on the characters and the genre. For example, in a detective or PI story, the main character might, as a matter of course, notice (and mention) eye color.
Of course, much depends on whether that particular trait is important to the story. I like (personally) to draw a complete picture of the main or significant characters for my readers. Flat or secondary characters get much less in-depth descriptions because they appear only briefly and usually to foreshadow something else..
Likewise, even in other genres, if one character is infatuated with another s/he might notice eye color, skin tone, whether the other character has or is lacking earlobes, etc..
So again, often how in-depth a character description runs is often informed by the characters themselves.
Thanks again, and thanks also for giving me another topic to write about. (grin)
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I have a notebook for each novel’s details; I categorize them, but it’s hard keeping track of characters, ships, aliens, …
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