What is a series bible? Simply put, it’s an encyclopedia of a fictional universe that creators use to keep track of everything within it, and make sure they don’t break certain established rules of character and mythos. series bibles have been used by the creators of prominent television shows such as Star Trek, The X Files, Supernatural and others, and are a tried and true method of making sure they don’t stray too far off the beaten path.
To all people writing or planning to write a story dealing with science fiction and fantasy, take my advice. Write a series bible. Trust me. You may think you don’t need it and that you can keep all the information in your story lined up, but it’s not that easy. I too assumed it was something I didn’t need.
I was always an encyclopedia when looking at other works of fiction. I could quote scenes from favorite movies verbatim, sometimes even recite an entire film almost down to the word. Keeping names straight, plot threads, characters, mythos, none of it was ever an issue. So organized was I, that I had no trouble following the plot of the 1984 film Dune, widely considered one of the most incoherent films ever made.
So when it came time to write my own story with an extensive mythos, it seemed that memorizing the material would be just as easy. Here’s why that was wrong.
The books and films I had been exposed to before were not ever changing for one. They were finished. When writing your own story, ideas change, characters appear or are discarded, and backstory is written and re-written by the day. This is especially true for science fiction and fantasy stories, which require a strict set of rules to keep its universe consistent. The moment these rules are broken, be they rules of magic or technology, the audience is removed from the story.
Take for example the Harry Potter universe. That universe has magic that works nicely within certain set binds that keep it consistent. If the magic was too powerful for example, many of the threats the characters face could be dealt with instantly, making the series a bit less exciting.
The universe of my book series is a complicated one. It spans an entire planet filled with many mystical beasts, a variety of races and cultures, and is rich with history and tradition.
It is filled with names upon names from the great city of Ravenwood, to the tiny outlet of Allan’s Meadow. It has great historic figures like Graham Gilliam and Davies the Kind, lost relics like the sunken city of Reuel, an entire language crafted by dragons, names for spells upon spells, and so forth. And we haven’t even gotten to something so simple as the size of my main character.
He’s a dragon, so his measurements are a bit harder to remember than six foot five.
This doesn’t even go into anything like the rules in which spells are cast (which causes an illness if it is done too much), character backstories, likes and dislikes, favorite drinks and hangout spots, friends and family. A universe like this is very complicated, and it’s hard enough to keep it straight while you’re watching it, let alone creating it from scratch.
Since I hadn’t created a series bible yet, finding this information once I forgot it was a chore. I would have to search the manuscript to make sure everything was correct, and doing this really slowed down the process of writing. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I finally decided to create a series bible.
The thing isn’t even done yet, and it’s already 26 pages.
The level of information in the story really hit home on my way back from my recent vacation. I had a three hour flight and thought I would take the time to do some manuscript editing. Upon finishing that, I still had two hours before the plane landed, so I took a look at my series bible. It wasn’t entirely organized, so I figured it would be both fun and creatively stimulating to sort out what was in it.
That lasted right until the plane landed, and I hardly typed a single new word.
Looking back, I wish I’d started work on this thing sooner, as it would have saved a lot of time searching through the manuscript for the name of this spell or that city. Also, there have been other benefits. The mere act of editing the series bible has helped me get back in the mood to work on the manuscript.
So again, people working or getting ready to work on a story, most notably something dealing with complex worlds found in science fiction and fantasy, make a series bible. It will be a very helpful tool, and keep the cacophony upstairs organized so you may more easily create a coherent, and exciting story.