Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Character Bible

by Joyce

I recently began writing a second book in a series. This is the second time I've done this, so I'm no stranger to the process (I have two unsold books in another series). This time though, I found myself having to search through the first manuscript for character descriptions, where the characters either live or work, and I even forgot one's last name.

I didn't have this problem with the first series I wrote, probably because there weren't as many recurring characters to keep track of. The second book took place in another city so almost every character was new. My current books take place in a small town, so the only characters not in the new book are either dead or in jail. I needed a way to keep track of them all.

I've heard writers talk about character bibles before but I never needed to use one until now. So I sat down with my trusty Excel program and here's what I came up with. I assure you it's nothing fancy.

On two tabs on a worksheet I put Murder for the first book and Politics for the second. I made three columns on each page: Name / Who are they / Description. I may add another column and mark it Other. I then went through the first manuscript and entered all the names and filled in the other information. It was easier for the new manuscript. All I did was copy and paste the information from the first sheet. Then I deleted anyone who won't be in the new book and added the new characters. Now all I have to do is add people to sheet as they appear in the book.

Some writers also do this with the geographic places in their books. I haven't done that yet, but I do have a hand drawn map that I keep nearby. I drew it shortly after I started the first book and it's been a huge help.

Those of you writing series--how do you keep everything straight? Do you use a character bible?

12 comments:

Gina said...

Forget series - I sometimes have trouble keeping things straight within one book, particularly if I've had to change a character's name or something about her/him. [In my unsold manuscript Running Rivers I had changed Mara's name to Shannon, but even in revisions I keep accidentally calling her Mara.] I haven't gone high-tech on solutions yet, just a handwritten list by the PC. Oh, and maps. Yes. A map of the imaginary area, a map of the house or room, sometimes a sketch - that helps a lot.

Annette said...

I have a computer program (that is no longer on the market--dammit) that lets me plot and keep track of characters. I need to copy all the info somewhere else, though. If this old dinosaur of a computer dies, I won't be able to access all the stuff I have in that program.

I've been waiting for the Schrivner for Windows to come out, but the release keeps getting bumped back. It seems like the program I'm using only on steroids.

Ramona said...

I have never tried a character bible, or a repository of some kind, but I don't know that I like the idea of the computer programs. Maybe I just don't want to learn anything new? I have yet to depend on anything other than my memory, which is failing more each day.

I'm rambling, aren't I? What was the question?

Joyce said...

I tried a free version of one of those writing programs once--I can't remember the name of it--and didn't like it. It was too "busy" for me. There were too many boxes all over the page. I'm one of those people who can't stand to have more than one thing showing on my screen. I usually have several things open--I just don't want to see them all at the same time!

I just use Excel for plotting. I have a tab for each chapter with a summary of what happens. It really comes in handy to write a synopsis.

Joyce said...

Ramona, do you keep a list of characters or anything? How do you remember all the details about them?

JB Lynn said...

Great post! I'm currently working on book 2 of a series and am running into the same problems. I definitely need to make up a bible.

My agent asked me to write proposals for the other two books in the series before we went out on sub with the first and I now I find myself SOOOO mixed up about what happens in book 2 vs book 3.

Jenna said...

I don't. But after five books - I'm writing DIY-6 - I sometimes find myself digging through the older books and manuscripts for details. What was so-and-so's eye color? Was this person in his late thirties or early forties? Did I change this one's background from Alabama to Alaska or vice versa? I could probably use a character bible, but by now it seems too little too late, somehow. I don't have the time to go through each of the five previous books to write down the details. It's quicker to look it up when I need it.

Joyce said...

Thanks, JB. Let me know if you end up making one and how it works for you.

Joyce said...

Bente, I don't know how you keep everything straight. Although, if you mixed something up, I'm sure someone reading the book would notice and be sure to tell you. Do you get many emails from readers correcting you?

Ramona said...

Joyce, I don't keep a list of characters. Many are based on real people in my life, so I think of them that way. Also, it's a small town with a small cast.

I don't know how I do it...since I've been tinkering with this story for a while now, obviously whatever I'm doing, I'm not doing very well!

Jenna said...

I don't, actually. I get emails from people who like the books, and the occasional email from someone who doesn't. The latest, Mortar and Murder, got a few responses from people who weren't happy that it wasn't a traditional cozy, what with the human trafficking angle. But it's rare that I get emails correcting mistakes. A few people have written to explain to me the difference between a car and a truck, which I already know. Avery doesn't care, though; she's not as familiar with cars as those of us who grew up driving, and she'll keep referring to Derek's truck as a car when she feels like it. I've been told that Aunt Inga isn't really Avery's aunt, which I also knew; it's a courtesy title. And I've been told that Ukrainian and Russian isn't the same language and people in the Ukraine would speak Ukrainian, not Russian. That's actually not true, since about 1/3 the population of the Ukraine has Russian as their first language. But that's not even the point. Avery wouldn't know that, or necessarily care. A lot of the 'mistakes' are poetic license, things I do deliberately because I'm writing from Avery's POV and not my own. She tells the story based on how she sees it, not based on what I know.

Long answer to a simple question; sorry...

Joyce said...

Good points, Bente. I write in first person, too, so my characters make similar "mistakes." Irma Jean is a country gal and hopefully it shows in the narration.