The Book Bible: The Gospel According to Writers

Well. You just got the notes back from your beta reader, and things aren’t looking pretty. You sent them that one pretty, perfectly eloquent passage that had made you flex your fingers in wonder at their own typing prowess just to see the comment, “Wait, weren’t the main character’s eyes brown in the last chapter?”

The good ol’ saying “consistency is key” is a saying for a reason. People crave consistency, especially in storytelling. A book is supposed to be an immersive experience, transporting your reader from where they are to where they want to be, and you as a writer have the careful and arduous task of casting the spell that will send them there. One wrong click of the keyboard, and your spell will be broken.

If you are struggling to maintain consistency across your book, or you want to make sure that you are able to maintain consistency across multiple books, then creating a book or series bible is essential.

A book bible is a place to gather, sort, and store all of the information you need to maintain consistency from start to finish. This could be a dedicated google drive, a ratty notebook, a binder, a spreadsheet, or a tangle of documents. Scrivener, the widely popular word processing software designed for writers, even includes templates you can use to guide you through the process.

The joy of your bible is that it is considered a living document, meaning that you can maintain a bible as both a seat-of-your-pants writer or a pre-plan-it-to-death writer. In the first option, you create and update categories as you go. In the latter, you create a large amount of them before you start writing but return to them often with updates and additions.

But perhaps your book is already written and you are here screaming for a lifeline. Well, it’s easy! Just start reading your book and writing down information. Every time you come across a fact, either add it to your series bible, or correct it for consistency. Make sure to include page numbers as reference points to make it insanely simple to go back and make changes if you find that you would rather be consistent with a later reference than an earlier one.

Whether you are starting your bible before, during, or after the first draft, here are some things you should include in your bible…

Character Profiles

Character profiles should include the most basic of things: name, age, birthday (if your book(s) will stretch across multiple years, you need to make sure they age appropriately), height, weight, eye color, skin color, hair color… all the different ways that you describe a character. Though these points are basic and simple, they are often where the writer fails a consistency test. How many of us have mocked books where the character’s name isn’t spelled the same way throughout?

Your character profiles should also include background information on the character such as goals, jobs, family, personal stories they share in the book, and personal histories. Since our characters are so often haunted by a combination of past, present, and hopes for the future, these details are important to ensuring you create a consistent character that feels real to a reader.

Finally, your character profiles should include relationships. This is both how that specific character gets along with another and any history they share, but also how those characters view your character. This is especially important when you are writing from multiple perspectives, since so many concepts (tall vs. short, kind vs. mean, ugly vs. pretty) are all subjective and formed by individual experiences.

World

If you have spent a billion years worldbuilding (as you should, arguments found here, here, and here thank you very much), then you should be keeping that information in your bible. Again, because this is a living document, you are going to be able to continue building on the world without contradicting that which you have already established.

Document individual settings and be sure to include details like colors, sights, smells, people, and culture. Create reference information on the sorts of places your characters encounter, you never know when they’ll go back.

Also note when characters are where, which will help you easily identify issues pertaining to travel (main characters go from point A to B in one week of rushing, but the villains do the same trip in three days?). It will also show where you maybe need to add a line or two of dialogue explaining how a character seemingly teleported from where they were left earlier in the book to where they are now.

Personal Writing Styles

For the most part, there are certain things that we all automatically do as a writer. We write grey instead of gray, add an oxford comma or delete it, or add a hyphen when others would just call it one word…

Technically, many of these things are correct. A publishing house will often have their own style guide that dictates what is correct versus incorrect for what they release, and a copyeditor will enforce this. However, make their job easier by staying consistent with your own choices throughout.

Identify where you make a certain choice with your writing and be sure to do it over and over. Sure, an editor might force you to switch, but at least they will be able to see the sure signs of consistent, and therefore quality, writing as they make the choice to either consider your book for publication or issue you a form rejection letter.

Whatever Helps You Out

Some of us just have those brains that keep all of these details in order. Some of us have those brains that literally can’t remember a thing.

Ultimately, you are in control of your series bible and therefore it is on you to decide what should be included. If you are helped by including page numbers, super detailed analysis of personalities and relationships, and the most absolute and banal of details, then do it! All it takes is one moment of inconsistency, one detail you misremembered, to pull a reader straight out of your book.

Once you have your book bible, be sure to use it! Whenever you are editing your work, check the details within and see if you catch any mistakes. You’re sure to slip up at least once, and then boy oh boy are you going to be glad you took the time to get organized.