This week Crys Cain is joined by special guest, Miss Catherine, to discuss how to create a series bible and the benefits of doing so.
Crys: Welcome to The Author Life Podcast. I’m Crys Cain, and with me this week is a special guest host, Miss Catherine. She is one of my fellow Three-Story Method Editors, a member of the community, and just an all-around cool person who I got to hang out with last year. Technically it was last year, it still feels like this year when we did our editor certification.
Miss Catherine: Yeah, it does like that.
Crys: Time is always very weird. One of your specialties in editing and in writing is long, heavily world-built series, if I am correct?
Miss Catherine: Absolutely. World-building is my favorite part.
Crys: And so what you proposed that we talk about today as your specialty is like how do you create a series bible? Like what is it? Why do you want it? How is it useful? When should you start it?
So first of all, what is it?
Miss Catherine: Okay. So a series bible is a place where you have all of your information about your world. So you can also have your characters, it’s any cities you’ve built, it’s languages. It’s anything that shows up in your world, you have it in one place. And especially if you’re doing a series, you want to make sure it stays consistent throughout. So having it all right there is very beneficial, instead of having to flip through like book one, if you’re on book six.
Crys: And what level of detail do you put in your series bibles?
Miss Catherine: So I go overboard probably. I have a lot of info in mine, but I also really enjoy knowing all of that information. So this way, when I build my world, it’s better. I learned the hard way because I’m a pantser. So I had written 200,000 words and then realized that none of my spaceship at that time had matched throughout any of the story, I kept changing it. I changed eye colors. I changed floor plans. And it was all because in that moment I was like, oh, this will work.
And so after that and realizing how much editing and how much cutting I had to do, I was like, this is only book one of what’s supposed to be nine books. So I started doing a series bible to keep it all together. So whenever I’m lost or being like, wait, what floor was this on, I can flip over to it and be like, this floor.
Crys: So other than like locations and what characters look like, what other kinds of information can go in a series bible?
Miss Catherine: So you can have, for fantasy writers, magic. So if you’re doing a lot of magic, you can have your spells in there, you can have your creatures in there. So if you have a lot of mythical creatures or just like creatures in general that you need in your stories, those can go in there. You can have family trees. You can have governments, if you have that. You can have all kinds of like laws and rules that you need to follow.
And then of course you can start adding like, I would like to do this. So you have a spot, I have it as a binder, so in my binder, I have a spot where I’m like, I want to make sure I add in Griffins to the story. And then somehow I will figure out where and will have a sheet about Griffins and what would be important for that story.
Crys: I know that this is different for everyone, but for your world building information, do you figure it out beforehand or do you fill out your series bible after you’ve written something and be like, oh, I just need to make sure I saved everything I came up with?
Miss Catherine: So I do both. I start off with, I give myself one month to do all of the important world building or as much world-building and research as I want. So this way I’m not stuck in that cycle of just continue to build the world because it’s fun to build worlds, but at some point you have to start writing.
And so I give myself one month and I have to make sure that I put my main rules for the world because the only thing I ever will plan out is my world building. I won’t plot a story or anything like that, but I will plan out my world so this way I know all of the rules. And then as I’m writing, when things pop up, I can check out my rules to make sure that it will still line up. And if it doesn’t quite line up, I can figure out how like that rule would be broken and why. So it helps me to allow my pantsing side to be able to still do stuff, but it won’t be as difficult editing.
Crys: And with folks that you’ve worked with, do you find that most of them do both as well? Or do most people write a book and then come back and start the series bible before they go onto book two? What ways have you seen for people who are trying to get their world in a way to easy access?
Miss Catherine: Yeah, so I’ve seen a mixture of people I work with. And if we’re starting from the beginning, I really try to get them to like here’s your world, these are the most important things. So if they have a government that’s really vital to the story, or military, I’m like, we need to know all of that before you can start writing.
The like small little details, you don’t need to worry about exactly what the city looks like just yet, but you need to know what your military is because that’s what your story will have a main focus on. So for people I’m just starting off with, I try to do that world building. And if they’ve come to me halfway through, we’ll look at where they’re at and we’ll try to see, do you need — because I make templates for mine and I will customize them for people. So I’m like, what section are you stuck at? And then if I see that they’re stuck on one particular thing, we’ll make a template, fill it out, and usually that’s enough information to get them up and over that small hurdle.
And then I’ve had people who have edited, or in the editing phase, and they’re like, I don’t know. And we’ll go through and we will fill out some of those templates as we go through to make sure those points are exactly how they want throughout the story.
Crys: So my next question was going to be about like tech wise, how do you manage this? And you mentioned templates. So do you mind describing that?
Miss Catherine: Sure. I’m actually in the process of doing some more fun tech stuff. I’m working with someone to see how we can import them into Notion. And I’ve been working on getting them for Scrivener, so I have someone who I also work with who will test them out in Scrivener and make sure that they’re easy to just import right there and all of their information’s there.
And then I am also working on getting them as a fillable PDF. Right now, I just print them out and I put them in my binder because I like having a physical copy. But not everyone’s like me, so I’ve been working on getting more of the tech stuff.
Crys: Do you do type it and then print it out or do you like hand write it once you’ve got it printed out?
Miss Catherine: I hand write it once I print it out, so this way it’s my handwriting. It feels cool to world build when I’m just writing it out because it almost feels like I can just throw whatever idea I want down. And if I need to, I can then erase it.
Crys: Yeah. What is the number one mistake with people who are starting a heavily world-built world as they get into the process?
Miss Catherine: Not setting a time frame. Because they will get lost in that world building, or they’ll just keep going and being like, I need to know everything before I can write. You don’t need to know everything. You just need to know the main rules and the main locations or like the magic system that you are going to be working with. The rest you can slowly incorporate. And so that’s where I see a lot of people messing up is when they don’t give themselves that time to be like, all right, at this point I’m done.
Crys: Yeah. I have one series that is going to be like a super epic, long running, like 700,000-word story at some point. And I’ve found that my world-building has gone on for several months, but I haven’t sat down and done a specific like one month of building everything. It’s always just been something that I plunked around in the back of my head, and I started writing it and then realized — for me, I am a plotter, not a pantser — that I didn’t know enough of kind of what the end game was. But that also ties into the world building for me. And so that story has had to take a back seat because I don’t know enough and haven’t had the time to sit down and be like, okay, now’s the time to figure this out, give myself that time frame to do it.
But then I have a standalone that the world building can be very light. I can do it on the fly as I go, because I know that I only need it for one story. It’s not going to have like rippling consequences throughout other books. Unless I go on to write a series cause I’m incapable of writing a standalone, but at least right now it’s a standalone idea.
Would you share with folks where they can find you on the interweb?
Crys: Excellent. Thank you so much for joining me for this special edition of the podcast. And to everyone listening, if you’re not a member of our community yet, Miss Catherine is, and she hosts a couple of different things in our community, and recently has done a world-building workshop for members.
If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what The Author Life Community is all about.