There are so many myths and rules that fly around about writing and the writing process that we decided to tackle some of them head on. Bust them, actually. Because the truth is, if something works–or doesn’t work–for you, then you have to honor that. We’re all different people and we all approach the craft of writing differently. It’s a learning process, for sure. And the way to jump in isn’t with other people’s rules front and center, halting your creative process.
This week, we’re sticking with the character theme and talking about character bibles. Many people say you must have one, and it has to have specific elements to be effective. So Wickeds, what do you think? Do you use character bibles? Does having or not having one make or break your books?
Edith: I have one for each series. I need a list of all the characters and what I know about them. While writing book three in a series, for example, I can’t remember what kind of car a secondary character drove in book one, what color that guy’s eyes are, or what year my protag was born. If I couldn’t go back and check my Series Characters folder, I would waste a lot of time searching through the manuscripts of prior books. I’d also start repeating names or using names like James and Jamie in the same book, which is too confusing. I don’t always know all the information in the bible at first, though. When I discover something new about a character, I go and add it, so the file grows bigger all the time. And of course the entry for my protagonist (see the red circle) is by far the longest, because I know the most about her.
Liz: This is one area where I wish I was more organized! I don’t subscribe to rules in general, but this is common sense – and I wish I had started a character bible at the beginning of this series. Now every time I finish a book and have wasted time combing through prior manuscripts for details, I declare that I’ll start one. And then I start it and don’t finish. For my new series, I swear I’ll do it differently!
Barb: I don’t keep character bibles in any prospective way. I don’t do bios or interview my characters in advance. But I do keep character bibles retrospectively. A part of cleaning up and shutting down every manuscript includes going through the text and copying and pasting character details I don’t want to forget into the character pages in Scrivener. I won’t say I’ve succeeded 100%. I’ve still had to scramble back through manuscripts for details I neglected to record. (Last one, did I ever tell you the first name of Julia’s father?) But it works pretty well.
Sherry: I don’t keep a character bible either. I do have lists of characters that my Kensington copy editor has sent. And I do end up using the search function on word to search for character descriptions and traits that I’ve used before. I should probably start copying those tidbits into a file one of these days!
Julie: I use Scrivener’s character pages, and setting pages. For each new book, copy all those files over to the new document. When I add details, I add them there. I have found that my characters and settings get more details as the series progresses, and that is alright. As the writer, I just need to stay a couple of steps ahead of the reader, and remember what the details I’ve added are. I would LOVE to find a mapping software so I could create a 3D Orchard. That’s the hardest part for me.
Readers: Writers, crafters, project folks – how do you keep track of the details in your work or hobby? Have you ever caught discontinuities in a series, where a character’s traits or appearance in a later book don’t match the earlier books?