This is why I love collaborating. Everyone on the team always has at least one good idea that makes the project better.
Case in point: less than a week after hiring an editor to help me get State of Grace into publishable shape, I got a text from her indicating I needed a bible for the series. What she meant was I needed to keep track of all the characters, what their relationships to the others are, when events occur, etc. Without one, you run the risk of making internal mistakes from one novel to the next and possibily even within the first book.
This comment was probably brought on by State of Grace’s structure. Most of the book takes place in a 12-day period, but there are flashbacks that reference events as far back as 11 months prior to the novel’s climax, and the current political situation that precipitates the story is the result of things that happened years before.
She was absolutely right. My simple response was, “I don’t want to be George Lucas.”
When I left the theater after seeing The Empire Strikes Back, I said, “What! Darth Vader isn’t Luke’s father! He killed Luke’s father.”
When I left the theater after seeing Return of the Jedi, I said, “What! Princess Leia isn’t Luke’s sister!” (Can you even watch the kisses in Star Wars and “Empire” and not think, “Eeuww! That’s your sister, dude!”)
I’d like to think I wouldn’t make those kinds of giant continuity errors in my writing, but even small slips really irritate dedicated readers and fans.
After we talked about it, we decided I needed a three-pronged approach. First, I’ll create a spreadsheet that lists characters, nations, magical devices and artifacts, and other important elements. I’ll organize them by name, type, first appearance, subsequent appearances, and status (a brief description of what happened to the person or thing at the end of its last appearance; anyone who is killed or anything destroyed will have a note as to who was responsible).
Second, I need a Word document with a glossary of terms, characters, nations, and items. Biographies for characters and histories for countries and items. These descriptions will help me keep in mind who people are, how they know other people, and what their motivations are.
Finally, I’ll need to create a timeline of events. There will be the specific timeline for the events that occur in State of Grace and one for the historical events that happened before the novel opens.
Not only will this help me make certain State of Grace is internally consistent, it will make sure the events in later books don’t contradict established history in ones that have gone before.
Most importantly, it will affect how I write in the future. If I know that I plan for one of the supporting characters to develop into a villain in a later book, I’ll be sure to write him or her so that the reader either sees it coming or can go back to previous books and realize I was building this plan from the start.
If you’re writing a series, I believe you need to develop a bible for it. It’ll help keep your universe straight and consistent.
That way, you won’t have a character go from being a powerful minion to the baddest mo-fo in the galaxy to a tragic hero with no plausible explanation for how that transformation occurred.