It’s imperative that a writer of a series—no matter the genre—keeps track of the characters, settings, and plots that fill the pages of their multi-book stories. This collection of information, gathered in a notebook, binder, or on a flash drive, is called a series bible. I have a series bible for both the Veronica Walsh Mysteries and my new Robyn Cavanagh Mysteries. The materials, which I create as I write each book, include character lists, synopses, maps, and a book of names.
My character lists detail every character in the book, from Veronica Walsh or Robyn Cavanagh down to unnamed characters and deceased characters who are only mentioned in the story (If you’ve read the debut Robyn Cavanagh mystery, The Double Exposure Murder, you’ll know that the passing (months before the story begins) of the murder victim’s great-aunt Olive plays an important role in the plot). My character lists are in table form, with columns for the character’s name, age, physical description, occupation, relationship to Veronica, Robyn, or the murder victim, the character’s role in the story, and other notable traits.
A synopsis is a standard element of manuscript submissions, whether an author is querying a literary agent or an agent is pitching the book to a publisher. A synopsis, which can be one single-spaced page or several double-spaced pages, relates the entire plot of the book. Synopses that are shorter in length will include only the major points of the story while a longer synopsis will cover subplots in fuller detail. When I’m working on a project and need a reminder of what happened in an earlier book in the series, it’s much easier to re-read the synopsis than thumb through more than two hundred pages of the book in search of the detail I want to confirm. I also read the pertinent synopsis (or synopses) to refresh my memory before I meet with a group of readers.
Much of the action in both the Veronica Walsh and Robyn Cavanagh series takes place on the main street of their respective towns. Orchard Street, where Veronica’s All Things boutique is located, is the picturesque center of business in Barton, NY. Robyn visits her accounting clients and shops on Hudson Road in her upstate New York home of Garland. I’ve lined both Orchard Street and Hudson Road with restaurants, bakeries, antique shops, bookstores, art galleries, and florists, along with the typical stores found on any town’s main street.
I have drawn a map of each main street to keep track of where I’ve placed these shops. Veronica needs no directions to visit her best friend’s shop for a session of floral therapy, but I can never remember if Emerson Florist is one or two blocks up from Veronica’s boutique. I also scribbled floor plans of some of my characters’ homes and, for the second book in the Robyn Cavanagh series, drew a layout of Linden Acres, the farm that is the major setting of the book. Orchards. Pumpkin fields. A barn! I had a blast depicting my fictional farm in full color.
I also have a “bible” of names. A few years ago, I went through a book of baby names and filled fifteen pages in a Mead Composition notebook with potential names for characters. Whenever I struggle to name a character, I go through the pages and wonder, “Is this character an Audrey or an Ida?” or “How about Dwight or Kirk?” When I’ve made a final decision, which I often don’t do until I finish the first draft and realize Abby should be Kerry or Kyle is more of a Frank, I add the book’s initials, character’s last name, and a short description of the character in the notebook so I don’t use the name again in the same series. If a character appears in more than one book of a series, I write the series initials—VW for Veronica and RC for Robyn.
There’s a recent addition to my Veronica Walsh and Robyn Cavanagh bibles: A list of names for common elements in both series, such as bakeries, churches, schools, street names, and more. Veronica often visits Rizzuto’s bakery on Orchard Street while Robyn enjoys frequent trips to the Belle Patti-sserie. Both Veronica and Robyn are Catholic; Veronica attends Mass at Saint Augustine and Robyn is a lifelong parishioner at Saint Joseph’s.
I had a reason for creating this particular document for my series bible: Veronica and Robyn both attended high schools named Sacred Heart. Not the same fictional high school, mind you. I didn’t intend for my pair of sleuths to have this link, but I don’t consider it a goof. I like to think of it as divine inspiration!
I hope you’re all beating the August heat. Here’s a tip: pour yourself a tall glass of lemonade, find a place in the shade, and read a great book!
Notebook graphic courtesy of Clker-Free-Vector-Images/Pixabay