Edith here, delighted to welcome Liz Milliron back to the blog. Liz and I “sprint” online together every day, and I love her writing. Her second Laurel Highlands Mystery, Heaven Has No Rage, comes out from Level Best Books next week!
State Trooper Jim Duncan’s quiet overnight shift turns deadly when fire destroys a ski lodge. The body inside is not the man who rented the cabin. Assistant Public Defender Sally Castle, still reeling after the events of several months ago, receives missives, each one darker than the last, at her office as well as her home. As the questions multiply, Jim and Sally are thrown into a race to find a murderer as well as a stalker…before Sally ends up facing more than an unwanted pen pal.
Writer, Read Thy Bible
First, thanks to the Wickeds for hosting me today. It’s always fun to chat with you all!
From the title of this post, you might think I’m going to get all religious on you. But that’s not it at all. The bible I’m referring to has nothing to do with holy scripture.
It’s a story bible.
You might ask, “What’s a story bible?” Well, if you write a series (or multiple series, like some of the Wickeds), the story bible is where you keep track of all the details. You might know your protagonist’s features cold, but what is her step-sister’s first name? That woman she didn’t like at her last job? Does her ex have brown eyes or green eyes? What kind of car did she drive in 1997? What was her first job out of college? Was the first house she lived in blue with white shutters or white with blue shutters?
You get the drift.
All of this might be in past books. But when you’re drafting book seven, say (or even book two), you can’t go back and read six other books to find the answer. And what if you’ve written short stories with your character? You see the problem.
Enter the story bible. It can be paper or digital, but it’s where you keep all these details so when the moment comes, you can put your hands on the answer. Since I write in Scrivener, I keep a detailed Character Sheet for each character and put them in a special binder. When I start a new book, I pull the relevant character sheets over – folks like Jim, Sally, Tom Burns, and Aislyn McAllister. The original gang, as it were.
Sometimes I find out that I need a minor character from a previous book. If so, I can do that, too.
As I write the current book, new information is put in the bible. If Sally sells her tan Camry for a red Porsche, that would go into the bible. I can’t see her doing something like that, but you never know.
I thought I had been smart. Jim and Sally had a year of history thanks to the short stories that were published before Root of All Evil (the stories in Murder Most Scenic). But apparently I hadn’t been as thorough as I thought. While drafting that book, I had an argument with Jim about whether he had hazel eyes or green eyes (yes, I argued with a fictional character). I whipped out my series bible to prove he had green eyes…and that detail wasn’t there.
As I prepped for the blog tour for Heaven Has No Rage, the question was raised, how old was Jim? Well…he was in his mid-thirties. But he was in his mid-thirties in the first short story. I’d never included his age in the bible.
Then I realized I needed to be able to age these characters appropriately as the series progressed. When were their birthdates? Add that to the bible.
Yeah, not as thorough as I thought.
But it was worse. After I gave a minor character in Heaven Has No Rage not two, but three different cars, I realized my series bible had to expand. I hadn’t given my minor characters – the ones who only appear in one book – the same level of attention as the recurring characters. My bad.
All of this necessitated a day of going back through everything that existed and figuring out things like birthdays, ages, and family relationships. Just how old are Jim’s niece and nephew, anyway? Turns out that’s going to be important in the next book.
I won’t pretend I’ve got it all written down at this point. I know better. But hopefully the next time someone asks, “Just when is Sally Castle’s birthday, anyway?” I’ll be able to look up the answer.
Readers, does it bother you when small details are inconsistent? Writers, how do you keep track of the minutiae?
Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries series about a Pennsylvania State Trooper and a Fayette County assistant public defender in the scenic Laurel Highlands. The first in the series, Root of All Evil, was released in August, 2018. Liz’s short fiction has appeared in multiple anthologies, including Murder Most Historical and the Anthony-award-winning Blood on the Bayou. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime, as well as a member of Pennwriters and International Thriller Writers. She lives outside Pittsburgh with her husband, two teens, and a retired-racer greyhound.
Welcome, Liz! While it bothers me when details are inconsistent within the same book, I doubt I would notice someone driving a different type of car between books one and three. My memory is just not that good.
At least if a detail like that changes between books, you can always say the character bought a new car. 🙂
I would be lost without my character bible, especially now that I’m writing book six in one series and just turned in book eight in another. And I’m still adding to it!
Edith, I wouldn’t even dream of writing multiple series without a bible for each! I’d be crossing details all over the place.
I’m working on #10 and keep discovering I’m not as thorough or as “religious” about keeping all the little stuff logged into my series bible as I intended.
And, Liz, I’m so happy for you on the release of your second book! Congrats!
Thanks, Annette! Yeah, isn’t in amazing that we think, “Okay, NOW I have it.” And…not so much.
Book #10, that’s impressive!
I have to keep a place bible in addition to a character bible, with descriptions of the buildings, what the character’s house or apartment looks like, and where they’re located. I even draw maps to keep things straight.
I can’t wait to read the new book!
Thanks, Joyce! Yeah, places. I spend more time poring over maps to remember, “Now what’s the street called again?” than I care to admit. Fortunately, Google Maps has taken care of that for me.
Wow! You just gave real insight into how much great authors care about the little stuff to make a book REAL to us readers. I know I, for one, greatly appreciate it because it does make the story flow smoothly and lifelike for things to be consistent and don’t make us go “what?”. The color of eyes might not matter, but if you are drawn to that particular character and visualize them by one description it would throw off things in my mind if later his eyes were muddy brown instead of deep sea blue.
Thanks for taking all the extra steps because the little things do count.
2clowns at arkansas dot net
Yeah, when that first character is introduced, I tend to build a picture especially if the author provides description. If a couple books later (or a couple chapters even) a detail changes, it really is jarring. Thanks for stopping!
Welcome, Liz! I wish I’d thought to start a bible (for each series) when I started writing, but I was young and foolish (and yes, I’ve been known to muddle names now and then, as a result). But I did make a spreadsheet outline for each book, which has saved me from stupid mistakes more than once.
Sheila, I completely understand. When The Laurel Highlands Mysteries went from short stories to novels, only then did I realize how much I didn’t know – or didn’t remember – about my own characters.
I can’t wait to read this, Liz! I loved the first book. How I wish I’d started a bible when I did the first Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery. I end up doing word search of earlier manuscripts — not very efficient. And I found that I changed the spelling of a characters last name between book three and book four.
Aww, thanks Sherry! I’ve done that. Fortunately I caught it before it went to press.
Thanks for visiting the Wickeds today, Liz! Congratulations on your release! I also use the character feature on Scrivener to keep track of details from book to book. It is so much faster than combing through previous manuscripts, especially when you just want to keep going on a new story!
Thanks for having me, Jessie! I love how you can just pull over the character sheets from one Scrivener project to the next – and if you realize you need a character from four books ago, all you need is to open that file and there is the character sheet.
There’s a character feature? I mean, I have my bible in Scrivener but it’s just a file. Must investigate…
Yep. Look for Character Sheets.
What a great tip for aspiring writers! Thank you 😀
Glad to help!
I can’t wait to read Heaven Has No Rage. I enjoyed learning about your story bible and am so glad you keep one.
Thanks, Celia! It sure does help keep all the details straight.
Whew! A story bible hadn’t occurred to me before, but fortunately I’m only starting on the second book in my series. I’m not snowed under in detail yet! Thank you, thank you, Liz.
You’re quite welcome, Sandra. Book two is a great time to start.
I have been tempted to start a story bible for some authors when I am on the 5th reread of a series I love but don’t notice small inconsistencies between books in single read through. It amazes me what some readers do notice! I think all the background work authors put into making their books feel real and right is fascinating and much appreciated.
Jeanie, too true. It’s like the first time you read a series you’re just so in love you don’t notice the details…but you get to that fourth or fifth time and they start to jump out at you because you already know where the main story is going. Thanks for stopping by!
Being a proofreader means I catch inconsistencies. Not necessarily between one book and the next, but certainly within a book. It drives me nuts! I am very impressed with your bible. Good job, Liz.
I have proved time and time again that I can’t remember details between books. What I notice most in the same book is timeline issues. I once read a book where the characters met for breakfast at a restaurant but ordered lunch. Or, there’s my go to example – a book I read where every other day was Saturday. As much as I’d like to live in that world, it drive me up a wall.
Oh, Mark – I hear you! Timelines are my bugaboo! I’ve tried spreadsheets, calendars, and the latest is metadata fields in Scrivener, but I inevitably mess it up. This book was especially tricky, because I changed the time of year mid-revision. Thank goodness for sharp-eyed critique partners and beta readers!
I have a character bible, but since I’m not strict about recording all the details, my canon is incomplete! Trying to do better with the new series. Big congrats on the new book, Liz!
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