No, I don’t mean the Holy Bible, althought I’m sure that worthy book inspired the one I’m talking about. I mean reference bibles. Just as the Holy Bible provides inspiration for living, grounding in the past, a guide for the future and, unfortunately, fodder for loudmouthed televangelists, reference bibles provide the same for literary series.
The most famous reference bible is the Star Wars Bible. If you wanted to write a Star Wars novel, you would contact the George Lucas empire and they would send you the Bible. It’s rumored to be over 1,000 pages long now. It gives you the backstories (so far) of the characters and the Star Wars Universe so you can maintain continuity with your story. Considering how much Lucas himself paid to continuity with the six movies, I wonder why he bothers with the novels.
Stephen King recommends writing the backstories of all your characters before you ever begin your story. You may never use those backstories, but that gives the characters some gravity and a more solid feeling. You know them, so you can maintain the character’s plausibility, if nothing else. If a character woke up at age ten, on a camping trip, covered in spiders, then you know how that character is going to act as a 35 year old. He probably won’t go camping without a lot of trepidation, and will have to be coaxed to crawl underneath a house and may require copious amounts of vodka to do so. Just knowing that transforms your characters from cardboard cutouts into real people.
I inadvertantly created a reference bible for the novel I’m working on, and I’m glad I did. This novel began as a graphic novel, so initially, I wanted to make a small art book of the characters in different situations. That way, I could use the book as a visual reference guide without having to flip through computerized folders to find something. What color are her eyes again? What clothes does he wear? Was that dragon blue or green? BAH! Hey, don’t ask me to remember things like that. I even forget to eat sometimes.
I thought, why stop there? So, I wrote up a small biography for each character, expecting the bios to be only one page long. Oh, boy! I had not reckoned with how gabby these characters are. They not only told me their back stories before the novel begins, but they kept on talking until I had enough material to write six more books. Suddenly, a whole franchise opened up before me.
With this little book (it’s only 150 pages with illustrations), I can maintain continuity through an entire series. Using it, I can drop seeds of future stories in current ones so the reader recognizes names and events at later dates. That’s always fun! I can maintain continuity throughout the whole series. If a character changes it’s because he or she wishes to change, or something happens to alter the character’s personality. This book gave me the opportunity to create and flesh out supporting characters for future stories. That gives me the chance to refer to them now, so they will be anticipated when they make their appearances. And I have the accidental joy of realizing that I can spend the rest of my life on this one group of characters and never grow bored. If I get tired of writing about the main character, I can flip through the bible, find a minor character, and give him a story in his own right.
The one thing I did not do was outline the future stories too much. Only a paragraph or two, mostly about how the characters changed, and important parts that set up a later story. I didn’t want to take the surprise out of the stories for myself. I like to find out what happens at the same time the characters do. These are the characters’ stories, so I let my cast tell me and I just take dictation.
If you’re thinking about writing a fiction series, I encourage you to do the same thing. Write up a reference bible now, even if it’s only a dossier of the characters’ pasts. If you can’t draw, and don’t have the patience to learn a 3D art program such as DAZ Studio or Poser, find a friend who does. A pizza and a six pack make great bribes. Seeing the characters will help you write about them. It will also help get the creative juices flowing. Once you write about your characters, you won’t be able to wait to throw them into their adventure. Trust me!