Monday, September 12, 2016

Making a Series Bible Using Excel by Heidi Hormel

Excel at Tracking with a Book Bible
See what I did there? Made a pun about Excel, which really does need some puns. This accounting spreadsheet program (or its open-source versions) can be used for more than numbers, including a nifty Book Bible, so called because it is a place to keep track of … well, everything (that you want to keep track of).

What to track
I use my Book Bible to keep track of:
·         Character names
·         Physical descriptions
·         Relatives
·         Ticks/traits
·         Back story
·         GMC
·         Music (they like or that reminds you of them)
·         Setting details (which can be its own sheet—which I’ll explain below)
o   Locations
o   Life events (at those locations)
o   Research
The list could really be endless and that can be a problem. You might want to think like a reader to decide on which details to include. I know eye color, for example, makes readers a little crazy if it changes from book to book (unless they’re an alien or something).

I also try to copy and paste verbatim good “nut” graph descriptions into my spreadsheet. These are ones that capture hero/heroine, setting, etc. in just a sentence or a few words. I can then re-use a version of it to describe the character in future books.

If you’re writing a mystery or a story with a longer arc, you may need to include plot points, red herrings, or other non-character details in the Bible.

The bolts & nuts
Whether you use the “real” Excel or an open source spreadsheet program, the basics are the same..
The basics:
·         Open a new Excel document*
·         Save it as whatever your series name is.
·         Rename the tabs at the bottom of the document (which in Excel is called a workbook) from Sheet 1, Sheet 2, etc., to a book title and/or a setting for a book (I write small town romance so setting is really, really important).
*I’ve included a jpeg of one of my books and a filled out Excel sheet. I know visuals are always helpful. (Disclaimer: I do not use this program to its fullest)

When I gave this presentation at my local writers group, another writer/editor suggested that characters be listed down the left-hand column and the items you want to track along the top, including in which books the character appears.

The point of the Bible is to have all of your details in one place so that you don’t need to re-read books to confirm parentage, age, or favorite song.

I also have created calendars through an Excel template to keep track of a pregnancy in a book as well as birthdays and characters’ ages over the time span of the series.

The bottom line is that a Bible will not write the book or fix every mistake, but it will make life easier when you’re on book six of series and you need to know the shape of the scar on your hero’s cheek when he showed up in book one.

A former innkeeper and radio talk show host, Heidi Hormel has always been a writer. She spent years as a small-town newspaper reporter and as a PR flunky before settling happily into penning romances with a wink and a wiggle. Her Angel Crossing, Arizona series for Harlequin Western Romance include cowboys, cowgirls, llamas, and kilts (not necessarily in that order). Her latest books are THE KENTUCKY COWBOY’S BABY and THE BULL RIDER’S REDEMPTION. Visit her online:; Facebook, Heidi Hormel, Author; Twitter, @HeidiHormel; and follow her on Goodreads, Heidi Hormel.

Thanks, Heidi, for sharing. So how about it IWSGers, do you use a series bible? Do you use Excel for keeping everything straight? What other kinds of things do you keep track of in your bibles?


Pat Hatt said...

Excel is a good tool to use indeed. I'm on book 9 of a series and there are so many friggin characters and things to remember I'd go nuts, even more so, if I didn't keep some stuff handy haha

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Heidi and Susan - great tips to use ... and essential for all those links we need to remember. I'm about to use Scrivener, which I'm sure does similar - but if not I'll revert to Excel - cheers Hilary

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've heard many authors talk about using spreadsheets for their books, but using it in that manner actually makes sense to me.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Pat, I know you have a lot to keep track of.
Hilary, one of my colleagues gave us a presentation on Scrivener also. It has so many tools and can do everything.
Alex, I've heard of the spreadsheet method too. So far, I just use notebooks.

Heidi said...

Hilary: I use Scrivener as well and creating a table within a document that you copy and paste from book to book might be one way to keep everything in one program.

Alex: Back many, many years, I did the accounting for a couple of small businesses and we used something called the one-write method that used a paper spreadsheet of sorts -- maybe that's were my love all of these columns comes from. It's also fun in Excel to be able to make things all kinds of colors!

Pat: Nine books!!! I've been going nuts with five!

Anyone have ideas on the best way to keep track of timelines/calendars? I still struggle with that!

Christine Rains said...

This is a really neat way of keeping a book bible. I usually keep a notebook beside me and jot things down when I need to. If I open too many windows on my computer, I tend to get distracted!

Ann Bennett said...

It looks like a good way to be organized. Thanks for sharing.

Juneta key said...

What a great post and tips, thanks.
Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

Sandee said...

I love Excel. I used to do budgets on Excel.

Have a fabulous day. ☺

Diane Burton said...

Great post, Heidi. Excel is a terrific tool. I use it much the same way you do, keeping track of characters. I used to do it in Word, but Excel is much better for categorizing. I know Scrivener has handy tools, but the learning curve (for me) is too much. I use tools that are familiar because it's easier. I like the idea of using the tabs. I hadn't thought of using different worksheets for different things.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I don't use Excel, but I set up a story Bible in a similar manner.

cleemckenzie said...

Wat a great way to keep track of all those details!

Heidi said...

Christine: Confession time -- I would never keep details together if I had a physical binder because I'd lose the darn thing. I keep the bible in Dropbox so I can add to it no matter where I set up shop ;-)

Ann and Juneta: Glad you enjoyed it -- I always like reading about how other writers organize themselves or get inspired or ...

Sandee: I wish I understood Excel better because I also use it to keep track of expenses/income from my business. I'm sure my accountant wishes I understood it better too!

Diane: I know what you mean about learning curve. I "cheated" on Scrivener and took a class! Glad you like the worksheet idea -- I love having everything in one place!

diedre Knight said...

Excellent idea! One I wish I'd employed before now ;-) But certainly plan to - here on out. Thank you both for sharing!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I can see where a spreadsheet would be very helpful. Thanks for these tips, Heidi. You've made it sound easy enough for me to try. Thanks!

Jemi Fraser said...

Love this! I've got a bible for each of the series I'm working on - couldn't live without them!!!

Heidi said...

The other challenge for me is updating my bible from the time I write my first draft until the book is actually published -- often important details, dates, etc. change. I definitely need to be better at adding those details. Some writers use wikis to allow readers to keep track of details as well as themselves.

Michelle Wallace said...

I've never used spreadsheets but can see how it does help keep everything in one place.

H.R. Bennett said...

Hmmm. Personally never thought of using a spreadsheet. I have all this same info, but it's just scattered amongst the word document or a series of word documents that are all then kept in a single file.

Pat Garcia said...

Thank you. I have just begun to use Excel to plan my daily work day and track my submissions. Never thought of using it to track my series, but it makes sense and I will try it.

Shalom aleichem,
Pat Garcia

J.L. Campbell said...

Love this concept, but because I love paper and I, I do this a little differently, using spiral bound plain paper. Excel makes the process fluid though, so this is definitely a way to improve on what I do.

Heidi said...

This morning I was working on a book idea that will include three stories in one book -- it came to me that this would something that I should track in Excel. To make sure each story line flows, which chapters include one character's story or another's. I'm already itchy to get the sheet set up. I'm a pantster more or less and NEVER imagined that I would fall in love with spreadsheets.

Theresa Milstein said...

What an interesting idea. I have done interviews with my characters where I let them just tell me stuff in paragraph form, but I've never been so thorough.

Heidi said...

I use something like that before creating the spreadsheet. The Excel file is more about keeping track of details in the final version of the book (since my characters, etc., usually change quite a bit over the writing/editing of a book). I also like that I can color code items and play with layout. In other words, it's another way to procrastinate (sometimes) and feel like I'm getting work done. I do try to be careful about that with this tool and others. To make sure I don't get so caught up in the organizing, etc., that I don't get words on the page!

Jen said...

Thank you so much for sharing this information! I've always been Excel-phobic but I've always known that charts are the best way to keep a handle on story details. Le sigh...looks like I've got to get over this fear and dive into those spreadsheets! Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement :)


Heidi said...

Jen: I have no background in Excel. I've just copied other people's sheets and then just fill them in. I've figured some things out by trial and error too or YouTube -- It's amazing what you can find there :-)