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Using Scrivener collections and Project Search to populate your series bible

four books in seriesI’m trying to finish up book three in my Men of Steele series, and I can see why so many authors swear by a series bible. In case you haven't heard the term before, a series bible is a collection of key details about everything and everyone in the world of your series, from the characters’ eye colors, birthdates, and the cars they drive, to their family history, the name of pertinent streets, and the timeline for major and minor events (current and backstory).

While I keep track of a lot of information for main, secondary, and even minor characters in the Project Notes section of each book, lately I’ve been having to refer back to previous books to look for all kinds of things: thoughts about one character by another, characters’ personality/reaction to events, details about their car/plane/home, what time of year something happened, what I said about a secondary character’s background, and on and on.

character list in project notes

Sample of character info list from Blind Ambition

If I’d been more savvy, I would have started tracking this information from the moment I began writing Blind Fury, and probably kept all the books in the series in one Scrivener project (more on the pros/cons of that here). That, or created a separate project solely to serve as the series bible.

Since I don't have a series bible yet, Project Search and Saved Search collections in Scrivener have been extremely helpful for tracking down details about secondary characters (who might now be primary) in past books. I used the search to find documents in which Scott—the hero of my current book, who was introduced in Blind Ambition—appears. Since he wasn’t a main character, these will be instances where he’s either talking, or being talked/thought about. Here’s the process I used (Mac and Windows).

  1. Open project for Blind Ambition.
  2. In the Project Search text box, type Scott.
  3. Click the magnifying glass to change the search criteria to search Text only, only documents located in the Blind Ambition folder (I renamed my Draft/Manuscript folder). I also limited the search to be case sensitive, so I’d only get references to his name, not parts of another word (e.g. Prescott). I chose Exact Phrase rather than Whole Word, because Whole Word would miss things like “Scott’s” (but will catch words like “Scottish”).project search menuA list of documents that match my criteria appears in the left sidebar.
  4. Click the magnifying glass in the Project Search text box and choose Save Search as Collection. Name it Scott Mentions. saving a search as a collectionThis saves the group of files as a collection that I can view any time without having to recreate the search. (A collection is a subset of your documents, either based on search criteria or manually created by you. The documents are not copied or moved from the Binder when put into a collection.)
  5. Clear the Project Search text box to see the Binder again.
  6. Click the Collections button or go to View—>Collections—>Show Collections (Mac) or View—>Collections—>Collections (Windows). The Collections pane appears in the upper portion of the left sidebar.collections pane
  7. Click the Scott Mentions tab to view the list of files with “Scott” in them. Each instance of “Scott” is highlighted (red on Mac, yellow on Windows).viewing a collection's contents

From here, I can go through each document, noting down any important info about Scott for continuity, e.g. how he reacts to Tara and Dan, what kind of coffee he drinks when they see him in the break room, how he dresses, any offhand mentions about his past or where he lives, and the color of his eyes. This process can be used to search for anything from characters to locations to types of events, as long as you can narrow it down with a word or two.

Once you have a collection, it’s also a cinch to select and drag the files from the collection in one project to the Binder of another. Now you have them in the new project and don’t have to keep opening the old one for a quick search. Or, you could create a project to serve as a series bible (info only, no story text) and make that the repository for all new data about the series.

NOTE: Click the X at the bottom of the Binder to close the Collection. Click the Collections button or go to View—>Collections—>Hide Collections (Mac) or View—>Collections—>Collections (Windows) to hide the Collections pane.

To create a thorough series bible, I’ll need to reread my previous books. For now, the process outlined above is working well.

What do you include in a series bible? Got any other helpful tricks for creating one (with Scrivener or not)?

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

Writing a series in Scrivener

books on a shelfBook series are king in the world of genre fiction. So popular, in fact, that it’s rare to see a standalone book these days. But how to handle writing a series in Scrivener? One book per project or one series per project?

My personal preference has always been to keep one manuscript per project and drag overlapping research/supporting materials from one Binder to the other as needed. I like a clean Binder, and multiple manuscripts sounds messy and possibly confusing.

I also worry about the overall file size for a multi-book project—especially if I have a lot of images and PDFs—because large files can make for slow backups, transfers, and auto-saves.

(If you need a single place for all research, images, and so on, but still want separate projects for each book, I recommend a single project file as a “series bible” that you can keep open while writing in another project.)

But some recent conversations with writers who use one project for an entire series—like Mindy Klasky with her Diamond Brides books—has me rethinking the multiple-book file.

Here are some of the benefits to keeping a connected series of books in one Scrivener project.

  • Need to change a name/word throughout the series? You only have to run Project Replace once.
  • You can search for overused words and phrases across the entire series, and verify consistency of things like company names and descriptions of places or people.
  • When you need to add a new character, you can do a quick search to ensure you haven’t used that name already. It’s easy to forget minor characters’ names by book five.
  • Tracking a story arc, timeline, or a character’s voice over several books in a series is much easier if the books are in the same project. Label, Status, and/or keywords are your friend here. Save a project search as a collection for a quick way to view all of the related documents or compile them into one file.
  • Having all of your research, notes, character information, setting details, and other supporting materials in one place has always been a clear benefit.
  • It’s a cinch to refer back to previous story lines or characters without opening a separate file.
  • If you’re self-publishing and want to put a sample chapter into the back of a book, you’ll have easy access to the content without opening another project. Plus, you can re-use some of the same front and back matter items across the entire series.

When I started writing Blind Fury, I wasn’t sure it was going to turn into a series, but now that I’m working on books two and three, I can see the value of having quick access to the other stories. That need will only grow as I write more.

I think at some point there is probably a practical limit to the number of manuscripts you should keep in one file—Six? Ten? Twelve?—but depending on your needs, the pros may far outweigh the cons.

Wondering what a multi-book Binder might look like? Here's an example of how might approach it (based on a conversation in the comments with Gail and Gary). I changed the icon for each book folder to make it easier to pick them out in the Binder. {Added 10/17/14}

Multi-book Binder example

If you’re working on a series, what’s your preference? Any other benefits or disadvantages I didn’t mention?

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

Photo credit: HarryPotterBooks by Pastorius (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons