For the past few years the most popular item on www.mikejones.tv has been the Series Development Bible template I put up to help writers with a framework for writing long-form episodic narratives. I have now revised the Series Development Bible (v3) and have created downloadbale templates for both SCRIVENER and CELTX.
Below is the introduction to what the Series Dev Bible is.
Be it for broadcast or online the ‘Series Bible’ is the much cited - but rarely clarified or defined - document of episodic screenwriting. The scale and scope of an episodic series demands a different development mechanic and paradigm than that of a feature film. Where the traditional Logline, Synopsis and Treatment can adequately serve a focused feature, the episodic series demands a greater complexity if it is to sustain narratives and character arcs over a long-form duration. Moreover, the ongoing series often involves a team of writers and producers who may change and evolve over time and require a central resource to guide and ensure coherence with the original concept.
The Series Bible then is a document package that details the scope, concepts, themes, characters and parameters of the Storyworld in which the series plays out.
That all sounds well and good but as anyone who has ever gone looking for examples of series bibles can attest, the diversity, range and variation makes such examples very far from consistent. The series bible has no set form or format. Each bible for an episodic series is a direct response to the needs of the unique story-world. Thus the bible for a show like Battlestar Galactica is decidedly different to that of The Wire as the story-worlds of these two shows have very different demands. That said, there are consistencies to be found in how series bibles are assembled and the purposes they serve.
There are however different kinds of bibles to serve different purposes. Commonly there are two: the Pitch Bible - a document used to ‘sell’ the show to producers, networks and financiers; and the Production Bible - which is more generally a compendium generated over time with the series documenting facts, plots and character elements to ensure that staff-writers have a reference for future episodes. The former is commonly submitted along with a pilot episode script to give a sense of where a series might head, or to map out the larger narrative and episodic arcs over a season. The later is something that develops over time with a long-running series as it is in production.
What I am proposing here with this template is a more clearly defined third kind of series bible; the Development Bible. The purpose of this is for it to serve as an effective writing and project development ‘Tool’. Certainly parts of the Dev Bible might become part of the pitch and indeed it may also be expanded in an ongoing way to guide writers of a series in production, but its primary purpose is to give the creators of the show a firm structure and platform to flesh out storyworlds, narrative dynamics, characters and story-arcs in a cohesive and detailed way.
In specific, the Series Dev Bible structure proposed here is an attempt to deal with one of the more common issues writers new to series development fall afoul of; that is the development of Plot before Story-World. The Development Bible focuses on ensuring you don’t put the cart before the horse and go for Plot before you’ve established your World. A series has to be able to sustain and maintain and continually refresh dramatic (or comedic) narrative over a long period of time (as opposed to a feature film which generally has a single protagonist focused on the fulfilment of a singular goal in the tiny span of 2 hours). A series will often see many characters pursuing different goals, facing different problems, and being beset by new problems at different times. The Storyworld is therefore of primary importance as it provides the engine to ensure that your show doesn’t run out of steam. If you create a world that is too confined, limited or lacking in natural dramatics (or indeed too open and lacking in pressure) then you will find your show will quickly collapse regardless of how intricate your plotting on interesting your characters. If however, you can construct a world beset with contradictions, conflicts and engaging problems, in an authentic and considered, way then you will have given your series engine a much bigger fuel tank.