It’s the top of the New Year and I hope you’re as ready for this year as I am! Every year after Christmas I let my OCD tendencies take over and deep clean my apartment and get my projects in order by making a project calendar. I also get started on new scripts, so I thought I’d write this post about how to write a killer series bible for your TV show.
Let’s write stacks on stacks of final drafts this year guys, OK?
add some red string and I’m at serial-killer level of preparedness for this year
What is a Series Bible?
If you’re writing a TV show at the top of the year, I wanted to talk a little about writing a series bible. For those of you new to the world of TV writing, a series bible is the document that is like hey guys if we made a TV show about Wonder Woman saving us from the horrors of 2017 HERE’S WHAT IT WOULD LOOK LIKE
spoiler alert: it would look like AWESOME
So what would you include in a series bible?
- A summary of the show concept. What’s the show? How is it unlike what we’ve seen before? Is there a true story or a unique way you can frame this information?
- Description of tone, style, and relevant comps (similar shows). Ground your reader with similar shows when you’re trying to explain tone and structure. Does your show have the heartwarming ensemble of THIS IS US but set in a world of cops and bad guys like NCIS? Then say so! This meets that is one of the most effective ways to quickly give your reader an idea of your show.
- Characters and their arcs. Once you give your reader an overview of your series and world, dive into your characters. Be hyper-specific and brief, and try to limit your bible to only diving into the top 3-5 characters. Remember, most people are going to be briefly scanning this document, so make it as reader-friendly and evocative as possible.
- Season one and sample episodes. Briefly describe season one, the pilot, and then give a few ideas of what episodes would look like. Is each episode a new case/crime/etc.? Be sure to mention any procedural elements or framing devices in the construction of episodes and seasons as well. Then, give a few sample episodes in season one.
- Future seasons. You don’t have to figure out every episode from the pilot to season 13 — you do need to know where your show is going, though, and be able to articulate that briefly in your series bible.
The Keys to Creating an Effective Series Bible
If you’re using your series bible as a supplement to your TV pilot, the series bible act as a selling tool for your series:
Keep it under 5 pages. There will be time to really get into the nuts and bolts later. Brevity is the soul of wit and also nobody reads in this town.
Sell your show to your toughest critic. A series bible operates as a persuasive written pitch just as much as it exists to lay out your show. Why does your series need to be seen? Why is it different than the 1001 other crime shows or medical dramas out there? Get that on the page.
Throw it all out and start over. Don’t be precious with this document — or your series, for that matter. When you’re coming up with a new series, don’t be afraid to ask earth-shattering questions like, “what if this show is better from the perspective of my villain?” even if it ruins all your hard work.
Remember, no word you write is wasted. It all provides clarity to your vision — even if that vision pivots.
Have a great New Year, writers!