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Monday, June 15, 2009

A Newbie's Guide To Writing A TV Series Bible

Well, I've gone and done it now - in my attempt to help out a friend, I ended up creating a 'guide'.

Specifically, a 'guide' to help newbie's write their first TV series bible.

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure I'm qualified to write a 'guide'. I mean, I've written bibles before, none that've sold - been well-received - but not sold.

That said, I couldn't really help myself. The more I wrote the more I realized I needed to explain. The more I tried to explain the more I realized I needed to give just a bit more detail.

It all started 'cause one of my fellow Inkterns, Nathan, was wondering how the heck to make a series bible - if there was a template or something out there that he could run with. Google wasn't being much help and I kinda sensed he was getting a bit frustrated.

Funny thing is that I understood his pain. When I'd started writing my first bible it was torture. I had no idea what the hell I was trying to do, let alone what I needed to shoot for. And, really, that's kind of the key to it - at least for me: sometimes I just need to know what goes where and how long it all should be. I don't need specifics, just a place to start, just an idea of that I'm shooting for.

So that's what I tried to do.

Submitted for your approval:

A Newbie's Guide To Writing A TV Series Bible.

Hopefully this'll be helpful to other writers wondering how it's all supposed to work. And by all means, feedback to improve the next version would be greatly appreciated. I'm not saying this is the be-all and end-all... but hopefully it's better than nothing.


Creative Commons License
A Newbie's Guide To Writing A TV Series Bible by Brandon C. Laraby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License


tommy said...

Definitely some good stuff here, Brandon, but a few suggestions for version 2.0:

There is a huuuuuge difference between a pitch bible and a series bible. The first is a sales tool that a writer uses to entice people to buy his or her show and put it on the air. It's the equivalent of a spec in features -- you write it yourself, hoping someone will want to put it into production. These should be short. No more than ten or twelve pages, preferably even less.

A series bible, on the other hand, is written for a show that has already been put into production, and it covers everything that everyone will need to know about it. A newbie wouldn't (or at least, shouldn't) write a full series bible. They'd write a pitch bible. The 53 page BSG document is a series bible, not a pitch bible. Moore was already given the reigns for a new BSG show before he wrote that, not after. The purpose of that bible wasn't to sell it, it was to inform the other writers how to write the show, so he could make it as long as he wanted.

"Get into the History of your world – if it’s in a Hospital, what’s the Hospital known for?
Has anyone notable ever worked there? Or is there some sort of special event that the
Hospital is proud of (a.k.a. is this the hospital where the first open-heart surgery was

Get into your world, yes, but don't get tangled up in pointless backstory. If you were writing a pitch bible for Lost, discussing how decades ago strange scientists were performing strange experiments on the island might be important. If you were writing a pitch bible for Gray's Anatomy and you mentioned... well, anything about anything in the hospitals' past, that's not really an important part of the show. The fact that that hospital might have been the first place open-heart surgery was performed has nothing to do with the show, and that probably wouldn't have much to do with any other hospital show, either.

Efficiency and brevity is key, so you don't want to waste lines on anything that isn't vital -- backstory on the characters is important. Backstory on the world often is as well. Backstory on setting? Not so much.

I would only mention the style of the show if it were important (and really question yourself whether it's important or not). For example, if you were writing a pitch bible for Pushing Daisies, you'd mention that it looks like a children's storybook brought to life. Few shows have a unique enough style that would really justify a section on style.

Also, I would put the structure and tone before characters (you don't want someone to be six pages in and realize the gritty thriller they thought they were reading is actually a fun dark comedy).

And by structure, I mean more of the template structure, what happens every episode -- not how many acts there are. How many acts a show is isn't generally up to the writer, it's the network's call. The act structure would be obvious because whoever you're submitting to will just require the same act order they do for all their shows.

Brandon Laraby said...

Hey Tommy!

Thanks for this great feedback - this'll definitely be helpful to refine (and redefine) what's what. You're right, definitely should not be writing a full-on series bible off the top (that was what I did, first time out, not knowing what I was doing) - and so I should actually rename it to 'Writing a Pitch Bible' for version 2.0.

I appreciate your feedback and I'll definitely use it toward making 2.0 better!

Thanks again ;)

tommy said...

Happy to help.

There's a lot written on writing outlines and treatments for a feature, but when it comes to documents for an original series, there's really not much available. Really, I haven't seen a lot of information on creating pitch bibles (or series proposals, as they're sometimes called), so good on ya for tackling it.

Rich Baldwin said...

Hey Brandon, good idea. I've got a suggestion: perhaps make a collaborative version of this using Google Documents, and make it editable by those who ask you for permission to do so?

Brandon Laraby said...

Thanks for the idea Rich!

There's a full-on, newly updated, better-than-ever version right here for you.

Take a look, let me know what you think: