Writing my First (and hopefully not last!) TV Series Bible

With all the other stuff going on and interviews to post, I totally forgot to post about my progress in the pilot competition. On Dec 9, I found out that I was one of just 50 finalists overall in the competition, which started with about 4800 entries. Woohoo!!! So now I am biting my nails until the winners are announced on Jan 13. Even if I don’t win my category, I am hoping I can still parlez this into a strong fellowship application to help me get things rolling for real in 2021.

As a finalist, I had to submit a “series bible.” This is one of the many (many!) new things I’ve learned about in the past couple of months. Unlike screenplays/teleplays, this document is far looser. Basically, it is the overview of the season for a show, but its uses have evolved over time. In the beginning, this was an internal document used to orient new members of a writer’s room. Nowadays, it is a marketing tool that is often used as part of a pitch. I received an ebook from Screencraft about putting together a bible, but also drew from other sources to make my own. I also read several bibles, which was fascinating. The one for rebooting Dr. Who in 2005 was less about a series arc and more of a study of the history of sci-fi in British television.

What Did My Series Bible Look Like?

Ultimately, I sent in a 11 page document. Page 1 was the title, genre, format, logline and an introductory paragraph about the world (with a few comp titles thrown in for good measure) and a second paragraph about why the show would be unique. Though not necessarily required, my second page was a collage of images to help get the vision across. The third page was the overall series arc (not just season 1) and themes boiled down to the basics. This was probably the most difficult page in the whole bible because there is so much story to tell!

Next, I had a page devoted to descriptions of the world/setting (1870s America), the aesthetic (stylized rather than hyper historically accurate), and the tone (dramedy). This was another good place to talk about and contrast with comp titles.

Then, I had a page with a brief character bio of my three main protagonists and their arcs. I could assume that anyone reading the bible had already read the pilot, so I focused on where the characters would go forward rather than their backstories or who they are at the moment the pilot begins. I followed this with a page about the major antagonistic force and minor antagonists that drive the conflicts. My major antagonists are only hinted at for the first half of the series with a few glimpses into their dealings, so it was really important to talk about them in more depth in the bible.

My longest section came next and was about the series structure. I am in an interesting position because I am adapting from a series of novels. I have 4-5 Mistress of None books planned and a few prequels rattling around in my brain, so there are a couple directions I could go in. I could either do a straight adaptation of Mistress of None, or tackle a dual timeline that looks at the character in the “present” 1871 and her past, 1861-64. So much of Vi’s story centers on her regrets, it could be a great way to show her in action doing some of these things she now has negative feelings about. In all, summarizing a 10 or 13 episode arc and talking about these possibilities took 3 pages.

The last section of the bible isn’t one that everyone would need. I included an “additional information” section that talked about the quack science underpinnings of how the supernatural stuff works and summarized the novels to give a more concrete look at how the series could progress.

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