What Exactly is a TV Series Bible?
The term ‘series bible’ gets thrown about often enough, but what exactly does it mean? Well, the word isn’t well-defined, and that’s why it can sometimes be confusing. Just as ‘outline’, ‘treatment’, and ‘synopsis’ can mean different things to different people, ‘series bible’ and ‘show bible’ are just the same. So, if you’re ever asked to produce one, always clarify exactly what’s required, just in case their idea of what a bible is, is something different to yours.
For emerging writers, a series bible is primarily a pitching document designed to help you sell your great idea for a TV series. Obviously, if you’re writing a feature script, a short film, or a stand alone one-hour drama, you’re not going to need one. This is purely for writers looking to pitch a TV serial, animated series, or web series. Basically anything where there’s more than one episode involved.
Why You Need a Series Bible
Producers and execs probably aren’t going to invest in your idea just by reading the pilot or one-page pitch alone. They want to know that your idea has ‘legs’, which means that they want to make sure your story is big enough to span a full series and beyond, and that’s what the bible’s for.
Sometimes you may have a great pilot but it’s unclear where the story is headed next, or you’ve ended on a great hook and the reader wants to know more. With a bible, you can write a synopsis for the next episode, as well as outline all of the future episodes to come.
Even if you’re not ready to pitch, even if you’re still in the middle of working out the pilot, knowing where the rest of your story is heading can help you write a better first episode. You don’t have to leave the bible writing until the last minute. It’ll help you understand the dynamics of this new world you’re creating, help you understand character motivations, and help you see the bigger picture, not just episode one.
Writing a TV Pitch Bible
Ultimately, the show bible is a selling document, and you need your bible to stand out from all the rest. Most bibles are text heavy, too long, and are fairly boring to read. Use your bible as an opportunity to express your writing skills, to excite the reader about your idea as much as you are, and to leave them wanting more. The shorter the better. Try not to go over 10 pages if possible.
Unlike in a screenplay, where you need to stick rigidly to formatting rules, there’s room to be a bit more visually expressive in a TV series bible. You can use different fonts artwork and imagery. Ideally, you want to make your bible memorable (and in a good way!)
THE ONE-PAGE PITCH – While this can be a selling document by itself, and writing one certainly is its own art form, you need to include it here too, as the first page! Have your strongest pitch upfront in case the reader decides to give up before reaching it. Remember that this one-pager is pitching your entire series, not just your pilot episode.
FUTURE EPISODE SYNOPSES – Keep this brief too. Time is money, as they say, and no one wants to have to trawl through detailed accounts of every single episode you’ve developed. Focus on the A-story, highlighting whatever captivating drama, hilarious situation, unraveling mystery, or emotional turmoil you’re putting your characters through.
FORMAT – Again, don’t spend a lot of time on this, but make it clear just what your selling here, a sitcom, continuing drama, story of the week etc. Explain how your series ends, how it moves onto the next one, and who your returning characters are. You can talk about target audience, why it may suit a particular channel or time slot here too.
BRIEF CHARACTER BIOS – Focus on your core cast here, and one or two minor characters if they’re particularly relevant. You guessed it, keep this brief too. Talk character types instead of casting the roles with actors you envisage playing the roles. Mention strengths, weaknesses, character goals and emotional needs, as well as telling us how each character arcs (unless this is a sitcom, where characters generally stay the same throughout a series)
EXTRAS – There are tons of other components that you can throw in if you choose to. Just remember, on each page, your focus needs to be on hooking the reader. Make sure your show bible reflects the tone of your series. If it’s a comedy, make sure your bible is funny and entertaining etc. Concept art, pages of script, location details, style, and what’s original about your idea are all extras that can help sell your idea.