Last week I blogged about Bibles, promising to continue the discussion… and now I am. (“I never lie.” – Superman)
I mentioned that bibles have five basic elements.
1) An overview of the show (or “Series Premise” statement)
2) Character descriptions
3) Setting descriptions
4) The Nuts-&-Bolts of series
5) Sample stories
Today I’m gonna chat about point #1 – Overview.
Types of Bibles
There are three types of bibles I’ve written in my day.
1) The Show Bible – This is a document that can be handed out to anyone – for both business folks and creative types. It’s a document that clearly states what the show is about… a bible in the true sense of the word, meaning you can flip to this “sacred document” and get all your answers.
2) The Sales Tool – This document is aimed primarily at networks and buyers; folks outside the creative process who you’re trying to sell to. A leave-behind. It’s not as in-depth as the Show Bible, but it’s written “tasty” so that it gives the flavor of the show.
3) The Writers’ Guidelines – This is aimed directly as the writer – a personal statement from the story editor to the writer describing the Rules of the show. (Script length. Formatting. Examples of Premise submissions. Do’s and Don’t’s. etc.) This type of document rarely gets written (at least for money), since it has “no value” to the sales folks, management, or artists.
As you can imagine, the Show Bible is much longer than the Sales Tool. In fact, the former is usually called a “Full Bible” (30-40 pages) while the latter is a “Mini-bible” (about 10 pages). Since most studios are desperately trying to sell shows, they tend to opt for the Mini-bible… ‘cause it’s easier to read… and it’s cheaper. That means the bible writer will pen less pages – but do just about the same amount of skullwork… for less money. (It’s like the difference between giving birth to a single baby versus triplets. Less pushing, but the same fat ankles and stretch marks.)
The overview (or “Series Premise”) is usually a one or two page opener that hooks the audience. Basically, you could rip this overview out and hand it around, and everyone would get the gist of the series. It’s a tasty, quick’n’dirty pitch, so there needs to be a “come on” quality about it. You want the reader hungry for more info. Here’s the actual Series Premise from “Archie’s Weird Mysteries.”
Good ol’ Archie Andrews is working as a staff reporter for Riverdale High School’s paper. Today’s assignment: Cover the first test of the Science Department’s new Hyper SUB-MOLECULAR QUARKINATOR. After the science teacher explains the device’s cosmic applications (yawn), he rushes next door to connect the power, leaving Archie alone in the lab to doodle pictures of Veronica on his notepad.
The Quarkinator surges with crackling power.
Blasts of PURPLE energy radiate from the machine, like ripples in a pond — expanding out across the town of Riverdale!
Archie drops his notepad in awe — senses tingling. For a brief moment, the lab walls melt to nothingness, and our all-American boy finds himself standing in celestial space, staring dumbfounded into a dark and sinister cosmos. What the—?
Then, WHOOM, everything’s normal again. The Quarkinator blew a fuse. The teacher rushes back into the room wondering what happened. Archie boggles, “Didn’t you see that?! It’s like everything went… weird!”
The teacher poo-poo’s the notion — but something did happen. And not just to Archie. Unbeknownst to sleepy little Riverdale, the Quarkinator has ripped a hole in the cosmic fabric, making the town a doorway to alternate dimensions. In short, Riverdale has become a “weird magnet.” Like a quaint suburban Bermuda Triangle.
Strange things start happening — everything from ghostly activity to atomic freaks of nature; from UFO sightings to an influx of mad scientists. We never know from one week to the next if there’s going to be an invasion of giant bugs or a swarm of meteorites filled with alien ooze. And what’s even worse for Archie — it’s getting tough to find a good make-out spot that isn’t crawling with vampires.
You see, the primary witnesses to these strange events are Archie and his pals. And they, being “high-spirited teenagers,” rarely find anyone to believe them! Not the chief of police, not their teachers, not even their parents. Except for the occasional appearance of a 6-story-tall tarantula, the adults rarely see the monster du jour. The only witnesses are our teens — and they’re usually left standing in a demolished gymnasium with no proof of their unearthly encounters.
No wonder everyone thinks that our hero’s newspaper column —“Archie’s Weird Mysteries”— is just pulp fiction. But that doesn’t daunt our spunky 17-year-old. He’s determined to prove that “The Truth Is Out There!”… as long as it doesn’t interfere with his dating, that is.
It’s all there, right? Both the set-up and the possibilities. Even though we’re all familiar with the Archie characters, you really don’t need to know anything about them (other than they’re misunderstood teens) to get the premise of the series. Plus, you get the spooky-yet-comical tone of the show. And possible story ideas are here, too. The Overview kinda has to do it all.
If you’re writing a Mini-Bible (which is primarily as Sale Tool), then you may want to toss in a teaser, too — something that’ll hook and amuse the reader. Dipping back into my DIC documents, here’s the teaser to an ill-fated series pitch called WANTED: ELVIS.
First there was Elvis the man…
Then Elvis the performer…
Then Elvis the Legend…
Then Elvis the Cultural Icon often spotted in Burger Kings in Minnesota…!
Now get ready for –
Elvis the Myth!!
Despite his humble roots, Elvis rocketed to Olympian heights of fame, single-handedly capturing the hearts and imaginations of millions. Yes, the story of this gyrating youth from Tupelo has transcended mere human chronology to enter the realm of modern myth!
So travel with us now through the mists of time back to a cleaner, greener time in American history. The 1950’s.
back where fact and fantasy blur, where truth bends-&- blends into something grander —
back when rock-&-roll was changing the world —
back when a remote Tennessee county lay in the grip of a hard-hearted Sheriff —
back when a young outlaw on a motorcycle was the only person to stand up for what was right —
back when post offices displayed a photo of a handsome sideburned youth on a poster that read…
Okay, laugh all you want, but it wasn’t my idea… and it paid the rent that month. You see what I mean, though – the teaser makes you want to learn more about this wacky premise.
So there you have it… the catchy pitch part of your bible. If you don’t hook your reader here, they won’t read the character descriptions and story premises that follow. So make it count, folks.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Jymn Magon has left the building.