SERIES DEVELOPMENT is a topic virtually untouched by most how-to books on writing long-form fiction. This is because most authors would-be authors focus on just completing one novel. By contrast, series TV drama as a topic has matured greatly since the 1990s. Therefore, to learn how to develop a novel series, one should look into TV drama series script writing.
As a resource, I only succeeded in tapping into this trove of material in 2018. I started exploring in 2012 when I discovered a “series bible,” which is the consolidated source of truth for a TV series.
A good bibliography on series development includes:
- Writing the TV Drama Series 3rd edition
- The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap
- The Screenwriters Bible
- Writing the Pilot: Creating the Series
A novel series (or TV series) is not a protracted novel. In a novel the protagonist learns that there’s a lie to his pursuit of his goal, and is transformed when he changes how he thinks about that goal. Protagonists in a series only nominally change. It’s the guest stars who are more likely to be changed by the recurring cast. This is because of the uncertain future of writing for TV.
A series is essentially Jazz, creating fresh melodies over a repeating cycle of chord changes–reiterations of conflicts and themes substituting for the cycle of chord changes and episodic storylines taking the place of the fresh melodies created from them. In the TV business, those chord changes are called the show’s franchise. Rabkin, William. Writing the Pilot: Creating the Series (p. 48). moon & sun & whiskey inc. Kindle Edition.
A Series Bible is a consolidated source of truth regarding a serial drama. This is the sort of thing that can be developed in OneNote, Evernote, Google Docs, or your preferred knowledge management system. I use Github (see Stranded Series Bible).
A Series Bible comprises the following sections (based on a now defunct webpage):
- Concept/Franchise Theme, Conflict, Character, Story Pattern
- Logline - “A hotshot investment banker is forced to work as CFO of a struggling NASCAR team. His success comes from deal making and compromise, but the owner demands total victory and the team of misfits won’t compromise and come together as a team. The series asks whether community is more important than the individual.”
- Character - A brief summary of the central protagonist and why he must actively participate. [Breaking Bad:”Breaking Bad is the story of a man who is desperate to assert his impact on the world.”]
- Conflict - A brief summary of the central conflict. [Breaking Bad: “He’s failed repeatedly in his past (even while others profited from his intelligence), and is now faced with terminal cancer. He is the smartest man around, and he’s going to prove it.”]
- Theme - A brief moral argument that is the series organizing principle, stated as a question. [Breaking Bad: Whether success in this world means one must become evil.]
- Story Pattern - The basic flow of each episode. [Breaking Bad: “Walt has a problem. His solution works, but brings him into conflict with people more evil than himself. To solve that conflict, he must become more evil than they.”]
- Rabkin, William. Writing the Pilot: Creating the Series (p. 84). moon & sun & whiskey inc.. Kindle Edition.
- Synopsis - a one-page (4-5 paragraph) summary of the world, major characters and central tension.
- Format - a listing of key features of your series (number & length of episodes, structure of episodes, genre, release pattern)
- Audience - a narrative description of your target audience. This would be the anonymous “someone” you write to in your novels
- Setting - Setting details (where & when) that backdrop the series. This is lengthy for Science Fiction, but shorter for a suburban housewife drama setting.
- Characters - This section comprises all your major characters and in 2-3 paragraphs for each, outline their personal characteristics, wants, needs, obstacles and flaws. It should also clearly indicate the relationships between characters.
- Minor Characters - A bulleted list of bit-part characters with a sentence of who they are. “Mike Watkins - Bus driver & friend of Barry.”
- Key Locations - A 1-2 paragraph summary of each central location in the series. As you execute a story, you will want to synchronize the details you write with these locations.
- Series Outline - a 1-2 page that gives an overview of the characters, major series arcs.
- Story Outlines - a listing of the individual episode Story Treatments that focuses on the story arcs & how a given story feeds into the series outline.
- Glossary - a listing of world-unique terms