Show Bible

A bible for screenwriters is a reference document used for information on a story’s characters, settings and other elements. Show bibles are commonly used in television series; new writers and freelancers are often referred to it when writing scripts for the show to ensure continuity with previous episodes; they’re also used by individual writers for books and movies to keep track of details.

However, according to writer and producer Jane Espenson, ‘Show bibles … just aren’t as important as you might think to the daily life of the [writing] staff. The truth is that once you’re living inside a show, you’re swimming as fast as you can from one island to the next, and there is neither the time nor the need to record decisions that have been made (these are in the scripts), or that are in the process of being made (these are in the notes taken in the room as the writers work).’

Series which don’t use a written bible have the script coordinator or writers’ assistants of a show serve as ‘walking bibles’ in remembering or establishing trivial details such as ‘What did we name our lead character’s childhood pet hamster?’ or ‘How much time passed between episodes two and three?.’

Others disagree; the ‘Frasier’ show bible, for example, was ‘scrupulously maintained’; anything established on air — ‘the name of Fraser’s mother, Niles’ favorite professor, Martin’s favorite bar…even a list of Maris’ [dozens of] food allergies’ — was reflected in the bible in order to maintain the show’s continuity.

Some programs (particularly science fiction series) go into great detail describing the capabilities and limits of technology used on the show. The ‘Battlestar Galactica’ show’s bible has ‘lots of detailed explanation for how the ship itself operates, including the function of various features of the hangar deck, and a discussion of the technical language used by the pilots, and even a neat little essay on why it’s not plausible for anyone to abscond with a viper.’

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