It should come as a surprise to no one that I’m a big Battlestar Galactica fan. In fact, I’d have to say that it’s probably the best television show I’ve ever seen. I don't mean to disrespect The Wire, or Rome, or Firefly, but I don't think any other show has matched the breadth, ambition, and accomplishment of the series. Around 80 hour-long episodes, each better than the last. No other show has tackled so much—the war on terror, patriotism and its dangers, religious zealotry, faith and belief—while still managing to be a flat-out blast to watch, a thrill ride peopled with characters that I actually miss.
Anyway, last week my friend Alison Janssen, the talented-and-lovely editor of Bleak House Books and a fellow geek, emailed me to say that she had managed to get hold of the series bible, and would I like one?
My response was something like JESUSFRAKIN’CHRISTAREYOUKIDDINGYESYESYES!
A series bible is a document prepared by the lead writers of a television show that lays out the backstory of the characters, the style of the writing and direction, and the overall feel of the program. It’s a way to assure that writers working on separate episodes maintain a consistent tone.
This one is penned by Ronald Moore, a legendary sci-fi writer and the creator of the show. It includes some of the finest, most concise writing advice I’ve ever read. Hopefully Moore won’t mind if I post a segment or two here; no spoilers, and I think that writers, readers, and fans can all gain something from them.
(Ron, if you're out there and object, please email me and I’ll yank it immediately—and probably write you a love poem in iambic pentameter. Also, before anybody asks, no I won’t make you a copy, and neither will Alison. Unfair, I know, but I’m not really in the mood to piss off a guy I admire.)
Anyway. A few select bits:
“The key to the success of this series is to never, ever let the air out of the balloon--the Battlestar Galactica lives in a perpetual state of crisis, one in which the Cylons can appear at any moment, and where terrorist bombs, murders, rebellions, accidents, and plagues are the unfortunate routines of day to day life. There are no days off for our characters, no safe havens, nothing approaching the quiet normal existence they once knew. They are on the run for their very lives.”That's a feat they managed to accomplish for 80 episodes. And they did it without wandering into the silly or exploding the premise.
From a section titled “Plot-Driven Stories”:
“Our plot-driven stories should be reality-based problems that our people could conceivably face on a journey like theirs. They have run into the night with little more than the clothes on their backs and whatever happened to be stowed on the ship on the day the world came to an end. Finding food, fuel, and air supplies are going to be never-ending problems as are dealing with the real-life difficulties in rationing those same supplies…
Our stories should spring from within the fleet wherever possible. In other words, we should avoid storylines which begin with, The Galactica discovers a strange space phenomenon which… Our goal is to tell human stories that are a natural outgrowth of the premise of the show.”
Which is immediately followed by a section called “Character Stories”:
“Our show is, first and foremost, a drama. It is about people. Our characters should always be the most important element of every story. Breaking the traditional rule of the genre, we should sacrifice plot at every turn in favor of character. Time spent discussing the technical problems of outwitting the latest Cylon plot will be better spent dealing with the emotional fallout of the Adama / Lee relationship.For any aspiring writers out there, read those again. Then again. There's gold in them.
Do not be afraid to expose our characters’ faults, for in their frailties also lie the seeds of their triumphs…Our people are deeply flawed, deeply human characters. They are not, by nature, innately heroic or noble creatures. They do not always make the right decision and do not always do the right thing. They make mistakes, act out of pettiness and spite, and occasionally do things that are reprehensible. However, they are also capable of growth, of change, of learning to overcome their many flaws and rising to he challenges laid before them and performing great and mighty deeds.
They are human.”
If you haven't seen the show, by the way, start at the beginning, with the original miniseries. My money says you'll be hooked from the drop.