Continuing the discussion from How to write a series bible:
The third item on the checklist is structure.
- Statement of your structure . How long is each episode designed to run? Traditionally, you have a choice of either 30 minutes or 60 minutes. Most comedies are 30 minutes. Most dramas are 60 minutes. But there are exceptions.
Is your series a traditional continuing series, that is, it’s intended to run as long as it garners decent ratings, or is it, by intention, a “limited series,” designed to run for only six to 13 episodes, and then call it quits? Is the show episodic, meaning that, while it has regular characters, each episode tells a stand-alone story? (Most police procedurals are episodic.)
Comedies have to be broken down even further. Are you proposing a classic three-camera sit-com filmed in front of a studio audience (e.g. The Big Bang Theory , Mom , etc.), or a more contemporary, heavily edited, single-camera show (e.g., Arrested Development, Young Sheldon , etc.)
The issues that Ury raises in the first and third paragraphs there seem to me to relate only to TV and streaming series, plus maybe radio. Am I wrong about that? Can anyone suggest analogous issues for RPGs that demand this level of consideration in specifying a campaign. For instance, does the length and frequency of sessions make that much difference? I think that it’s intrinsic to the improvisational nature of RPGs that they be unrehearsed, done in one take, and unedited, so I don’t think there is anything analogous to the dichotomy in comedies that Ury describes as so important to TV.
RPGs do, however, present a really important difference of structure in the range from one-and-done adventures (for scratch games and presenting at cons), long adventures run over multiple sessions, short campaigns consisting of a limited series of adventures analogous to chapters or acts only partly distinct from the whole, indefinite series of self-contained episodes with little continuity, and long or indefinite campaigns with strong or dominant threads of continuity running through them.
- One of this issues, especially for elderly gamers who are no longer single and dateless denizens of the same university campuses, is the difficulty we have making such a firm commitment to regular gaming that it is safe to gamble on continuous campaigns.
- Another issue is that many RPG systems provide such a strong “zero to hero” structure in their experience systems that the GM has to plan for the content of the campaign to develop as the player characters go through their metamorphosis.
- I’m not sure of this, but I suppose that if you are running a long or indefinite series of distinct episodes with little continuity, the adventures are very likely to be procedurals, so the character-players need to know that they ought to design iconic characters each with a schtick to execute in repairing exterior disorders, whereas on the contrary if you are planning a series with strong continuity with a definite end in contemplation, and especially if using a game system that will drive the PCs to thorough change, dynamic PCs with room for character growth might be more appropriate.
With that last point in mind, I’m a bit surprised that Ury doesn’t mention in here the need to decide whether your series is dramatic or procedural. As far as I know he wrote the book about the difference between dramatic stories and procedural stories, and in particular their distinct need for dynamic characters (who resolve conflict through character growth) in dramatic stories and iconic characters (who repair disturbances in the order of the world by executing schticks) in procedural stories. (See his essay “Your Hero: Dynamic or Iconic”, quoted on the NYC Screenwriters’ Collective message boards.) I think that RPG characters are much more often, even usually, iconic, so perhaps that goes without saying for us. But TV series include dramatic types and procedural types, the distinction is important, and I would have expected Ury to mention it in an essay on developing TV series.