In my book Finding the Core of Your Story, I talk about how to write a logline for a series. I note that there are a couple different kinds of series. One is “Continuing Adventures” and the other is “Serial.” The first is the idea of episodic installments, where you could pick up anywhere and understand what’s happening. The second is a series where each installment builds on the last, creating an overarching story.
Soon after my book was released, I received this question from Katie Daniels:
You say there are two kinds of series – serial series and continuing adventures. But what about series that are both? Actually, this being the 21st century and all, most continuing adventure shows also have an overall arc. Often times the first season will be all standalones, but the more sure a show gets about it’s viewership the more they’ll bring in longer storylines, and oftentimes they turn into a serial series. Should these simply be considered a Serial series? But what if they’re still standalones?
My answer turned out to be instructive, so I thought I’d share.
The way I would sort it would be to ask if, in general, you could watch any episode/read any book in the series without previous knowledge of things and still understand it. If you’re jumping into the middle of a Serial, you’re going to be confused, like if somebody tried to start watching 24 beginning from hour 12 or something like that. Whereas, when I was introduced to Star Trek, I saw an episode from the middle with little or no explanation of any of the characters, but I got it. I could have picked up in the middle, even though I had no clue who anybody or anything was.
But what if you have a Continuing Adventures series that includes a multi-installment story?
Don’t panic! The first thing to remember is that it’s still a Continuing Adventures series. It still fits under the umbrella of your main series logline, and as long as nobody tries to begin with part 2, they should be able to understand everything.
However, as I noted in my book, every installment should have its own logline. So in the case of a multi-part storyline, you would have an additional logline. Now you have one logline for the series as a whole, one for the multi-part storyline, and then one for each installment of that storyline.
Here’s an example from Star Trek: The Next Generation. First, we need a logline for the show itself. It’s a Continuing Adventures series, so we’ll keep it generic to include a multitude of potential storylines.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: The adventures of the crew of a starship as they explore the far reaches of the universe.
Next, we’ll write a logline for the two-part episode Time’s Arrow. Remember, because we’ve already created a logline for the series, we can use character names in the episode loglines.
Time’s Arrow: When the crew of the Enterprise discovers an ancient version of Data’s head buried in the past, they uncover and must stop an alien plot to infiltrate the 19th century.
(Data is an android, by the way, so don’t freak out at this logline about him losing his head.)
And finally, here are loglines for each part in the Time’s Arrow storyline:
Time’s Arrow, part 1: When the crew of the Enterprise discovers an ancient version of Data’s head buried in the past, they investigate and find an alien time portal that Data accidentally stumbles through, trapping him in the 19th century.
Time’s Arrow, part 2: After Data is trapped in the 19th century, the crew of the Enterprise must find a way to rescue him and overcome an alien plot to infiltrate Earth.
See? Very simple. Just pretend you have a Serial series for the longer storyline and write loglines accordingly.