Question: I’ve written a story and I’d like to know, is it a one-off or could it be a series?
I want to share a recent question that came up in a call with one of my clients. It relates to writing a series or a one-off. Children’s animation and picture books will be the focus of this email. However, this question is equally relevant to any other sort of series you might be working on.
My answer is this:
If you want to create a series, don’t start by writing a story. Start by developing the series.
You need certain key elements in a series, and they have to be there from the start. So if you write your first story without stopping to think about the series as a whole, you could be wasting your time, as you may have to throw out that story and start again from scratch.
OK, but where do I start?
Start with these 4 questions: –
1. What is the premise of your series?
By premise I mean the central idea of your series – one that will span every episode in your series. For example, the premise of ‘Octonauts’ is: a team of adventurous animals explore the ocean, and rescue and protect the creatures who live there.
The premise of ‘Paw Patrol’ is: a boy named Ryder leads a pack of search and rescue dogs who work together on missions to protect the community of Adventure Bay.
The premise of ‘Go Jetters’ is: four adventure-seeking superheroes travel the world fixing environmental and geographical problems caused by the villain Grandmaster Glitch.
Once you have a premise, you can’t veer off and write a totally different story that doesn’t fit your central idea. That would confuse your audience.
2. Who are the characters at the heart of your series?
Come up with at least 2, but no more than 6 in the first instance. In an animation series or series of kids’ picture books, episodes are short. If you have too many characters, it will be hard for you to fit them all into each story and find enough for them to do.
They all need to be distinct, so if you have too many, they might start to blur into one another. Furthermore, you don’t want to confuse the audience by having too many characters. Keep it simple.
Also, consider the character traits you are going to be exploring again and again in the stories.
In ‘The Adventures of Paddington’, for example, Paddington is a very clumsy bear, and invariably it’s his clumsiness that causes a problem that kicks off the story of the day. However, his big heart always fixes the problem.
In ‘Bluey’, Bluey and Bingo have an insatiable appetite for play. And their parents are almost always happy to oblige. Episode after episode, this doesn’t change, unless there’s a good and logical reason. In addition, Mum is emotionally wise and nurturing, helping her two pups make good life choices. Dad, on the other hand, is no-nonsense and prone to teasing. What are the key traits of your characters?
3. What is the theme of your series?
This might be some truth about the human experience that you’d like to explore – that’s relevant to kids in your age group. Or it could be a topic you want to educate your audience about.
The themes explored in ‘Bluey’ include: family, playfulness, imagination, and Australian culture.
‘Go Jetters’ has more of an educational slant: geography, environmentalism, adventure and teamwork.
‘Hey Duggee’ tackles the fun, friendship and learning involved in Preschool.
What are the ‘rules of the world’ of your series?
Is the world of your series different from our world? If so, you need to figure out every single detail. Is it magical or fantastical? In what way? If there are animals, do they speak? Are any of your characters silent? If the key characters are children, do parents or adults feature at all? If the key characters are animals, do we ever see humans?
In ‘Hey Duggee’ – Duggee the dog, doesn’t speak, he only says woof. However, all the other animal characters can speak. There’s a narrator who fills in the gaps.
In ‘The Adventures of Paddington’, Paddington can speak like a human, but he can also climb just as well as a bear. Each episode starts and ends with a letter to Aunt Lucy.
In ‘Octonauts’ the animals mostly live underwater in the Octopod, however, when they swim in the sea, they still need to wear oxygen helmets to breathe. They never talk about this, we just see it as a visual.
There’s lots more to consider when developing a series, but if you begin by answering these 4 key questions, you’ll be off to a good start.
I hope you found that helpful if you too are also wondering whether to write a one-off or a series. Get in touch if you have a question you’d like me to answer.
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