Cissy and I have been kicking around the idea of writing a humorous television script for a series. Something on the line of "Modern Family," "The Marvelous Miss Maisel," and
'Schitt's Creek." Big task since we know very
little about this form of writing. The first thing I did was to take an online class on how to do this, you know, like one of those advertised on Facebook. I purchased Shonda Rhimes's course, Writing for Television." Rhimes is the creator of the TV program's "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal." Even though these shows are dramas, the same information applies. Here's are a few highlights about what I learned:
1. TV writers have more control than scriptwriters.
Writing a TV script differs from a movie screenplay in that viewers see the movie from the director's eyes. In other words, the director dictates how the story will be told. While a TV script is seen through the eyes of the writer, giving the writer more control.
2. Your Characters are on Two Journeys
In each episode, the hero begins and ends a journey. There is a beginning, middle, and end to the situation. But the series also takes the hero on an endless adventure. Think of this as a subplot; your hero's ultimate goal. This can change as the series progresses.
3. Develop Memorable Characters
Characters have to be real, no matter how quirky you make them. They have to be believable. Before you start writing the story, write your characters' bios, their vital statistic: age, race, family background, education, personality. Their likes, dislikes, desires, dream, strengths, weaknesses, passions, and especially their secrets. Build their world. Your viewers need to know and connect with your characters. Every character, no matter how contemptible, has to have a good side. There has to be a reason for their bad behavior.
4. Watch TV
If you plan to write novels, read novels. If you plan to write for TV, watch TV. Watch successful shows and those that have not been. If you can get ahold of a TV script, read it, especially the pilot. Dissect it. Pay attention to how one act ends, and the next begins. Pay attention to the dialog that makes you gasp, and the cliff hangers at the end of every episode.
5. Find a Unique Idea
Ideas are everywhere. Open your eyes and ears to what is out there. Eavesdrop on conversations and watch people in public. You can take bits and pieces of what you hear and see and let your imagination run free. Keep a notebook with you and write down ideas as they come. Let it percolate, allow it to roll around in your mind. If the idea doesn't go away, and you find your characters talking to you and each other, you know you're on the right track.
6. What If
Develop your idea by asking what-if questions. What if we wrote a story about a small press in a small town? Build on it. What if we wrote a story about a small press, in a small town, that is not making any money. Keep going? What if we wrote a story about a small press, in a small town, that's not making any more, and the characters are dysfunctional and extremely competitive?
7. Research Your Idea.
Talk to people who are involved in the idea you created. Find out what life is really like in your idea scenario. What is it really like to work for a publishing company? Interview a publisher of a small press. What really goes on in the day-to-day life of owning a small town? Interview the mayor. Everyone has known dysfunctional their people, but interview a family psychologist and find out what causes the dysfunctional relationships.
8. Start Working on the Pilot Script
Locate pilot scripts that have become successful. Read them and take notes. What happens in the opening scene? Why is it effective in capturing your attention? Pay attention to how the characters interact, what they say, how they say it? What is the hero trying to accomplish? What is helping and preventing her from doing that? How did the pilot end? Does it make you anticipate the next episode?
9. Write your pitch.
Polish it. Rehearse it. Have it critiqued and analyzed.
And here's a secret. You can started pitching your idea before you even write the pilot.
Five-Minute Writing Tip:
Lately, I've had to tell myself several times a day to "Get Over It!" Also, if you scroll down, you'll see that "Get Over It Day" is celebrated this month on the 9th. So I've chosen "Get Over It" as the subject of this writing tip. I've said a bazillion times that being a writer is not easy. Well, guess what? Being a marketing director isn't either. There are a lot of decisions to make: what manuscripts to accept, what book cover designs to use, etc. Then there are titles, fonts, photos, cover blurbs, and more to decide upon. When the team disagrees, it can be frustrating. So for me, heading into March, I have to get over it.
Back to the writing tip. In doing some research, I discovered that the phrase might have come from John Behervaise's book, Thirty-six Years of Seafaring Life by an Old Quarter Master, originally published in 1839 and reissued by Cambridge University Press in 2015. (If this manuscript landed on my desk, I'd push for its publication.) The story is one, big get-over-it maritime journey. Before Behervaise joined the Royal Navy, he'd spent a grueling winter in Newfoundland among Native Americans, did a stent in a debtor's prison, and was captured by privateers. I haven't read the book, but supposedly, he used the phrase in regards to an amputation-not sure if it was on him or someone else.
My point is, when writing fiction, you don't want to make things easy for your characters. You want to put them in situations where they have to "get over it" and move on. By getting over it, I don't mean things becoming rosy, or the character rocking along until another problem occurs. What I mean is the character survives by the skin of her teeth, only to face another major obstacle, then another survival situation, obstacle, and so on. And each situation has to be worse than the last with survival seeming impossible each time.
Tie this to my book review of American Dirt (again, scroll down). The author, Jeanine Cummins, keeps her character, Lydia Quixano Pérez, in constant danger starting from page one. Getting over it for Lydia always seems impossible, but the alternative means she and her eight-year-old son, Luca, will be murdered by a drug cartel.
I'm starting a new historical novel by making a list of horrible things that could happen to my protagonist. (A desert jackal figures into the picture.) This is new for me. I usually just start writing and see what happens.
I'll keep you posted.