How to write a TV show

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Anyone can write a TV show. It might not be a good one, but there’s nothing stopping you sitting down at your computer and tapping away until you have yourself a pilot episode. Of course, if you want a TV studio to pick it up for a full season, you might want to put in a little more thought into what you’re doing. Getting the green light for a show requires more than just your best 45-minute script (no matter how much passion you put into writing it). Here’s what you need to do.

Think of an idea

Yup. That would be a good start. You won’t get very fair without anything to write about.

Try to think up something that hasn’t been done before, or find a good way to put a spin on an existing premise. Make sure you have an understanding of what the genre is and who you’re writing it for also. These will be important during the writing process.

Put your treatment together

You write it now, yes? Well no, not necessarily. While you may be itching to bring your TV show to life, it can fall apart quickly if you don’t have a good plan in place. Depending on what kind of show you’re writing, your script can be anywhere from 30 to 90 pages long (working on the basis of one page per minute), and it’s easy to get lost in all those words.

Before you start bringing your show to life, you want to put together your treatment. This is a document that acts as your plan for the show and is looked at by TV execs to identify whether or not your script is worth reading. Included in it are the title, logline, synopsis, character bios and episode breakdown. That might sound like a lot, but none of these require much detail.

If you’re not sure what some of these are, here’s a quick explanation.

Title – really?

Logline – no more than two sentences that explain the premise of the show enticingly.

Synopsis – a couple of paragraphs that summarise the general plot of your show.

Character bios – a few details about each of the show’s main characters, including what makes them stand out.

Episode breakdown – summaries of what happens in each episode (or at least the first few) in a few hundred words

Now get writing

Well, you’ve got your plan in place, so go on and get writing… what’s the holdup? You’ve never written a script before? Not to worry. Creating a script is a lot different than writing a piece of fiction, and it can seem daunting at first glance.

Before you do anything else, see if you can sign yourself up to a script writing program online. There are sites you can use that won’t charge you for the basic package, but that’s all you need right now anyway. While this isn’t a necessity for writing your TV show, it will make formatting a lot easier. For example, TV scripts require you to highlight things like when it’s a new scene, or when someone else is speaking, and the way these are laid out on the page differs. If you don’t want to lose your focus on writing because you keep needing to change the layout, having a program that does it for you can save so much time.

Whatever kind of show you’re writing, you’ll also need to split the structure up into acts. The standard number of acts is usually three, but if you’re writing a drama, then it can extend to four or five. Consider shows you’ve watched before that have ads, and think about the way that things unfold between the breaks. These are all acts, with each one culminating in a dramatic, cliffhanger-type end. Use these to create a steady flow of drama throughout the episode, until a final climax at the end.

There we go. You can crack on with writing the next award-winning TV show now. We’ll be waiting.

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