Sunday, June 14, 2009

Writing your first spec

Ted writes: I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how to write your first TV spec script?

1. Pick a show to spec based on the following criteria:

A. It will produce new episodes in the fall (or summer, if it's one of those)
B. It has been on for at least one but ideally two or three seasons, and doesn't seem in danger of cancellation
C. Most people are familiar with it but not sick of it
D. It demonstrates your strengths as a writer
E. It is tonally similar to a few shows on TV, and could be used as a staffing sample for these shows

2. Watch every episode of the show so you get a sense of the characters' voices, the structure, the tone and the kinds of stories explored.

3. Listen to any DVD commentary from creators, writers and producers.

4. Break down an episode as you watch it a second time, paying attention to the A, B and C-plots, where they fall, when they come together, etc. Identify what's happening as well as the function of why it's happening: the "this is not what we thought it was" moment, the "this is where what we learned in the B-plot can be applied to the A-plot" moment, etc.

5. Try to get your hands on any real scripts from the show so you can see how many acts there are, scenes and pages per act there should be, how many jokes there are per page - and also, the description and dialogue.

6. Choose a theme for your spec.

7. Write a detailed outline of everything that will happen in your spec before you start writing a single scene. Break it down by plots/storylines.

8. Write.

9. Proofread.

10. Ask some people you trust to read and give you notes.

11. Revise, revise, revise. Do your character voices sound authentic? Are your act breaks interesting turns? Can you track how all the characters are feeling? Are your jokes funny? What scenes can you tighten? What description can you improve?

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Charmiane said...

Good..okay,great tips. I stumbled across your blog by accident (do those really exist?)and I'm glad I did. My writing has been all in the form of novels and short stories, but I've recently come to the conclusion that I have other interests I'd like to pursue. Thanks for the pointers!

harris said...
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Jesse said...

Amanda, how long do you think this process should normally take? I am trying to strike a balance between researching and planning the proper amount and actually writing.

Amanda said...

@Jesse - at the beginning, everyone has their own rate (especially if you're writing on the side while you have a full-time job). But for your first spec you should probably outline for a couple weeks and then write (and rewrite) over a couple months I would think. The more you do it, the faster you'll get.