This year, I’m taking my love of TV and desire to write for it a step further. I am currently an intern at the Gotham Writers Workshop here in New York and we get to take a free writing class. I decided, of course, to take their TV Writing class–10 weeks of learning how to write TV. So far, many of the basics have been covered (for students who had no idea what a script looked like/was formatted like, had never written a script before), but I’m sure I’ll learn some new things that I haven’t learned from extensive reading and googling about how to write for TV.
As you may know, when learning about TV writing, you start off by writing a spec script–a script based on an existing TV show– because 1. you’ll need to be in the habit of writing someone else’s story, you don’t all start off with pilots like Shonda Rhimes and 2. because it’s better to learn and mess up on someone else’s work than on your own creative baby. (This does not apply to real babies. It might often be worse to mess up someone else’s kid when you’re babysitting, so this is a very situational piece of advice.)
If you’ve read this blog before, you may be able to guess that I chose Scandal as the show I would spec. It’s a complicated show, but it’s kind of perfect in terms of the factors that decide what kind of specs you should write. They should be 1. Shows that you know and like well, 2. shows past season 1 but not too aged, 3. shows in the genre you’d want to write in. So I’m attempting a Scandal spec. Yikes!
The first rough thing about Scandal, in comparison maybe to other shows, is how many characters there are. Scandal has 10 main characters this season (as in listed in the main credits every week) and several important recurring characters (like Liv’s dad, whose been in every episode this season, yet isn’t a main character). So one of our first assignments was to create character sheets for each other characters. It was so much work because of how many characters there are and how little, in some instances, we’ve gotten about them.
Right now, I’m working on my first 7 pages or so. But in order to figure out what happens in those 7 pages, I wanted to have a better idea of what was happening in the rest of the episode. So I turned to Dan Harmon‘s plot circles, because I think they’re a great structural way to look at episodes and plots. Here’s a link. Then, when googling, someone turned Harmon’s circle into a wave, which really helped me visualize the story and act breaks and rises and falls in momentum.
Here’s a picture of what I’ve got so far.
It’s nice to be able to visualize when act breaks should happen and what should happen in them. Basically, “breaking the story.” It’s tough, but it’s also kinda fun and is further cementing the idea that this is what I would want to do in life. Hopefully my first 7 pages aren’t terrible, according to the instructor. (But if he thinks so, I’ll just ask my fellow Gladiators, you might be able to help me make it even better. My instructor certainly doesn’t watch Scandal.)
Now I just gotta continue breaking the story, adding points to the subplots and think of ways to Olivia more active. Most of my ideas so far have her reacting to other characters, which is fine for their storylines, but she needs to have more agency in the plot, because she’s the main character. So hopefully I can think of more for her to do.
I’ll try to keep you updated! Any ideas, let me know! (Just remember that ideas are not copyrightable, so I wouldn’t get in trouble for stealing them and making boatloads of money off of them. ;-))