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Writing A TV Drama Script

Writing A TV Drama Script

Pamela Douglas (Screenwriter) gives expert video advice on: How do I know if my idea will make a great TV drama?; How many pages is a TV drama script?; What do I do if my script is running long? and more...

What are the stages when writing a TV drama?

Writers, whether they are working speculatively, or on a show, go through known stages. From the original concept, which generates a pitch, like a summary, to outlining all the scenes, the steps of the story, to the first draft screenplay, to the second draft screenplay, and to a polish on that second draft. After that, there may be other steps in production leading to the final shooting script.

What is a 'spec script'?

A spec script is a speculative piece of writing which you have done without a commission and without being paid, in order to demonstrate your skill. Usually it's an episode for an existing series.

What is 'breaking a story'?

Breaking a story is finding the turning points in the story by defining the structure of how the tale will spin out. It often leads to an outline of the scenes.

What is an 'outline' for TV drama?

An outline is a list of the scenes that exist in the final script and it will probably be that way on screen as well. It is the actual progression of the action and the plot, but does not have dialogue in it.

What is a 'polish'?

A polish is the last draft of writing where the story structure is already in place and the characters are there, but it's a refinement, often of scenes that can be tightened, or dialogue that can be sharpened or made more meaningful.

How many pages is a TV drama script?

Drama scripts used to be, and some still are, around 60 pages, even though they don't really film to a full 60 minutes. But we're now seeing drama scripts for episodes that are as short as 50 pages, even in a few cases 40 pages on shows that have five or six acts and on networks where there are a lot of ad breaks. Though on HBO, where we don't have ad breaks, we still have full length scripts that have 58, 59, or even 60 pages.

What do I do if my script is running long?

If your TV drama script is long, I would check several possibilities. One is that you simply are writing too much to get your point across. In other words, look at the dialogue and make sure that none of those speeches go beyond three or five lines. Look at the actual scene itself and see if the description is extensive. If the length is not in the writing itself, it might be a structural issue where you are engaging a scene too soon that is too far from the conflict, or continuing the scene too long after you've reached the climax. It is also possible that you continued your story beyond the ending or started it too soon.

What do I do if my script is running short?

If your TV drama script is running short, it's possible that you actually don't have enough story. You might need to go back and add complications to the progress of your characters. It's also possible that you may need an entire different story to add do it. In other words a C story, or a D story, or further development of the antagonist of your character. It's also possible that the story itself is just fine but you haven't fully developed the scenes. Make sure that you have fleshed out the moment completely.

What is the 'arc' in a TV drama?

An arc is the development for a character where the character goes from one psychological point, usually on a broad change, to its opposite. Someone has no love, and at the very end is able to love, for example, or any other big change or realization.

What is a 'beat' in a TV drama?

A beat is a step of the drama. The word is sometimes interchangeable with scene. A beat is one element that moves your story forward in a script.

What is a 'hook' in a TV drama?

A hook is the beginning material in a script, which engages an audience because of a quest, problem, issue, or surprise which draws you into wondering what will be the consequences of that action on screen.

What are 'A, B, and C stories' in a TV drama?

A, B, and C stories are parallel, unrelated stories that are usually attached to different members of the main continuing cast and are not sub-plots. Although these stories exist within the same world, they are not contingent on each other and can be laid out separately as entire arcs or quests or developments for that show.

How many acts are in a drama?

Dramas that are an hour long used to have 4 acts or 4 acts plus a teaser in the script. In the last year or so, they moved from being 4 acts on networks to 5 acts and, in some cases, on ABC especially, 6 acts. When you have 6 acts plus a teaser, you nearly have a 7 act structure, which means your storytelling is extremely chopped up. On HBO and Showtime and other premium cable without commercial breaks, there are no act breaks.

What is a 'pitch'?

A pitch is a presentation of your story in a very brief form. Summarize who is in it, and the essential plot without going into dialogue or description in your script.