At Writers Helping Writers, we want to support everyone. Screenwriters, novelists, picture book authors, ghostwriters, journalists, magazine writers—we love you all and want to see you succeed! So while we tend to focus on novel writing, we like to also publish posts that deal with specific genres and formats. For this reason, we’re excited to host Lesley Vos, who’s here to share some information about writing for TV—a topic Angela and I have no experience with and so haven’t discussed much.
Now, before you change the channel because you “don’t write for TV,” keep in mind that we can learn a lot from writers of other genres. Stephen King has a lot of wisdom to offer for everyone, not just those in the horror business. Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need was a game-changer for me, bringing the complex nature of story structure down to a manageable level. And I don’t write screenplays. So keep an open mind and read on to see what nuggets you might glean.
“If you read a lot of books, you’re considered well read. But if you watch a lot of TV, you’re not considered well viewed.”– Lily Tomlin
Do you write for TV? Or do you dream of becoming a TV writer whose scripts will garner many fans and followers?
If so, you’ll need some help to learn the art of screenwriting and improve your general skills. Small tips, writing rules, online references and resources for TV writers – they all can come in handy if you want to be a real master of your trade.
Things to remember when you write for TV
When a person decides to join a team of professional TV writers, he often doesn’t know what’s involved. Television writing has its specifications; some of them are the same as for other genres, and some are different. You have to be familiar with the specifics of writing for TV if you’re going to succeed in this business. A few general things to keep in mind:
- Be literate.
- Know how to tell stories.
- Understand the four-act structure.
- Know what a script is and how to write one.
- Be able to capture the style of the TV shows you want to write for.
- Know how to structure scenes and acts.
- Be able to capture the voice of each character.
Clare Dowling, a writer behind twelve seasons of Fair City, has posted this very good article on tips for TV writers.
Online resources to bookmark for TV writers
- Helping Writers Become Authors – A website by K.M. Weiland where she shares insights into writing powerful scenes, structuring your stories, creating awesome characters, and much more. Useful content for every TV writer to have.
- Genre Hacks – A website by Sean Hood where he shares his filmmaking experience and posts interviews and discussions on writing TV scenes and using various related technologies. He is a professional screenwriter with a lot of practical knowledge that can benefit TV writers.
- Save the Cat – A website by Blake Snyder, a screenwriter and producer. Here you’ll find workshops, seminars, script coverage from screenwriting experts, books on screenwriting, useful resources to develop screenwriting skills, and much more.
- Final Draft — A website where one can check all the news and events of the screenwriting world, read articles and interviews on writing for TV, and watch tutorial videos. The CEO of Final Draft is Marc Madnick, a professional screenwriter who has been working in this field since 1986.
- Film Script Writing – A website containing real scripts (Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark, When Harry Met Sally, etc.) that are available to the public. Reading these familiar and successful examples can help writers learn the nuances and details of scriptwriting in their own genres and find out if their scripts are structured the right way.
- John August’s Blog – A website where the experienced screenwriter shares his knowledge and reveals the secrets behind television writing. Many interesting stories, interviews, tips, and tricks for writing TV scripts can be found here. You are welcome to contact John and ask him questions, too.
- Movie Bytes – A website with information on screenwriting contests and markets. You are welcome to take part, to share your experiences, to learn from experts, to read the latest news from the world of TV writing, and more.
- Syd Field – This resource provides workshops and online courses for those interested in learning the skill of screenwriting. It includes useful tools for writers, articles and interviews, Field’s books on screenplays – all of this information is a must-see for those who want to write for TV.
- Script Shadow – This website reviews the latest scripts in Hollywood and lets you take part in different contests for screenwriters. Movie reviews, advice on writing, articles to learn something new on writing for TV – they all can be found here. Plus, you can send them your own script for a review.
Bonus: Useful software for TV writers to bookmark
Looking for something more practical to help with writing your TV scripts? These tools might be useful:
- Fountain – A tool that allows you to write in plain texts and export scripts to HTML, PDF, or Final Draft. This is a markup syntax for writing, editing, and sharing your screenplays.
- Scrivener – A tool for generating content and composing and structuring long documents. Scrivener gives you control over formatting and is focused on helping you complete your first draft.
- Celtx – A tool that lets you create scripts, schedules, cast&crew reports, and other writings needed for production.
In closing, don’t be afraid of screenwriting. Learn its genres to improve your skills and write desirable scripts for TV. Read books on screenwriting, ask experts, follow their blogs, take part in contests, and you just might end up becoming a TV guru on someone’s list of screenwriting resources down the road.
About the author: Lesley Vos is a writer. She is honored to contribute her writings to many websites, sharing her experience and helping others improve their writing skills. You are welcome to check Lesley’s profile here or contact her on G+.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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ANGELA ACKERMAN says
These are excellent resources, and I echo Becca–there is so much we can learn from other forms of writing. I think writing for TV means you have to really know your stuff–there’s no room for fluff with each second of air time needing to be full of punch. Thanks so much for visiting, Lesley!
Lesley Vos says
Thank you, Angela!
Yes, when I read Save The Cat by Blake Snyder I was surprised to learn they (screenwriters) divided scripts into particular parts with the exact number of pages for each one. For example, pages 1-5 should be the introduction of a hero, pages 5-10 go for some other part, pages 15-45 go for the plot itself, etc. NOT pages 15-46, but 15-45 🙂
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Yes, so very specific, but then unlike books, TV shows and movies don’t have a lot of room for time. Each second counts, and so the arc of the story hinges on those turning points.
Lesley Vos says
Thank you, Becca!
Happy to see my writing live at your blog, and I hope the readers will find it interesting and useful to check.
Save the Cat is a brilliant book to read, even if you don’t write for TV. Movie fans will find many interesting fact there, too, as it reveals tricky details of how their favorite films had been created 🙂