Many writers start out writing novels and short stories since these forms of writing teach you how to plot a compelling and engaging story. But, novel writing is only one medium of writing and there are many many more.
Diving into other writing mediums can help you to develop your skills and broaden your portfolio.
Let’s say you’ve written a short story and you think it would make an excellent tv show. How do you go about turning a simple story into a complete and professional script? How do you make it tv-ready? And, what do you do with it once it’s done?
If you want to write a television script to sell or for your portfolio, it must be up to standard. If the formatting is incorrect, it probably won’t even be read.
So, to help you turn a story into a ready-to-sell tv script, here’s everything you need to know.
- Types of Scripts
- The Components of a TV Script
- What To Do With Your Script
- Examples and Further Resources
Types of TV Scripts
Before you can even begin writing your script, it is essential to know what type of script you should write. And, if you are new to script writing, you may be a little confused. I’ll explain the different types of scripts, but all you need to know when writing a tv script to sell or for a portfolio is that you will be working on a spec script.
As a writer, and especially as a beginner, you will most often write what are called ‘spec scripts’ (also called draft scripts). These are the same as any other tv script but are written without production cues. Essentially, a spec script focuses solely on the story as it’s written before any show goes to production; so, things like camera directions, lighting cues, etc., aren’t needed.
You may be wondering why this is important to know as it doesn’t really impact the story, but when formatting your television script, this information is critical.
Example spec script: http://www.zen134237.zen.co.uk/Teen_Wolf_1x01_-_Pilot.pdf
Production scripts are written once the show has been greenlit. These scripts include camera shot directions and help the show come together. You most likely won’t be writing a production script, so we’ll move on.
Example production script: http://www.dailyscript.com/scripts/arrested_development__pilot_.pdf
The Components of a TV Script
What goes in a television script? A script is comprised of two main parts: action and dialogue. At least, these parts are where you’ll be telling the story. We will look at the other prominent parts of a script later.
Each episode is broken into acts (usually three). The end of each usually ends on a small cliffhanger as the commercials run between the acts. Each act is broken up into scenes. Scenes might change based on location, characters, or action. Each scene includes a scene heading, action, and dialogue.
A scene heading lets the reader know where the events take place, as well as the time of day. The action describes what is happening in your story (pretty much anything that isn’t dialogue). The dialogue includes what the character is saying, and can also include descriptors.
Your tv script can also include a title page, which includes the show, the episode title, the writer, and contact information.
Shows, usually sitcoms, can also have a cold open. This is the part of the show that plays before the opening credits.
To give you a better understanding of each part, I’ll use one of my scripts as an example. This was a sample tv script for Brooklyn Nine-Nine I wrote in college.
Formatting can be quite rigid when it comes to scripts, and that’s simply because of the way scripts are designed. Each page of a script is roughly equivalent to one minute of screen time. So, a 30-minute sitcom will have about 24-26 pages (leaving room for commercials), while a 60-minute drama will have roughly 54-56 pages.
Using a screenwriting program helps tremendously with writing a script, and I would consider it a necessity if you are serious about screenwriting. I like using Final Draft, as that’s what I was taught in college.
There are other options, and you can always try a free one when you’re just getting started. However, it’s important to ensure the program has the proper formatting in place as that is a must-have.
Final Draft (as well as other programs) automatically spaces lines, margins, and indents properly so you don’t have to worry about it.
For more details on formatting, I suggest checking out my Screenwriting Basics post.
What To Do With Your Script
Once you have written your tv script, you can use it in your writing portfolio to show your skills or send it to potential agents if you are interested in obtaining an agent. You can also try to sell it by sending it to production companies. I recommend doing a few practice scripts to get used to screenwriting and then writing at least one for your portfolio. Finally, if you are interested in selling your script, I will have some resources listed below to help you further.
Examples and Further Resources
The best way to understand how to write a screenplay is to look at one yourself. I will leave some links to book recommendations and real tv scripts to view.
Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge (Amazon)
The TV Writer’s Workbook by Ellen Sandler (Amazon)
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