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TV Writing with Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is an American television producer, television and film writer and author. Her best-known shows include: “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Scandal”, “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Private Practice”.

If you are writing for TV or starting to write for TV, Shonda’s tips, ideas and suggestions will surely help you out during that process.

1. Pick a TV show you like, then watch and study its entire first season. Once you are done, ask yourself the following questions (make notes if you need to).

  • How are the characters introduced?
  • How are the episodes structured?
  • How does the plot unfold during the whole season?
  • Is the show successful/unsuccessful in your opinion, and why?

2. Choose one of your ideas and start developing it into a show premise. While beginning to write, think about the following components of your show:

  • Who are the characters that make up the story?
  • What is the character’s journey?
  • How would you structure the episode to tell your characters’ stories in the most effective way?

3. Write a bio for each of your characters. While writing bios for other characters, keep in mind that they should balance your main character. Always try to find something unique your characters could bring to the story.

4. Think of ways on how to visually present who your characters genuinely are (the way they walk, dress, talk, drink tea, etc).

5. Choose five episodes of your favourite show and map out in details how the story is told in each of the acts. Is it told in an act-by-act formula or the structure is broken, and the story is told in some other creative way?

6. Write out the beat sheet for your pilot. You can use a sheet of paper divided into five sections (each representing one-act), use index cards, whiteboard or a computer program. Choose whatever method works for you best.

7. Work to deadlines and schedules. It will help you focus and get your work done.

8. Experiment with different ways of introducing your main character.

9. Try a variety of ways of depicting characters in the opening scene/sequence.

10. Create rules of dialogue for one of your characters.

  • How do you see this character talking on the screen?
  • Why do they speak the way they do?
  • How would this character express different feelings?

11. Never, ever let any scene go to waste in your pilot. Always check the following:

  • Are you making the most of the dialogue between your characters?
  • How can you sharpen your dialogue to reveal their relationships?
  • How can you provide insight into your characters’ motivations?

12. When you revisit your pilot script, focus on your action descriptions, which need to be clear enough for the reader to understand what you are visualizing.

13. How are you going to approach writing episode number two of your show?

  • Are you going to re-emphasize what took place in episode one?
  • Are you planning to add plot elements?
  • Are your storylines grounded in characters?

Check out Indie Filmmaking School for more writing tips

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