I haven’t talked much about script writing here, though it’s probably what I’m most qualified to do. I graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Telecommunications (and almost didn’t thanks to a C in Ethics…I know, right? Ethics.), which meant I had to write scripts. A lot of them.
Television scripts. Movie scripts. Radio scripts. News scripts. You name it, I wrote it (or at least ten pages of it). I absolutely fell in love with writing television scripts, particularly spec scripts. (If any of you have ever tried to write your own television series, you’ll know how insanely difficult it is). With spec scripts, everything is handed to you. The characters, their dynamics, the typical plot of each episode. I’m not saying that it’s easy, but in my opinion, it’s easier. At least a little.
I wrote a spec script for New Girl that did well in some contests from Writer’s Digest and The National Broadcasting Society, and it’s probably one of my best pieces of work. However, contests require the spec script to be up-to-date, so if you have a season-old script, you’re going to need to do some revising.
Not only that, but you have to do research on good shows to write a spec script on. You don’t want a show that’s too new, because it’s unproven and the readers of your script may not be very familiar with it.
(Think Brooklyn Nine-Nine. A hilarious show, but maybe not ready for the spec script world until at least the end of this season. I suggest googling the hot shows to write for. Other people may disagree with me, but these are just my personal thoughts.)
You also don’t want a show that’s too old, because there are sure to be a zillion spec scripts of it by now, like Modern Family or Parks and Rec. It’s harder to stick out when you’re one in a million. Sorry to burst your bubble. But that’s the writer life.
Still, even if you don’t know the first rule of formatting on a television script (there are plenty of resources on the Internet to educate you), I think it’s an important exercise for every writer to try, no matter what type of writing they normally do. Why?
1) It teaches you to adapt. – Unfortunately, every writer must edit their writing. There is no single human being on this earth who has written gold the first time they put pen to paper. Everybody edits.
Writing for a TV show that’s preexisting means you have to write the way that show is already written. If I were to write another episode of New Girl, I would not write it like it were an episode of Community. They are different shows, with different styles. You must learn to adapt to a different writing style, which will help when you go back to edit your own WIP. You’ll be more open to changing things than you were before.
2) You learn a new skill. – Call me old-fashioned, but I always thought it was a good thing to be versatile, to know how to write for many different mediums. This, I think, is why I chose the Telecommunications major. It wasn’t just for television, it was also for film, radio, and news. And believe it or not folks, every one of those outlets has a different style and a different format for how you write scripts. Crazy, right? You’d think all electronic media followed the same outline. Nope. Not even a little.
(Well, maybe TV and Film a LITTLE, but there are still subtle differences to account for, and that’s just in formatting the paper.)
3) All the hard work is done for you. You get to do the fun part: get the characters into trouble! – Seriously, all the hard work is already done. You don’t have to worry about character development, or explaining a load of backstory (unless, say, your writing a spec script focused on Rosa from Brooklyn Nine-Nine), because by the time a show is ready for a spec script, the majority of that should be done. You get to mess with already crafted characters who are set in their already crafted world. Your job, my friend, is to manipulate it.
I could probably come up with more reasons, but I feel like three is solid enough to make my point. Oh, and a bonus reason is that you get to watch TV to “study” for writing a spec script. Really I should have made that the only point and left it at that…
What TV show do you want to write a spec script about?
Personally, I enjoy comedies, because you don’t have to worry so much about messing with the story line, and if you need to adjust some things to make it more relevant later, it’s a lot easier than a drama.