Lessons from this screenwriting gig

the_double_dutch_fight__animated__by_jaycasey-d5ev2soIt will surprise no one that I am learning all kinds of things from this Adaptation Lab I’ve been on with the CFC and EOne for the past six months. I think they are making me a better writer in all my writing endeavours and I want to share some of that edification here.

  1. Scenes need to do more than one thing. They need to move the case forward of course, but they should also reveal things about your characters as they progress through their arc for the episode. Also, if you can subtly share things about your ‘world’ in a scene, for example, “Portia is overwhelmed by the bread line as it wound its way around the block,” puts you in the Great Depression better than explicitly saying it.
  2. Scenes should end with a question. I would extend that to chapters in books because ending a chapter with a question gives the reader a reason to ‘turn the page.’
  3. Bring up the themes again and again in new ways. Unlike books, I find writing for TV requires more themes that parallel each other through different characters in the show. So yes, Portia is an outsider, but her clients are outsiders as well, and there are lots of reminders of her ‘outsider-ness’ throughout the episode.
  4. Minimize the number of characters and differentiate their names. Unlike books where if you forget who someone is you can go back a few pages and remind yourself, once the episode starts, you’re rolling along and your audience doesn’t want to rewind. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but I’ve received it as a note a few times.
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6 thoughts on “Lessons from this screenwriting gig

  1. The first tip reminds me of something I realized once about the TV series Supernatural (don’t know if you’ve seen it, so I’ll just be general): I was watching a countdown of the series’ Top 10 episodes, and the second episode in the entire series was on that list. Why? Because it not only gave us a bit more background about the world of the series that we were still just learning about, it also really established the main characters, their approaches to life, to their lives, and ultimately their different goals. Which is really important, because these are brothers, and yet they have such different experiences and come from really different places. It really is interesting.
    Glad to hear the workshop is going well. I’m doing a bit of stuff here and there to make me a better writer as well. Let’s hope the new year brings lots of good news for the both of us.

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