Screenwriting: How To Write an Hour Episodic TV Show

Screenwriting for episodic TV is a great way to have regular employment in the entertainment industry. This is also an excellent way to practice writing and learn how to use new ideas and story arcs. While TV may be looked at as the less desirable when compared to movies, it is lucrative and can be a great job.

Step 1: Watch TV

Before writing your own 1 hour episodic show, it is important to do some research. So sit down and start watching some of the best shows. Break down the structure of the shows and count the lines of dialogue and scenes. Try to time as much as possible as there are rules that will be applied to each series, and they will differ.

Step 2: Organize Template

There are some aspects that can be quantified. Do the shows use 1 storyline or several? Sometimes each show can function as a standalone, while others will need to be used in serial form. Think about the pace of each show and if they have a tag or teaser. Does the show always have a lot of action or use flashbacks? Try to figure out the template and break everything down.

Step 3: Summarize Show

Write a one sentence summary of the show. This is known as the log line and will tell anyone that reads the script what it is all about. For example: an every day mom turns into a secret agent when the kids are at school.

Step 4: Characters

It is necessary to have short bios for all of the characters in the show. Display how they are all related or connected, and detail how their needs and wants will interact in the story line.

Step 5: Action

Where does all the action happen? Will multiple settings be needed or does everything tend to occur mainly in one spot. Sitcoms normally only have 3 locations that are recurring, while a CSI type show will use many different locations.

Step 6: The Format

One hour episodes tend to be formatted just like features, though they will have breaks for the commercials. Each page should equal about 1 minute of screen time, and most scripts will be no longer than 60 pages. Try to read teleplays of the show you are interested in writing for. Most 1 hour shows will contain a teaser and then 4 acts.

Step 7: Study Old Scripts

It is best to study an old script of the show you want to write for. Acts should be numbered and centered at the top of each page with act breaks. Almost all the breaks in the acts will come at points of high drama. This ensures the viewer will sit through the commercial to see what happens next.

Step 8: Acts

Make sure that act 1 contains the set up for the goal that needs to be accomplished by the end of the episode or serial. In act 2, the mission becomes much more complicated and the stakes go up. At the end of act 2, the character should have hit the all time low for that episode. In Act 3, new determination will have occurred and many of the loose ends and subplots are resolved. In the 4th act, the goal will be reached, but if this is a serial show, then a new problem or teaser will need to be introduced.