Posted By : August 23, 2023
Today we are going to talk about a fascinating topic that is not only quite intriguing but is an amazing career choice for any scriptwriter because today we are going to talk about how to write a TV script.
A TV script is different from a movie script and this guide to formatting TV scripts as well as writing TV series scripts will help you understand screenwriting techniques for TV.
Television storytelling is different from any other kind of storytelling and even the script structure as well as character development is different.
Before we explore more about that, let us understand what is exactly television script writing.
Television script writing is exactly what it sounds like because it is dialogue writing for series that are only aired on TV or other platforms in a serial manner with episodes. This is where we come to the season breakdown as well as the episode breakdown.
When it comes to TV series writing, the writers have the ultimate control because they get to create the story however they like but that story has to be broken down into episodes.
Script formatting is also different when it comes to TV series and writing for different genres is also different but the basic idea is that TV writers start on a base and then develop the story as the episodes progress.
TV writers need to keep the budget in mind as well as the capabilities of the production team when they are creating stories and writing for episodes.
However, this is the same case with movie or film script writing. If we do script analysis of movie scripts as well as TV scripts, we are going to find a lot of similarities as well as differences.
Television script writing can be divided into 5 primary categories but there are other categories as well.
There is a lot of difference between TV screenwriting and film scriptwriting and you are also going to find differences on how to format a TV series script as compared to a film script.
Let us look at some of the most obvious differences between TV series script writing as well as film script writing.
The biggest difference is that a television script is going to be a lot bigger in total than a movie script and you can understand this by the runtimes.
A movie is usually an hour or two long, but a traditional TV series has 13 episodes in a single season which might be 30 minutes or an hour long.
This means that the writers have a lot of space and time to go into great depth about the characters which is impossible to do within a film where they have to wrap up everything.
This also has an effect on the type of story because a film is a lot shorter than a TV series and that is why film budgets are usually smaller.
A television script format is different from a film script format because the storyline is different and moves at a different pace.
A movie has a simple negative structure where there is a beginning, middle and end. The end has to be resolved within the same film. Yes, a movie can have sequels but that is different from TV series episodes.
When it comes to a TV series there can be multiple beginnings and multiple character arcs and multiple ends. A TV script can create a larger narrative that is complex and can be divided into all the episodes.
When we are talking about a movie script then the writing does not need to rely on a hook to keep the story moving ahead.
The thing can be written in a single go and is also read by the directors and the production team in a single sitting.
That is impossible when it comes to a TV series script because the TV series can span multiple episodes and multiple seasons that can even run for more than a decade.
That is why things are taken slow and steady when it comes to a TV series and focus is given to episodes and seasons rather than the entire thing. The story is made to develop over time.
We can even see scriptwriters changing between seasons and even episodes and this can be apparent on any popular TV series. Along with that, the entire direction team can also be changed.
You need to understand this and we must know that a movie only has a limited time to bring out the entire concept. And if you look at movie budgets then the budget is much bigger if we compare every minute of the movie with a minute-by-minute basis comparison of a TV series.
That is why movie scripts can explore cinematography and can be much more cinematic and of course, there are dialogues with it.
But since the budget density of TV series is not that good that is why TV series scripts need to rely on dialogues because cinematography and visuals and not given priority.
That is why you might see excellent dialogues in TV series but the visuals and the cinematography will keep you wanting for more.
The primary difference is that TV series scripts are longer and that is why scriptwriters can take the liberty to customise the script and keep the story moving forward rather than having to end it at 2 hours.
Let us now move on to TV script formatting so that you understand a little bit better on how TV series scripts are written.
Television series scripts follow a different structure which is quite unique and is the perfect recipe to create a new episode so that the TV show can go on.
Some might even call this the traditional 5 act structure because this is not followed by modern TV series which come on streaming platforms. Series on streaming platforms usually end the episode with a twist which makes the audience see the next one.
This is the point of the story where the characters are introduced and their identities are familiarised.
This is also the act where we come across the problem that the characters are going to face throughout the episode.
The second act focuses on the problem and the problem escalates and affects the lives and the character arcs of the characters.
The problem is still boiling and it has not reached the peak which is going to happen in the next act. Of course, these acts are all combined in a single episode and you won’t be able to identify them individually if the scriptwriting is good.
Act 3 is when the problem has reached its climax and the characters are actively trying to find a solution but they are unable to.
This is probably the most interesting part of the episode because we do not know if the characters are going to overcome this situation.
This is when the characters actually find a solution and they are trying their best to resolve the problem.
This is quite an interesting part of the entire episode where we see characters working together to find out solutions. There might have a glimmer of hope of succeeding in the situation.
This is when the characters actually succeed and contain the problem and even solve the problem.
We see everything going back to normal and the story is reset for another episode that is going to begin soon.
Some writers are going to add a ‘teaser’ before Act One and that is also quite popular but not all script writers do that. There are great examples of this kind of structure and even ‘Breaking Bad’ followed this structure.
This is an interesting kind of structure and is sometimes used when writing stories because this kind of structure follows three storylines.
The first is going to be the primary storyline along with the primary character and is the most important part of the story. This forms the backbone of the story and without this, the entire episode will not carry any weight.
The second storyline is supporting the primary or A storyline and it is just there so that the story keeps on moving and that the primary story gets a bit of structure and a bit of literary nutrition.
There is often a third storyline which is just there as a ‘runner’ so that it fills in the gaps between the primary stories. This is not the core of the storyline and holds the least importance. It is just there for a bit of entertainment.
Before we move ahead with even more structures and believe me there are a lot more different types of structures, we need to understand the differences between two important TV scriptwriting types which is writing a sitcom as well as writing a drama.
Sitcoms are light-hearted and they deal with funny topics and are usually comedy stories that are intended to make the audience have a good time.
Sitcoms usually end with a happy note and all the characters are in a better situation and everything is happy and jolly.
If you want to understand a TV drama script then it is the complete opposite because it is filled with tension and it deals with more serious issues and topics. Even if there are jokes in a TV drama then those jokes do not contribute to the primary storyline and the main theme.
Sitcoms usually are half-hour episodes that get into the climax quite quickly and usually have teasers or sometimes they are referred to as COLD OPEN.
Sitcoms are light-hearted and they are usually 30 minutes long as we have mentioned before but when it comes to dramas, they are usually more than 40 minutes long and sometimes nearly an hour long.
The other differentiating factor between the runtime of dramas and sitcoms is that sitcoms will definitely have commercial or advertisement breaks between the 30-minute runtime.
This is because sitcoms are light-hearted and any kind of ad can be placed between sitcoms and will not ruin the experience. For example, if you have a sitcom about college friends and you put an advertisement about stuffed toys between them then nobody is going to bat an eye.
But think of the drama Sopranos or Game Of Thrones and if you add a funny children’s toy commercial five times between the episode then it is going to ruin the experience.
The pace of these two types of TV scripts are completely different because sitcoms focus on a quick pace and since it is only 30 minutes long, the climax is also soon to arrive.
The conflict is resolved easily and everything goes back to normal.
When we talk about drama, then things can become a little bit different because there are no spots for a lot of humour and that is why the script is serious throughout.
The story builds attention and the climax is developed in a steady way so that people get to experience the intensity of the drama.
Before you start pitching your TV series script you need to make sure that the script is in perfect order and if this is your first script then you can write it on a screenwriting software such as Final Draft.
After you make sure that your script is in the best condition and has been edited into its final form, you can then approach production houses with your script.
You need to have three important documents when you pitch a TV series and the first document should be a treatment document.
This document will be like a dictionary for your entire script and will contain everything from the setting of the TV series to information about all the primary characters. The treatment will also contain the entire storyline.
You must make sure the treatment has the summary of episodes as well as a title for the episode and the logline along with a synopsis.
There is a reason why we call the pilot the most important document of the entire pitch and it is simply because it is the first episode of your TV series.
The first episode is extremely important because it will determine if the producers want to see the scripts of other episodes.
The pilot will also determine if the viewers want to keep watching the TV series or if they want to skip it. That is why the pilot is the most impactful episode and will set everything for the entire series.
The last thing that you want to include is the Show Bible because it will contain everything in detail and also the outline of every episode.
The Show Bible will have the history of all primary as well as secondary and all other characters. The most important thing that the Show Bible has is that it will give an idea about future seasons.
This will help you understand the entire plot in an easy way.
One of the most important things that you will need in order to become a successful TV writer is good connections and that is only possible when you surround yourself with similar people.
If you want to do that then you can do it online but a better thing to do would be to move to a city that is related to films and TV shows.
If you are in India then Mumbai would be a good choice because a lot of TV series and movies as well as production houses have their headquarters in Mumbai.
This will not only improve your probability of meeting someone influential but it will also mean you will stay inspired because you will be surrounded by co-writers as well.
This is a tip that is not only applicable to screenplay writers but it is applicable for every industry because if you are entering an industry you need to understand the history of the industry.
You need to understand how markets work and you need to make sure you are doing something unique rather than doing something that has been tried before.
This will also give you an idea if your script is going to be successful because if you write something that has been attempted before and it has failed then the probability of it succeeding would be low.
Market research will allow you to understand the current demands of the audience and it will help you to the industry a little bit better.
Spec script is a speculative script which is not your script but it is just a script in order to show your talent.
This is when writers write additional episodes for TV series that are quite popular and already out there. This is so that they can show their imaginative power and their writing skills.
You can choose a TV series that is quite popular and you can write your version of a prequel to it. You can also choose a TV series that is airing at the moment and you can write your version of the first episode of the next season that hasn’t been released.
You must carry your spec scripts around with you and that is how you can display your quality as a writer.
Every professional was a beginner at some point in their career and if you are a beginner then a good thing to do would be to observe the professionals.
The best way to do this is to take up a job as a writer’s assistant. You are going to learn so much from this job that it will be much more worthwhile than the salary you get.
You will get to know how the format is set and you will also get to know the story structure as well as character development.
If you are seriously planning on becoming a TV series scriptwriter then this will be a goldmine opportunity for you.
Writing screenplay for TV series is a very competitive career and you might not get noticed on the first try but that should not weaken your resolve and spirit.
You should keep on trying and keep on improving your craft and you should write daily and keep on approaching producers.
If you feel like your methods are not working then you should keep on changing your methods but you should never lose hope.
Scriptwriters write scripts for TV shows and it is universal throughout the world. There might be a single scriptwriter writing for an entire series and there might be multiple script writers writing a single episode.
It all depends on the demand and the nature of the job because sometimes you need a lot of experts working on a plot and sometimes a single person can do an entire series.
You need to have a writing background if you want to start as a scriptwriter for serials and you need to try writing scripts even before you have a contract or deal.
When you are sure that you understand what is scriptwriting and you have written scripts then you can approach producers with your script in the hopes that your script will be selected.
It is a long journey and sometimes it can take years or even decades and that is why you should keep a positive attitude and patience if you want to become a scriptwriter.
It is impossible to put a single figure of average because scriptwriting payments can vary from country to country and the highest it can go is in the hundreds and thousands of dollars.
It also depends on where you are selling the script because if you sell your script to Amazon or Netflix then you can expect a good payment.
There are also different payment plans and one of the payment plans is that you are going to get paid based on the performance of the series.
That is why you should do your own research regarding which market you want to enter.
The first is the original kind of script which means that the story is created by the screenplay writer.
Then there is the spec script, which we have talked about in the blog, and it is when the scriptwriter writes their version of a prequel or sequel to an already existing script.
Then there is the book adaptation script where the scriptwriter adapts the script according to an existing book. This is one of the most popular types of screenplay writing.
Let us now talk about the stunt script which is such an outlandish type of script that it is like shouting at the producer to get noticed. For example, a stunt script would be writing a script on Breaking Bad but Walter White is the DEA agent.
There are actually more than four types and another would be a canon script and they are traditional scripts written with high-quality research.
Then there are things like pitch scripts and standalone scripts as well as on the bubble script and so much more. You need to do your research and choose the perfect script for yourself.
For that, you might have to wait for our conclusion and you will get an idea of how to get the perfect TV show script.
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