With the advent of streaming, television has entered a golden age. Even ten years ago, the standard entry route was to get your show to air on one of the major television networks.
Budgets were a lot smaller than the budget you would be allocated for a film, and often the reason for cancellation or scripts not being made would be the internal politics of the network.
Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV, and Disney all have huge budgets to rival those of films and a thirst for new talent and risk-taking. Streaming is now the preferred medium for your TV scripts.
How to write for television:
The most crucial factor to consider when you are writing your TV pilot scripts is the structure of each episode.
Unlike a movie with a clear beginning, middle, and end that the audience will enjoy in one sitting, a television series should be enjoyed in several sittings. Each episode moves us forward but at the same time must be enjoyable on its own. You can work on this by deciding what narrative structure best suits your screenplay.
If we were to draw the narrative map of a television series, it would consist of zig-zags as we go up and down with the events of each episode. This can be hard to conceptualize and manage.
Thinking about every episode as a movie in itself is a great mindset to have. This stops you from creating filler episodes, which don't serve any real purpose and are just a bridge to the next one.
Remember, on a big production, and you might not even be the sole writer. Other writers might write some episodes.
If you don't yet have an agent or an executive involved, write a full-length script for your first episode and plan the rest of the series but don't write any more episodes just yet. For example, the BBC show Dr. Who has multiple writers and one showrunner; writing will be a collaborative experience, and you must accept that.
A great case study of how a TV show and a movie differ are the two different adaptations of Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events. The 2004 movie condensed the first three books into one film and significantly changed the ending to feel more conclusive. A sequel was planned but never took off.
However, the television series created the complex storylines to evolve over several hours, which kept fans engaged and renewed for two further seasons.
Character and story arcs for TV scripts
A television show is the best for telling complex, slow-burning stories with multiple character perspectives and subplots.
Television shows reward audiences who stick with the show until the very end. Unfortunately, TV shows that do badly are ill-thought-out and don't offer their audiences any resolution or feel inauthentic.
How do you deal with this? Especially if multiple writers end up writing episodes of your show?
It would help if you created your characters and story arcs before you embark on your project. Small details can change, but you need to have the fundamentals of your series plotted out.
Only then can you start to turn this meta-plan into an episode-by-episode plan that you can translate onto the page. Excellent planning and learning to be more productive is the only way to succeed when you're embarking on a big project.
Different writers plot out their story arcs in different ways. For example, some writers like to use flashcards that they file away in a draw. Others create charts and grids on a big piece of paper.
Dealing with property
Coming up with your ideas for television shows is always great, but what if you want to adapt a novel or a comic?
The recent success of The Queen's Gambit and Bridgeton, both based on books published long before they were turned into a series, shows that a book doesn't have to be a mega-bestseller to find an audience with television.
You might have read a relatively obscure book and want to adapt it for television; however, before you do this, you should enquire about the rights.
Even if you've written the best script in the world, you will feel defeated and disheartened if you find out another company already owns them or the agent or author is not interested in optioning them to you.
Remember that authors generally don't sell their rights to writers, producers, or agents. Instead, they "option them." That means they give you the exclusive right to work on finding a producer or director and passing certain production milestones for a set fee. If you fail to do this, the requests will usually revert to the author or agent.
Once you have optioned the rights, you will need to negotiate the story into episodes.
Key questions when it comes to writing your TV pilot script are:
- Is there enough material for this to work as a TV series?
- If you are adapting a book series, is the author planning on writing sequels?
- Is there anything in the novel that will require careful consideration to translate onto the screen?
Where is the TV industry heading?
Although writing is a creative process, you have to be aware of the industry and its direction so you can pitch ideas and write scripts that are likely to get greenlit.
A small word of caution: if you are writing just to the market and that's your only consideration, you are at risk of writing something that lacks creativity. Sometimes the best ideas come from the left field. You must have an idea of trends while also maintaining your sense of creativity and originality.
Foreign language TV shows
Netflix is investing heavily in original programming from overseas. The recent success of Squid Game - which became one of Netflix's most-watched shows - was a testament to Netflix's investment in the South Korean market.
Other emerging economies worldwide, such as India and Vietnam, are all seeing a cultural renaissance.
If you speak any foreign languages or understand a non-Western culture, then it might be worth considering writing something not set in America. We live in a global culture no longer dominated by the West; bear this in mind when you pitch to Netflix.
While television is usually catered to a mass market - in other words, to everyone - streaming services have understood that market diversification can be a route to success.
A television series doesn't have to appeal to everyone: it's better to cultivate a smaller fan base dedicated to a particular genre or niche because they are loyal. Instead, the audience will seek out new programs in that genre and watch the series through to the end. They will also spread their enthusiasm about the series through word-of-mouth, bringing in new audiences.
The recent BBC crime drama Line Of Duty is an excellent example. It was initially turned down for being too procedural and problematic for a mainstream audience. The show follows an anti-corruption unit - AC-12 - that investigates serving police officers.
It doesn't shy away from hard-to-follow jargon or the challenges of modern policing policies: one episode hinged on one character's misinterpretation of the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
Yet, it achieved one of the highest ratings the BBC has ever seen precisely because of its procedural nature: it added a sense of realism to the drama that most viewers weren't used to seeing. Viewers who felt lost just rewatched specific episodes so that they understood.
If you're passionate about writing a complex space opera or a gritty crime drama, don't be afraid: go for it, make it flawless.
Ready to write for television?
Ready to start writing your TV show? Get started today for free using Arc Studio Pro!
- Set down story roots with an enthralling inciting incident. ...
- So how do you create a story that lasts 10 or more episodes? ...
- Characters we care about. ...
- What and when to reveal. ...
- Creating a series arc so good it'll snag you a second season. ...
- Take classes and read books. ...
- Watch your favorite television show for educational purposes. ...
- Apply for an assistant position. ...
- Keep networking. ...
- Write spec and pilot scripts. ...
- Proof, edit and refine. ...
- Write a query letter and shop your script. ...
- Find an agent.
Scripts should always roughly be a page to a minute, so you should expect pilot scripts to be 45 - 60 pages. 45 - 60 pages equals out to about 45 minutes to an hour of screen time. Consider the channel where your script is likely to air.How do I submit a script to a TV show? ›
Many times, it is best to only submit a script treatment or query letter and to wait for the company to ask for a full copy of the script at a later date. Submit your work to a production company. The list of production companies on our Resources page shows a selection of companies, both big and small.What is a good sentence for arc? ›
The ball floated in a high arc. Verb The arrow arced through the air. A light arced across the sky. The island chain arcs from north to south.How do you start an arc story? ›
It's referred to as an arc because it consists of rising action, a climax (peak), and falling action. Most of the time, story arcs have five key elements: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Properly developing these stages is the key to writing a compelling narrative arc.Do TV writers get paid well? ›
How much does a Tv Writer make? As of Jul 21, 2023, the average hourly pay for a Tv Writer in the United States is $22.53 an hour.How much does Netflix pay for scripts? ›
How much will Netflix pay for a script? The WGA reports that the median total pay for a screenplay deal with Netflix was $375,000, and the highest salary was reported as $4,000,000. As for rewrite deals, Netflix paid a median of $150,000, and the highest pay totaled $1,600,000.How much money do TV writers make? ›
Avg Wage. Television writers earn an average hourly wage of $33.42. Salaries typically start from $18.51 per hour and go up to $64.22 per hour.What are 4 types of scripts? ›
- Original script. Original scripts include those that you create from your own ideas. ...
- Adapted script. An adapted script re-imagines an existing story or narrative. ...
- Screenplay. ...
- Storyboard. ...
- Spec script. ...
- Standalone script. ...
- Pitch script. ...
- Shooting script.
Feature film scripts usually run between 80-120 pages for an approximately 1.5 or 2-hour movie; each script page corresponds to approximately one minute of screen time.How long should a script be for a TV show? ›
TV script format is the term used to refer to the structure of a teleplay. Television scripts can be anywhere from 20-100 pages, but most are 25-30 for half-hour shows or 50-60 for hour-long shows. Unlike screenplays, teleplays are structured rigorously, and usually written for production.Will Netflix buy my script? ›
First and foremost, thank you for your interest in Netflix content! Unfortunately, we cannot and do not accept or review any materials (whether manuscripts, treatments, scripts, drawings, ideas, pics of rainbow-colored unicorns, etc.) that we do not specifically request.How hard is it to sell a TV script? ›
Selling a script takes a lot of hard work, loads of planning, and little luck, but the good news is that people sell scripts every day. Hollywood is hungry for fresh voices and new stories. And while it can be challenging to get traction for your screenplay, there is a market for your script.How much do TV show scripts sell for? ›
Very generally speaking, TV episode scripts garner between $50,000 and $120,000 per episode based on WGA minimums.How do you structure a character arc? ›
- First Act — How Your Character Starts. In some ways, this is the prologue work. ...
- Second Act — How Your Character Develops. ...
- Third Act — How Your Character Ends Up. ...
- Conflicts – Internal And External. ...
- A Basic Example Of A Character Arc: Cinderella.
Note that to name a minor arc, you use its two endpoints; to name a major arc, you use its two endpoints plus any point along the arc. Central angle: A central angle is an angle whose vertex is at the center of a circle.What is an example of a character arc? ›
The most common and popular arc sees your main character overcome myriad challenges to become heroic. Naturally, the bigger the change, the more dramatic the arc. Examples: Perhaps the best known such arc is that of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.