“You Should Write About Where I Work”

One of the key misunderstandings that writers new to television tend to have is in thinking that a workplace or job should be the source of story challenges—and that the difficulties of doing that job (and the unique characteristics of that workplace) are where stories should come from.

This is only true with the traditional “procedural” occupations where characters (typically a variation on police, lawyers, or doctors) are involved in heroically helping others, as their job—where each week there is a new “case” with huge stakes for someone, that our series regulars must solve (as well as, often, dealing with their own personal stories).

These big three occupations tend to work well because of both the high stakes nature of their work, and also the compelling entertainment value of all the intense personal interactions that are part of that work—something few other occupations can really offer.

With all other shows, characters’ jobs and workplaces form a backdrop, and a unique place that generates some problems for them, but those problems are personal in nature—meaning the stakes are only for them. They are not advocating on behalf of others through a new “case” each week; they are simply trying to get through their own personal lives.

This is why the work of “advertising executive”, “meth dealer” or “high school football coach” on Mad Men, Breaking Bad or Friday Night Lights do not make those shows “procedural.” The audience is not meant to invest emotionally in the stakes of succeeding or not with an ad campaign, meth deal or football game—instead, they are invested in the characters who are dealing with personal problems that have a great impact on their life situations (which their unique occupations or roles in the world contribute to). But the stakes of these stories are confined to them (and perhaps their loved ones)—they aren’t fighting in a heroic mission, in some way, like they would on a truly procedural show.

This same fallacy about workplaces providing stories also holds true with comedies—where an audience won’t care about the success of workplace problems like a paper deal on The Office, a sketch’s success on 30 Rock, or a restaurant challenge on 2 Broke Girls—and the “procedure” of doing such work is not that entertaining or compelling to watch (unlike, say, police work). Rather, the stories and scenes are all focused on individual characters’ personal lives and personal stakes (not their work on behalf of others)—which the audience is invested in.


These tips came from the workshop

Writing a Spec Script for a Television Comedy or Drama Series

In this workshop, writers will learn all the key elements to a successful “episodic spec,” and will receive ongoing instructor guidance in building their own—from basic idea through finished outline. It begins with knowing how to choose the right kind of show to spec, then understanding which elements to study, in order to really grasp how a typical episode functions well enough to write one. Students will then learn the elements of great story ideas for a spec, and be given a chance to pitch and re-pitch multiple ideas for their episode, before finally settling on one to write. At that point, they will begin “breaking story” (figuring out the key “beats” of each “act”) over several weeks, getting instructor feedback along the way. Finally, they will be guided in crafting a scene-by-scene outline, from which they could then go on to write the actual script.

Learn more about Writing a Spec Script for a Television Comedy or Drama Series today!.