Tuesday, the day TVWriter™ announced the Semi-Finalists in the 21st running of the People’s Pilot Contest, this site had more visitors and page views than ever before in its decade-and-a-half-year-long history.
Just short of 80% of the visits/views related to the PP, and for the first time, one post, “PEOPLE’S PILOT Semi-Finalists are Here,” had 33% more visitors than our landing page. In fact, 4 times as many people visited that post as actually entered the contest.
So I guess that means you’re interested, right? For which, btw, I’m very, very thankful.
And what you seem to be most interested in right now, judging not only from page views but also from the emails we’ve received about the Semi-Finalist selections, boils down to “Why did some entries make the Semi’s and others not? What did we do wrong? What did we do right?”
Major concerns. Proper questions. And while I can’t answer regarding the specifics of any individual entries, I’m more than prepared to make some general observations about how things went down – and are continuing to go down as we enter the Finalist and Winners phases – this time around.
Firstly, I think it’s important than everyone who comes to this site, whether you entered or not, know that this really was the best crop of entries we’ve ever received. The level of writing has gone up with every running, as has the ingeniousness of the series concepts themselves. This was an extraordinary bunch of entries, and as far as I’m concerned, every single one of them could become a successful TV series.
Inevitably, however, some were more impressive (I’m loathe to say “better” because that could lead to an endless discussion of the very definition of the word) than others. The entries that became Semi-Finalists were stand-outs, and, because all writers need to know what works in order to make it work for them, those stand-outs had the following in common:
- Great characterization – interesting, believable “people” from the largest to the smallest roles
- Great dialog – interesting, believable and clever speech with varying speech patterns depending on the character
- Fast-paced stories that didn’t feel like “pilots” per se because they did much more than introduce us to the characters and setting they plunged us into a problem and/or a need and made us care about solving the problem and/or fulfilling the need
(Special note: The most successful of the Semi-Finalist scripts began with at least 5 pages it was impossible to put down, and the majority of those both the protagonist (s) and the main problem were introduced by the fifth page
- Streamlined teleplay format that gave us all the information we needed in order to go with the flow, and did it so tightly that every page was clean, simple and a pleasure to read
Another way to look at this is to talk about what didn’t work, as in, “Why didn’t certain scripts make the cut?” So:
- The most common flaw in scripts that didn’t make it in this running of the contest was the lack of a central problem for the protagonist (s). Even comedies need stories, as in situations in which the hero has to rise to occasion in order to succeed because if s/he doesn’t there’s going to be hell – maybe personal, maybe professional, maybe literal – to pay. The scripts that didn’t work had events and incidents…but no forward drive
- The second most common flaw was too much talk. As in long speeches. And long scenes. Good writing=strong cutting.
- A sitcom that isn’t funny isn’t a sitcom (“Could be shorter, could be funnier” was the most common complaint about sitcom entries)
- A drama without conflict isn’t a drama (“Could be shorter, could be angrier” was the most common complaint about action/drama entries)
A couple more suggestions:
- Format-wise, when in doubt go with master scenes instead of giving us individual shots – it’s so much easier to read
- Do everything in your power as a writer to make the reader turn the page – don’t count on something being intrinsically interesting, write it so it’s even more interesting
And a final thing to remember (I have to say that to remind myself that it’s time to stop because I keep thinking of more to say…sound familiar?): Good writing and a good script aren’t the same thing. When friends and family read your work, they’re going to be mightily impressed by your ability to communicate and turn a phrase. When pros read your work, they’re going to take that ability as a given, so the only things that can impress them are characters so interesting (and funny, if it’s a comedy), and events so exciting that they can’t stop themselves from reading through to the end.
Next week: The SPEC SCRIPTACULAR SEMI-FINALISTS, and the burning question: “Dammit, why didn’t my Spec Scriptacular script make it to the Semi-Finals?”
If you’ve been reading closely, you probably already know the answer.