Diana Black: TV Writing Checklist Part 1

by Diana Black

There are a zillion ways to ‘get started’ in terms of writing your teleplay and if you’re ambitious, your television series.

If the steps outlined in this series of articles resonate with you – then go for ’em! If they don’t, do whatever does work, but DO IT!

The important thing is to be writing and working on your craft every single day. You’ll never take yourself seriously and neither will anyone else if you don’t start thinking and acting like a pro.

Ideally, at any one time you should be taking actionable steps every day with any or ideally, all the following:

Stories in creative development mode.

Stories that are a work in progress – either draft, re-write (after many drafts) or final polish.

Stories in pitch mode that you’re pitching, or about to pitch in some way.
Your daily work load will of course depend on how many stories you have in the ‘in-tray’ and what sort of ‘day-job’ is sapping your creative energy. How are you prioritizing this? Find a way.

Stories in creative development mode start with a fascinating, compelling, super-cool idea/concept in rough note form. No matter how outrageous or silly these scrappy notes might be, don’t discard them! Lock them up in a drawer somewhere.

People know you’re a writer and such is expected of writers and you are one, aren’t you? They’ll not suspect you of being a serial killer but mark it ‘fiction’ if you must. Always have a notebook on hand to jot down ideas, characters, events etc. for wherever you happen to be and whenever these sparks of genius present themselves.

You’ll think you’ll remember that stupendous idea that woke you up at 2:00 a.m. but chances are you won’t, so be prepared to slip out of bed or at least, have a note-pad by your nightstand and visualize the words on the page as you write them down, so they’re not totally illegible in the light of day.

Put a diver’s notepad along with a pencil in the shower rack – its reusable – the pencil marks can be gently removed with toothpaste.

Now let’s address each component, of which there are many…

The Log Line – also sometimes referred to as the one-line premise or synopsis statement.

Make this statement ‘High Concept’ from the get-go. Check out LB’s take on this in his article, “The Logline” and read the whole article – pure gold. Essentially your logline (LL) must be a brilliant, quirky, mind-blowing concept that the suit/s, especially the seasoned creative professionals, wish they’d written it and saved themselves a bunch of $$ by not having to acquire it from you.

And the other ‘suits’ – the non-creative bean counters? Don’t under-estimate them – they can smell $$ and a marketable ‘opportunity’ like a Ferengi and they’ve got a lot of clout these days.

Let there be no mistake or self-delusion about this, we’ re all in it to make $$, regardless of how artistically brilliant the project might be, or how much you perceive yourself as an artiste, this is a business.

Get busy and boil the LL down to one succinct, compelling sentence that involves character, conflict and the objective that we – as in everyone, can visualize and can’t wait to watch. Such fervor means the concept is deemed marketable. Yippee!

If you’re not sure how to state that LL, Google any film or TV show you’ve seen recently via IMDB and you’ll ‘get it’ by reading the blurb directly underneath the show’s title.

Having already seen the finished product, you’ll understand how this statement does indeed encapsulate the narrative in an enticing way…

…but now go one step further on the path of success, by making the LL succinct – as close as possible to twenty-four (24) words. This is painful, but it will also come in handy later, by helping you develop the ‘elevator pitch’.

Okay, we’re out of the gate, we’ve developed and polished the Log Line, with not a computer keyboard in sight.

However, in relation to the creative development mode, we’re not done yet…

I strongly suggest that before going any further, you write out on a separate piece of paper, all by itself, the rationale for writing this specific story – what is driving you to write this?

It should allude to the fascinating core – the thought/idea that compelled you to pick up the ‘pen’. When you’re at risk of losing your way, or are truly lost, like perhaps in the Act Two doldrums (if subscribing to the 3-Act structure), knowing the rationale for the project will help you find the path to move forward. It may not help with the characters quite so much.

The following should be clear by this point: – inciting incident, theme, and the underlying conflict that glues the narrative together. Even in a comedy, there needs to be a subtle but profound conflict, or you’re screwed.

You now have a decision to make as to which to tackle first – character or story-world.

I tend to go down the Character path, especially when trying to discover the key players, but whatever works best for you.

Regardless, do not put the brakes on anything you write down, no matter how crazy/outrageous – forget about the budget for the moment…it’s far easier to trash later than fill in serious holes when you’re under pressure.

You know at least two of the characters already – the protagonist and the antagonist… they’ve likely made themselves known to you via the LL, but who are they going to play with? And how well do you know them?

Don’t stress, if they’re ‘not talking’ yet. Respect each character by giving them an entire scrap page of their own so that you won’t be scribbling about them over the top of another character. Those pages will fill up soon enough!

Catch you next time with…TV Checklist Part 2

Diana Black is an optioned screenwriter who has placed in competitions with features and teleplays.  She’s also a professional actor with a Bachelor of Creative Arts – Drama, Film & TV and a regular contributor to TVWriter™.

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