Diana Black: TV Writing Checklist Part 5

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you haven’t already read Part 1,  Part 2Part 3, and Part 4, now would be a good time.


by Diana Black

You’ve done it!

You’ve completed the Script in probably half the time you’d normally take. (You might take even less if you employ LB’s GDD – see his article on “Writing the Dreaded Outline.”)

And what’s more, the IP you now proudly own is yours and it’s unique; no one can take this accomplishment away from you. Register your work and ensure that you have multiple electronic copies stored on external hard drives and on the Cloud.

Think of this hard work as a solid investment in your future career as a screenwriter. If you’ve worked through all these steps, you ARE a screenwriter and one who’s wisely adopted professional standards; you simply haven’t got paid yet.

Now do individual Passes – one at a time the whole way through the Script.

For each Character, is he/she consistent across the narrative arc in terms of their dialogue? Do another pass for that same Character in terms of their action. ‘Rinse and repeat’ for every Character.

Check ‘your voice’ – have you made it strong and discernible in terms of style across the entire narrative arc? The next pass (in no strict order) is to tighten the ‘big print’ – shorten descriptions and actions, ensure there’s not an adverb in sight and everything is in active, present tense e.g. “He walks…” not, “He walked…” etc.

Next pass, you’re a formatting Nazi. The beauty of that Tabled Outline is that you can ensure that the Slug-line for the same location is consistent throughout.

Have you done a Scene Analysis for each scene? Is each flat or superfluous, or are they all totally necessary, intermeshed elements of a script that’s a real roller coaster ride, and serious actor, director, and producer-bait?

If the scenes still have problems, now’s a good time for one more rewrite. If they don’t have any you can find, then now’s a good time to conduct a Table Read with REAL actors.

Feed your actors well and after the read, ask for anonymous feedback – have scrap paper and pens on the table between the dip, carrot sticks and chocolate. Have someone who’s not reading record the proceedings so you can re-listen to the energy levels across the narrative, sometime later.

Have someone else listen for culturally inappropriate word usage. This may not be a problem for you, but I’m an Aussie by birth and upbringing, so even being married to an American for a very long time and living on US soil doesn’t guarantee that I won’t stuff-up occasionally.

If you can, instead of sitting at the table with the actors, sit across the room, script in hand, and just listen; although mark aspects needing attention on your Script.

You’ll hear/sense slow spots and others where the actors are ‘lifting it off the page’ – evidence that the pace and action are awesome – you’ll literally sense the ‘energy in the room’.

Afterwards, refer to the anonymous ‘notes’ they did for you. Be honest, brave and know when to follow your instincts… ONLY adjust/rewrite if a comment resonates with you. Your script is not a punching bag. Does the comment make logical sense; is it in keeping with the narrative arc?

If you have the $$, send it out for professional Coverage. If it comes back with a “Recommend” get it off to market asap; they may even offer to ‘open doors’.

You could also put it into Competition but be mindful that there are biases out there amongst Competition hosts and amongst the Readers they employ, so take a win or loss with a grain of salt.

However, if it does well, put it into another competition and if it does well again, add that positive feedback to your calling card when you begin seriously marketing.

For stories in ‘pitch mode’ you must develop a Strategic Plan. The mission objective to generate interest and make a sale.

Do your research and take a systematic approach – don’t just throw your work against the proverbial wall to see what sticks.

Develop your data base of prospective Producers and do your homework – is the potential ‘suit/s’ currently or recently working with this genre, does it fit within their budget range, are they open to reading material coming from an unrepresented, unpublished writer?

Is your Query Letter (QL) well crafted, grammatically correct and using simple language? You do have one, right?

Even with a well-crafted QL, many recipients will refuse. Expect greater than a 95% rejection rate, but by the same token, don’t necessarily take that first “No/Pass” as the final answer – they may be testing your determination and whether you believe in the IP enough to put your neck out on its behalf – so be brave.

Your story and the Characters therein are counting on you. If rejected, offer to present them with something else – they’ll then know you’re not a ‘one-show pony’. Those of you who are actors know that the ‘job’ is to audition, not necessarily ‘book’ the job. Same applies here – our job as emerging screenwriters, is to create quality material and pitch away.

If you get a foot in the door via your QL and a, “Let’s talk” interview, know and rehearse how to pitch intelligently by keeping the language simple and direct.

According to Stephanie Palmer’s, Good in a Room, show empathy and interest in them. Have the Leave Behind (TV) or the One page (Feature) on hand – don’t have them hanging/waiting for anything. Show professional awesomeness.

If it looks like an Option Agreement is looming, research what the Producer has produced beforehand (you’ve probably done that already – determining whether to pitch to them).

Think long and hard before allowing a rookie Producer to take your IP ‘off the grid’ for goodness-knows how many months. Have Legal Counsel review any agreement – it’s worth the investment. If this potential Producer respects you and is professionally legit, they’ll expect this. If they baulk/protest, look elsewhere and fast.

By having read this series of articles and taking actionable steps, you’ll have realized that creating a narrative, regardless of the medium, is hard work.

There’s no way around that, so work smarter.

And don’t give up! This venture has kept you off the streets for weeks if not months, it’s saved you a bucketload of money you’d have spent on frivolous outings, and you’ve travelled into an entirely different world for free… no one-way mission to Mars for you – the Universe is yours – enjoy!


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™.