The Bitter Script Reader’s Guide to Writing a Spec TV Episode

Here it is, gang. Just what you’ve been waiting for. Or should’ve been waiting for: The most complete guide to writing a spec episode of a TV series this TVWriter™ minion has ever seen.

Um, LB…why haven’t you done this? (Uh-oh. Am I in trouble now?)

by The Bitter Script Reader

For years, I’ve toyed with posting one of my scripts on this site and using it to explain my process of breaking a script. In all cases, I ran into the same problems: I couldn’t use something that I was still sending around as a sample with my own name on it, and anything older I was no longer using as a sample was probably such a sub-par example of my work that it seemed foolish to put it out there publicly. Every now and then I thought of writing one of those “gimmick” specs, like the infamous FRIENDS spec where they all get AIDS, but was often confronted by a lack of either time or inspiration.

A couple months back, after season two of 13 Reasons Why had dropped, but before it had been renewed, I saw a lot of speculation about where season three would go. On Twitter, I made a joke that season three should be a tribute to the short-lived NBC series Awake(which also featured 13 Reasons Why‘s lead Dylan Minnette) and have Clay suddenly finding himself moving between two worlds – the one we’ve lived in for two seasons and another one where Hannah survived her suicide attempt.

For those not in the know, Awake was about a police detective whose reality fractured after a car crash. In one reality, his son died and wife survived. In the other, the reverse happened. Each time he goes to sleep, he wakes up in the other world and he doesn’t want to figure out which one is real, as the experience lets him maintain contact with both his wife and son. The series was cancelled before any kind of story resolution was reached, and honestly, that might have been for the best because it’s hard to imagine the explanation that would be as satisfying as the concept itself.

It was a stupid joke, but I also happened to make it at a point where the show I’m working on had sent all the writers off to script and I had days with very little to do. The idea kept buzzing in the back of my brain as I saw the potential in a story about Clay getting a second chance with Hannah, a Hannah still being treated for her suicidal depression. I had a particular image in my head, figuring that Clay’s first encounter with Hannah could happen in his room, just as his first scene with the imagined Hannah in season 2. She’d reach out to touch him, he’d instinctively grab her forearm and get a double shock… she’s solid… and she still bears the deep wrist scars of her suicide attempt.

If that visual hadn’t popped into my head, it’s unlikely you’d be reading this post. But pop it did. And it lingered….

Read it all at The Bitter Script Reader’s Blog

EDITOR’S NOTE: When we saids this was “complete” we meant it. This is only Part 1 of – wait for it – 10. Here’s the complete list (which also is available via The Bitter Script Reader, of course):

Part 2: Character
Part 3: Story and Theme Development
Part 4: The Break
Part 5: Act One Scenes
Part 6: Act Two Scenes
Part 7: Act Three Scenes
Part 8: Act Four Scenes
Part 9: When your lead character demands a rewrite
Part 10: Act Five Scenes

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