How to Write a TV Show Script That Sells

One of the most challenging industries to break into is the world of television. Everyone wants to take part in this massive and potentially profitable form of entertainment, and many have a passion for show business. Sure, actors are in the spotlight and directors get the glory, but the writers are the ones that create the foundation. Unfortunately, simply having a passion for writing television shows isn't enough to make a living out of it. You need to make sure you've honed your skills, your formatting is correct, and your ideas are more than great.

There will be rejection and criticism, but if you know how to take that negative feedback and use it to improve what you have, you will be able to get into this fascinating and world-impacting career. There are some things that you can learn before you begin writing the scripts for your show that will help reduce how much rejection you receive.

If you utilize advice and information, and combine it with your natural and learned talents, you can find your way to success faster than relying on a good idea alone. It’s all in the details and presentation.

Go Fishing

If your story idea is top notch and you know people will love it, but it's a concept that lacks a quick hook, then it's probably not going to be enough to reel in any fish. You will have limited time to convince someone to listen to your proposal, so if you don't have a logline that grabs the attention of who you're trying to impress, they won't give you the time to prove how great your concept really is.

You need to be able to present the foundation of your show in one or two sentences and have it still sound intriguing. Without that, your show will never get the chance to take off. You have to have a simple enough basis with the right hook to land the big one.

Remember What Started It

While you’re writing your script, keep in mind the reasons you’re doing this. For some, there is a particular event or series of experiences in their life that has contributed to them to create their own show. For others, it may be a lifelong passion and they have one focused piece of inspiration that drives the rest of the characters and story.

You will be asked why you’ve decided to do what you’re doing. You need to understand it yourself, and you will need to hold onto those underlying reasons when you hear rejection and criticism. If you have a focus, use it to propel you through those challenges. You will have mountains of work and struggles. Don’t lose sight of the reasons that make all that work worth it.

Specifically for Everyone

One of the most unpleasantly jarring and distracting things is when you're watching a certain genre of show, expecting to laugh a lot or be on the edge of your seat, and then it changes entirely and flips genres. While it's great to have lighter moments in intense shows and to have some serious emotions in comedies, you don't want to change things so drastically that viewers feel confused or as though they've been misled.

You need to keep the bulk of the show in the genre it's supposed to be. While sticking to your category of entertainment, it's also good to branch out for the audience. Thankfully, we're no longer living in a time when everyone on television was one race and behaved in a cookie-cutter fashion. Your script should stay in its lane, but your characters can branch out a little in order to reach a broader audience. The more people watching and talking about it, the better, and those who are in the industry will recognize that potential in your work.

Look at What's Already Out There

Everyone wants to be original. You want to stand out, but you have to realize that taking inspiration and learning from previous successful writers will only increase your ability to write a great show. Make a list of the shows that encompass what you’re trying to achieve and study how they accomplished that. If you find your list stretches a bit too long, cut it back to the top three shows to give yourself focus. Your goal isn’t to copy them, but to see the skills they used to reach success and emulate those skills with your own talents.

Just like learning from a mentor, you can look to what’s already on television to see what works. This doesn’t mean that new isn’t good. If you can find a niche that isn’t overplayed, you should introduce that. It will make your story stand out a little more and give you an advantage. Ultimately, use what works and make it your own.

Focus on What You’re Trying to Convey

You only have a limited time to establish the basics of your show and capture a viewer’s interest. Even when your show is taken on, for it to be a success and for viewers to keep watching you need to capture their attention in only the first few moments. From the main characters' personalities to the environment they exist in, there is a lot you need to express.

Figuring out how to do that subtly without taking away too much time from the storyline can be a tricky thing. It's not only when you're trying to capture interest, but when looking at the broader picture as well.

Your story needs goals, and you need to keep those goals in mind. Almost everything should be bringing the show towards smaller goals that will eventually lead to the bigger goal for the whole series. If you deviate too much, people will no longer be invested in the story.

Cinderella Moment

When writing a show, you need to make sure your tone, the elements of the story, and the pacing are cohesive. You may need to try different things to get the right fit. If you’re writing an action script, you don’t want a slow moving storyline. You want intensity and fast paced moments. You also have to remember that leaving unanswered questions is not a bad thing.

Shows that contain a full story in one episode will still have a larger story taking place. You’re writing a series. You need something to keep people wanting to come back. If you tie everything up in a nice little bow with nothing left to figure out, you’ll end up with an audience that is more likely to turn to another show.

Anticipation and curiosity keep people intrigued. Early on, you can only have small portions of that bigger storyline in play, but even a little is enough to make people wonder what will happen next.

Know the Full Story Before Starting

If you don't know how your own story is going to play out and if you can't explain the full season or more, then you are far too great a risk to hire. An unplanned story is like a business owner not having a business plan. Not only should you have it all planned out, but you also should have intimate details pre-planned. No one will care that your character's favorite color is chartreuse, but it's a good idea for you to know. Understanding the fears, history, and passions of the characters you’re writing about will help you give them deeper personalities and a better grasp of their decision making.

They will feel more real to the viewers. They need to fit into the story well and interact with each other in a natural and consistent way. Your world also needs to be fleshed out. You should have the settings planned and know where they are in relation to each other. Don’t be hesitant to draw some simple maps for your own reference, and do something similar for the characters.

Make character information sheets to keep you on track. You can have the greatest pilot ever, but without more to back it up, no one will buy it.

Be Willing to Work for Free

In order to reach the point that you're getting paid for your written work, you will have to be okay with writing some spec scripts. Spec scripts, or speculative screenplays, are basically working for free. Their scripts that you write without it being commissioned. This is what you're hoping to sell, but for you to reach that point you need to be willing to put in an unimaginable amount of time without expecting to get paid for it.

You may have a great idea and think everything is great, but no one is interested in that idea at the moment. Trends and opinions are always changing. You may work hard on something only to have to shelf it and start something else. It’s the ever changing needs of the industry. If no one is biting, try working on something new.

Don’t Give Up

As we've already mentioned, you will face rejection. There's no way around it. The work that you put so much effort and time into will be scrutinized and criticized. It can make you feel entirely discouraged and many have given up because of this, but the only way to learn and grow in order to succeed is to keep working towards that goal. If you're open to changing and improving, you will be able to create something great and entertaining.

Look for inspiration everywhere and don’t stop writing. If you’re truly passionate about it, use that passion and drive to create and shape your stories until you hit gold. It’s a tough industry, but it’s a constantly growing industry and they’re always looking for the next show.

Final Thoughts

If you have the fortitude to storm the turbulent waters of show business, you can become successful. Keep an open mind and don’t let anything stop you. You have great ideas. You have talent. All it takes is perseverance and confidence. Even if all you’ve had so far is let downs treat every opportunity as though it’s a sure thing. The only time you should be lingering on rejection is to use it as constructive criticism for improving your skills and your stories.