It’s been a bit since I’ve posted a blog, but it isn’t because I’m not writing. Quite the contrary, I’m writing way more than before! Let me back up a little. My husband and I listen to the Office Ladies podcast and on one of their episodes, they featured Brent Forrester, a writer from the Office. On the podcast he advertised his upcoming TV sitcom writing class. My husband looked over at me and said, “Diane, you’re always saying you wish you could write a tv show. You should sign up!” So I did, and it’s been such a great experience. I had no idea the process it takes to write an episode of a TV show. It’s so different than writing a short story or a novel, and I’m loving every bit of it.
There are many ways that this class is different than writing a novel. For one thing, you don’t need some in-depth, complex plot for the premise of an episode; it can be as simple as ‘there is a suitcase and no one wants to take it upstairs.’ Add characters, dialogue, and watch as over the top drama ensues (in this case, this forms the basis of an ‘Everyone Loves Raymond’ episode). There is usually an ‘A’ story line where two characters pair up and then a ‘B’ story line where another two characters pair up. Depending on how many characters are in the show, a ‘C’ storyline can also occur where another two characters pair up. Start thinking about some of your favorite tv sitcoms and it becomes easy to quickly see this overarching structure manifest.
There is way more planning than I’m used to before even writing a draft of the script. There is a lot of outlining and use of cards to lay everything out. I’m usually a pantser rather than plotter in my way of writing, which means I don’t ever formulate an outline before I write a book; I just go for it. As you can probably guess, this method was very new to me! At first I was just itching to start writing, but then by the time it was time to actually write the novel, I had the structure all ready to go, and it made it so much easier to get started. I guess Brent knew what he was talking about and that is why he gets paid the “big bucks.” It also made me wonder if in my personal writing I really should start to outline more before I start any new project. Maybe I wouldn’t have to go through so many rounds of edits by making this initial investment.
At this point I’ve finished my first draft of a pilot of a brand new TV show, which Brent calls a “vomit draft,” because you just write without over-thinking. And you know what, it turns out I really enjoyed writing a tv script, especially the concept of a vomit draft! To me it is way less daunting than an entire book, because it’s so much easier to fix up if something doesn’t work, especially since the script for most 30 minute episodes of TV comedies are only 28 pages long. Twenty-eight pages is nothing for me after years of drafting novels; my current book in progress is over 350 pages. It also gave me the opportunity to be creative and think of something new from scratch. I’ve been spending so much time doing deep edits of my book it felt nice to think in a different way.
I honestly don’t know if anything will come out of learning how to write a TV sitcom, but I can add it to my list of writing experiences. And, if nothing else, I now have even more of an appreciation for the writers that crank out some of my favorite TV shows. Thanks Brent!