- Know your audience
In order to have a successful television show,
you need to know what demographic you are writing for. If you want to write a children’s show, you have to direct your content and themes for children. However, if you’re doing a show for an older audience, you have more leeway with the words and topics you choose to focus on within your show, like drugs, addiction, sex, etc. Once you know your audience, you can also market to them through social media, ads, or whatever works for that demographic.
- Have characters want something
A main part of a television show is about what the main characters want from life. An example from this would be in Grey’s Anatomy, the main characters start off as interns, who are trying to succeed as doctors and learning their place in the medical world. On the other hand, in Gilmore Girls, one of the two main characters wants to get accepted to Harvard more than anything, while her mother wants to open her own inn instead of working at one. Every show has a character who wants something because without goals, there would be no source for conflict.
Conflict is essential for any show or work in general. For example, the conflict in Supernatural is that there are two brothers who hunt demons and monsters, one who gave it up to live a normal life, but their father goes missing, so he takes up this life again and goes on a search to find him. Conflict helps drive the show and create drama so that the show isn’t entirely forced to focus on plot.
- Amount of characters
An important part of a show is knowing how many characters you want to focus on for your show. Some shows choose to establish the lives of many characters, such as Friends, which focuses on six people, while Supernatural focuses solely on two characters for a good part of the series before introducing a few other characters to the main scene. Interest in the show could also depend on how many characters there are.
- When to break
Television shows have commercial breaks throughout the program, so an important part of writing an episode is strategizing the perfect spots to leave the viewers in suspense before a commercial break. Many shows like to build up a cliffhanger right before the commercial break, and that’s usually how the viewer knows a commercial is coming because you have this huge buildup, and next thing you know, you’re waiting for the commercials to finish up so you can get back to your show. When writing a show, you want to make sure you don’t leave off at a dull moment or else you may lose viewers during a commercial for a more exciting show.
- Don’t base show off dialogue
When you’re watching a show, you don’t want your priority to be witty dialogue, sassy comebacks, or emotional monologues. When it comes to writing a show, you need to plan out the plot for the episode, how you want the characters to act, and then base what you’re going to say off that. If you start with the dialogue first and try to fit something a character said into the episode, it’s not going to sound good, or even have the effect it should have on the audience if not strategically placed.
- Outline the series
Even if you’re only writing one or two episodes on spec, create a series outline that contains the bigger picture. Biographies of the characters, their personality traits, physical appearances, etc., episode outlines for the whole series, maybe some background, notes on the setting etc. Keep it snappy and interesting, like a pitch document.
- Research script format
Make sure that when you’re writing out an episode of television, you format it properly. Clearly you’re not going to write a novel the same way you’d write out an episode. To ensure you have the proper format, do some research. Maybe download screenwriting software to help guide you in the right direction of what it’s supposed to look like.
- Don’t character develop quickly
While you may want to jump right in and have a character with a huge revelation and grow as a person, you can do this as quickly as you would with a novel or a movie. Since those have much less time to do so, the character arc process is much quicker. With a show, especially one that plans on having multiple seasons, you cannot have this development take place at the beginning, because then it won’t have as much of an impact. It needs to be gradual, so the character can truly learn and you can watch them grow over time.
- Research current trends
One way to ensure that your show will be picked up by a television station/program is to learn what is currently being chosen by them to air. If you notice that a lot of channels are picking up shows about vampires or high school drama, maybe that’s what you’ll have to write about if you want to have your work seen by others.