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SimplyScripts Screenwriting Discussion Board    Screenwriting Discussion    Screenwriting Class  ›  Tips for structuring story - serial TV series Moderators: George Willson
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Matthew Taylor
Posted: July 30th, 2019, 6:10am Report to Moderator
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Hi all

As the subject says - I am writing a serial TV series and hoping some of you have some tips on story structure.

It will have 10 x 1-hour episodes.

The approach I am taking at the moment is to use Blake Snyder's beat sheet to map out the series plot as if it were a feature-length movie - This gives me an idea of what should happen in each episode to move the story along.

I am then giving each episode it's own plot (Linked to the season plot as mapped out above) broken down into a 4 act structure.

It's working out Ok - but there is so much going on it is giving me a headache (part and parcel of story writing I guess).

Anyway, Interested to hear how others tackle this and any tips on getting a firm hold on a season long plot.

I use Excel (not the go to software) to map it out - it's bloody brilliant


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LC
Posted: July 30th, 2019, 9:12am Report to Moderator
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Matt, I'm no expert on writing a series but the thing that struck me the most is the part about it giving you a headache which in turn made me think that perhaps the length of your proposed episodes might be too long... to begin with.

I looked at Ozark: eps range in length from 52 mins to the finale do of 1hr20 - also ten eps.
Mindhunter episodes surprisingly varied in length from one hour (opening ep)  to 34 mins, but averaging around 50-something mins. Clearly me thinking an hour is long is incorrect. Sherlock EPS ran long usually around 88 mins.

What is a serial tv series?  
Without knowing exactly what you're aiming for it's this, right?
Serials typically follow main story arcs that span entire television seasons or even the full run of the series, which distinguishes them from traditional episodic television that relies on more stand-alone episodes.

And that made me think: -

If it were me I'd write a Pilot episode.  Along with that a Series bible: https://www.shorescripts.com/what-is-a-tv-series-bible/

That seems to be the usual approach. Quite a few Pilots entered into screenwriting contests like PAGE et al.
Hey, maybe that's what you're doing with your outlining.

It seems incredibly ambitious to map out ten episodes before you test the concept and get feedback on a Pilot. Jmho, of course.

Couple of links that might interest you:

https://www.huffpost.com/entry.....RTzR4Ize_QhAt1Lstjtu

https://www.statista.com/statistics/829954/tv-show-episode-length/

At the very least I'm getting the conversation started and am interested in what others think.

Btw, what's your genre?


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Matthew Taylor
Posted: July 30th, 2019, 9:54am Report to Moderator
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Hi LC

Thanks for the input.

Yes the definition of serial tv series you found is correct - a central plot spanning the entire season (GOT, Stranger things) rather than stand-alone episodes with the same central characters (Law and Order)

I guess I kind of am doing a bible already (although it's a vast excel spreadsheet with many tabs). In there I have character bios, a timeline history of events before the first episode, a series synopsis, etc, etc...

For now, I am only going to write the pilot, but I don't see how i can write a proper pilot if I don't know where the story is going to end up, or even what direction it is taking. Plotting it out is already helping massively though with things like how to set up the characters in the beginning, cause and effect (I find working back from the effect to the cause a refreshing way of doing it)

Even if the pilot flops, I will probably end up writing all of the episodes eventually anyway - This is mainly for fun for me, escaping into my own world.

The issue I am having is that I can't find a newbie guideline to help me (Like Snyder's beat sheet helps me with features). How does a season-long plot keep viewers coming back, are there key beats I should be hitting at certain parts in a season?

Thanks for the links - I will check them out

It's a sci-fi space adventure BTW (WAY better than Another Life  )


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LC
Posted: July 30th, 2019, 10:09am Report to Moderator
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Matt, same principles apply apparently.

Before I turn in for the day:

Have a read of this -

https://www.savethecat.com/bea.....sode-of-breaking-bad
https://www.reddit.com/r/Screenwriting/comments/8g0ets/the_30minute_tv_pilot_story_mapbeat_sheet_by/

Plenty more examples if you search for Pilot beat-sheet examples etc.
Obviously feedback from other SSers who've been there would be good.

P.S. We're about due for a good Sci-fi series.   Looking forward to what you come up with.






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ReneC
Posted: July 30th, 2019, 10:10am Report to Moderator
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Larry Brody's Television Writing from the Inside Out is what taught me the most about writing for TV. It's a fascinating dive into the structure of a TV episode and has tons of useful information about writing a series.

On the macro level, you absolutely needs to know where the series ends, how each character starts and ends the series, what each episode will be about, and what the season/series story arcs and/or character arcs will be. As a serialized show, you can have arcing characters, unlike in episodic TV.

Serialized shows are movies written long, ten hours of story compared to two. Each episode should have its own theme or plot that also services the whole. One or two episodes usually deep dives into a character's back story if that's necessary to further the overall story.

If you plan on this running more than one season, have a plan for that. Figure out how this show can generate forty or fifty episodes, what each season will look like, where each season ends, and where the show ends.

Another very useful tool is a character relationship map. How does each character feel about every other character? Map it out. It's a tremendous tool.

Oh, and never write more than the pilot. If it gets picked up the show is likely to change, you might need to add commercial breaks or match the tone of the network or channel, and you'd have wasted all that time writing more episodes.


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Matthew Taylor
Posted: July 31st, 2019, 3:09am Report to Moderator
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Thank you so much for the help guys - appreciated.

Just ordered Larry Brody's book, cheers for the tip.

a relationship map, now that's a great idea - will add that into my spreadsheet - bloody hell there is a lot that goes into this lol but it's a story and genre that I really enjoy so it hasn't become tedious.... yet

I will resist the urge to write more than a pilot... writing episode synopsis should be enough to satisfy my need to finish the thing straight away lol

Thanks guys


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Matthew Taylor
Posted: August 21st, 2019, 9:38am Report to Moderator
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If anyone is interested:

While I await the arrival of Larry Brody's book (it's coming from the US), I ordered a book called "Story Maps: TV Drama: The structure of the one-hour television pilot" by Daniel Calvisi which has been a great help with structuring - it has a no-nonsense, straight to the point approach which has really helped with giving order to chaos - recommend it for any new TV writers.


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JustinWeaver
Posted: October 22nd, 2019, 7:14am Report to Moderator
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Same method as the movies when it comes down to it, journey and theme: http://kalbashir.com/Oscars-2019-Winner-And-Nominees.html
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