Learning and Writing your First Television Screenplay (Part 2)!

Hello Readers (and Writers!)

I hope everyone is well and managing through these difficult times.

As a concerned and deeply moved Canadian, I just want to take a minute to recognize #BlackLivesMatter and to show my support and sympathy for the victims of the terrible shootings taking place with our neighbours down south in recent weeks. I can’t imagine what the families have gone through. I just wanted to quote from my favorite Sci-Fi series that Mr. Spock would say: “Live long and prosper and Peace and long life” Words to strive for.

I look forward to the day where everyone is viewed as equals and can get a long and respect each other for being human beings with feelings, diversity and needs, recognizing the differences as a good thing, not something to fear. I try to follow this advice in my own daily life and interactions where possible. For me I was raised with the values to treat others with respect and not to treat them badly. I treat them like how I want to be treated myself, with respect and acknowledgement. I can’t even imagine what some out there are going through and its not right.

Although Science has shown our human caveman tribalism brains developed to fear the unknown or unfamiliar as it is a sign of danger, racism is anything but and is doing us great harm as a society. We have struggled with division for so long that everyone has suffered. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we are all human beings and to treat each other in that light in all circumstances. We need to respect each other and each after all, we are all made of stardust.

There is a real need for everyone to realize the impact of their own actions or inactions and that impact that it has on others, realizing that those have both consequences as well as unintended consequences. Everyone’s own actions and decisions are their own responsibility and can be held accountable for them. A fair and equitable society is a society that everyone wants to live in but we have to maintain the vigilance for it, we the people must fight for it because no one will do it for us. And when i say fight i mean without violence.. the tools are your words and your thoughts not your fists and your guns. To speak out against injustice is the right of a citizen in a free democracy and that should never disappear.

Treat everyone you meet as a person first, not a label, that is what i do. No one is above the law, that includes police, protesters and the public and it is the social contract that we use to build peace and maintain it in our societies. The senseless killing and violence needs to end for our children’s sake and our children’s, childrens sake. No one anywhere should have to live in fear or live so much in poverty they feel they have no hope. There need’s to be some significant changes going forward if our great civilization is going to survive the coming decades challenges.

I think back to the fall Rome a lot these days, wondering what those final days were actually like and how close we actually are as a planet in terms of tipping the scales… It keeps me up at night and scares me greatly. We must not let that happen. People shouldn’t have to suffer. Covid19 has now also taught us that we are all in this world together and that there are bigger challenges ahead. To survive, we must change and we must persevere. We can get there. We will get there. We must get there.

Continuation of Writing ideas 

In my last article, I started to have you the writer think of what your television screenplay would be about and showed you the first stage of my writing process which was the Logline. You can spend many hours figuring out a Logline for your story, episode or full-length feature and it’s well worth the time to do so. It sets the “mission statement” if you will for what your story is about. Let’s call this the Premise.

So what next?

Well, perhaps you have been pondering a character, scene, or sequence of events. you may be thinking about plot or you may be thinking about just a cool set of the dialog you want in your story. That’s okay, you are at the beginning of the journey here, and brainstorming at this stage is not only good but essential.

One thing you should be starting to think about is a beginning, middle, and end to your story. What happens at the end of your story? how did the characters get there and who are the characters?

For writing “Hollywood” style storylines, you may have heard the term “formula”.

The basics of that formula are derived from the great storytellers of ancient Greece? You may have heard of Shakespeare? they all used a loose version of what Hollywood structure today.

Now when you speak of formulas you may be thinking, I don’t want my story to be generic or be one of those Hollywood like stories where the character always gets the girl!

The answer is that it doesn’t have to be, after all, you are the writer you can write what you like but having an understanding of the writing structure and medium in which you are writing can assist you in having a structure to work towards. If you ask me, it makes things a heck of a lot easier to adhere to the formula while learning to write as it gives you a sort of template to strive for and helps you later on from really long re-writes and extra work. you may be required to think and create upfront, but in the long run, it saves time.

The Basic Formula 

One writer who has come out with free tools to help writers develop their stories and have helped me by reading their material is Adam Skelter. His diagrams and videos helped me to unlock in my brain why the structure was important and showed how the structure can assist in setting up events or what to think in terms of where you are ending up in the second act and finally the third act. The structure forces you to think about what will happen in your story and to keep it moving. That is really the core lesson about the Hollywood formula, don’t bore the audience but also logically resolve a scenario so it makes sense to them. That is your task as a writer and the structure reinforces that as you write.

One of the key points I got hung up on in the writing of a screenplay was the wording. An ACT.. what is it exactly? Well, ACTS are basically virtual separation points or Chapters within your story. Screenwriting doesn’t use chapters as they are normally reserved for novels and books but they are similar. I will say that a book can have a lot more chapters whereas screenplay has ACT’s that are structural in nature and depending on the medium you are writing for can be more or less.

The ACT Structure

The simplest ACT structure is the 3 ACT structure. Some split ACT2 into two parts because ACT2 is the biggest ACT by page number. Think of it te split as ACT1-25%, ACT2-50%, ACT3-25% where the first and Third acts can be longer or shorter depending on your story and the number of pages.

ACT 1 is usually set up or introducing your story world, characters and loosely laid out to be what we know as normal in their story world, the audience is introduced to them.

ACT 2a – the first half of ACT 2, is to build suspense and show “cool” things about the world, the characters. Sometimes called the Fun ACT, the First half of ACT2 interests the audience and sets the characters out on their quest and starts to give them challenges or showing them the path ahead of them making the characters force some kind of change.

ACT 2b – The second half of ACT2, is to demonstrate the “all is lost moment” or the period where the character fails and the enemy or antagonist prevails and the character must change in order to continue the story. The “All is lost” moment could be anything. The End of ACT 2 shows the character winning again or possibly failing if the main character (the protagonist) is a villain.

ACT 3 – The reversal and triumph of ACT 3, shows the resolution or conclusion of the Hero’s journey and the storyline. How has the character succeeded? Longer ACT3’s may also include several reversals or surprise paths that lead to conclusions. In television, this is more obscure and may be less resolute if you are working on an entire season as you may be writing full serialized Arcs, but you get the point. The finale of ACT3 deals with showing the audience the outcome and the new world and how the character has adjusted, concluding the hero’s journey.

Note: I will cover the differences in Television versus Film writing that I have found in a future article.

I am including Adam Skelter’s Youtube channel here as well as his diagram as a resource to show the way he breaks his ACT structure down as a reference.

There are some more points to talk about here which I will cover in a future article. Essentially Adam has broken down the ACT structure into a 4 ACTS (ACT 2 is essentially split in two) and this is the formula I use along with a TEASER ACT at the beginning of my story and a Fifth ACT because star trek uses Five acts traditionally. The 5th Act is essentially another setup ACT for the next episode of the Serial Arc and gives room to resolve and show the “new world” and the characters a bit more. It gives the audience a bit more of the new world scenario while setting up events for the next episode. This is normally done in ACT 3 (or ACT4 if the Second act is broken down) but is merely organization reasons and sometimes done to separate the story more to keep better track of pages. It all depends on how you want to do things (there are probably better explanations elsewhere).

This is Adam Skelter’s 4 point plot structure diagram:

Note: I wasn't able to get to a link to his website as it's down for some reason so i've reposted it here (Adam let me know if that's okay or not, I will take it down upon request).

 

We will talk more about why this structure is useful and why I went with it over other ones. Most of what Adam teaches is similar to other story act structure diagrams except that it’s broken down a bit more and using better descriptive words to describe the structure. It helped me a lot.

Here’s a link to Adam’s YouTube Video (there are more, this is just a part 1):

Adam Skeltor – The Art of Story (Part 1) <— Click Here for Youtube video

Everyone’s obsessed with Page Counts

Although true, page counts are important, they are not that important especially for a first draft. But for those starting out wondering how many pages to write, consider this simple formula.

Every page = aprox 1 minute of onscreen filming 

So for a 60 page script you are looking at 60 mins of video.

For film, you may be looking at 120 pages for 2 hours of feature-length.

Those are rough estimates and keep in mind, that if you writing network television as an example that has commercial advertising, that number of pages per 1-hour changes.

As example, 1 hour of television on network television actually equals 44 mins. That’s 16 minutes of commercials.

If you are writing for Netflix as an example, 60 mins are actually okay but if the series airs on network television and Netflix, write for the network in terms of pages.

Feature-length films can be any lengths usually around 90 minutes but consider your content, your audience’s attention span, do they want to sit in the theatre for 3 hours? is this Lord of the rings or is this a romantic comedy?

The other thing to consider is whether your script is a pilot episode that is a two-parter. 88 minutes is standard but it could be longer.

It all depends on your target audience and network or streaming service provider.

For script writing, writers write several drafts and try to boil down their scripts as much as possible to fit these constraints, we also have to keep in mind that editors may also take a whack at editing out certain scenes during the production on the editing room floor. That could mean you write extra to cut so pages can be more if there are important scenes that the writer feels he or she should leave in. ultimately, your script will get changed during production anyways, so do not feel too bad about the number of pages.

The Character’s (Hero’s) Journey

In my last portion of today’s introduction to writing for television, I am going to get you brainstorming about your lead character or characters. The protagonist as he or she is called is the main character in your story. If you have a group of characters, usually someone is the lead character and the others are all supporting characters or a team of lead characters and usually one of them is the lead in the episode.

In much the same way that the Writing process for your story has structure, so too does the hero’s inner and outer journeys. What do I mean by that?

Every story is about some type of obstacle, challenge, a conflict that the character must overcome, defeat, or accept in order to make real change in the story and for themselves. The inner conflict is always about the character changing or forcing to change a flaw that they have. It is also their desires and what they must do to get what they want.

The outer conflict is the things that happen to them that they must overcome, that could be flaws they are unaware of obstacles they physically have to overcome in order to complete the transformation.

The story is all about transformation in some way.

as examples:

In Star Trek: Falcon (my story),

the Captain is dealing with inner conflict (his misgivings and distrust of letting people help him as well as trying to be a better captain in Starfleet) and his outer conflicts (dealing with Romulans and difficult people and trying to keep his crew alive).

In the Dark Knight:

Batman’s inner conflict is fear of failure and letting Gotham and his parent’s memory down as well as a fear of becoming something he’s not prepared for when facing the joker.

Batman’s Outer conflict is dealing with the constant chaos the joker is causing and trying to stop Gotham from tearing itself apart.

As you can see, the Hero’s journey is important to the story as well as the driving force behind the conflict that inevitably takes place. Without conflict, there is no story. without change, characters are boring and lifeless and without the journey, the story seems meaningless.

From some resources I found online I created a Characters journey Template to use when figuring out how your character will change and what journey your character will go on. I have provided a link below:

Character Journey Worksheet <– Click Here

This concept is not new, in fact, it may be called the Hero’s journey or Character’s journey has been around a while. I simply created a worksheet from a graphic online freely available that’s printable to fill in and then use during figuring out your characters defining journey throughout the episode, season, or feature-film, it works for all.

Lets go through this quickly. Most of it is pretty straightforward.

YOU – The first top point on the chart. define the character and the character’s world and the environment in the story.

NEED – This is the first movement towards making the character change. Create a need for the character and breakout of ACT1.

GO – actually crossing the threshold and taking some action that will end up changing the character’s life (walking out a door as example) or reality in some way, The start of ACT2 (usually). The character has little to no information at this point on anything but the character establishes a plan.

SEARCH (or discovery) – The character looks for the solution and encounters issues along the way. new information or information vital to the story here. Narrow Specific tension in scope, the road of trials, and its just the beginning.

FIND – Character finds what they are looking for or what they think they need. then something happens and they pay a devastating price. Rethinks the plan or gains more knowledge in the process.

TAKE – Main tension or obstacle is being confronted in story. Will it work out or not? Resolved yes or no for now?

RETURN – False resolution. This leads to a reversal or twist in the storyline.

CHANGE – The new ultimate outcome of the character’s world and decisions and the change it creates for the character.

For example take a look at the template provided. This is information freely taken from the internet and compiled online into a worksheet.

There is a ton of work to talk about on character alone but we will leave it here for now. Next time we will dive into more on the Structure points on Adam Skelters Plot points and also talk more about character development and expanding our writing to include a short synopsis (a short one page writing) on what your story is about.

As you can see writing is a lot of pre-planning work even before you write a single sentence of dialogue in Final Draft! Still want to be a writer?

Until the next article, stay safe and healthy!

Kevin

Site Owner and Administrator of www.karrgalaxy.com

You may also like...

Leave a Reply