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Update: PT48 transcript available here

Alex and Nick discuss why scene descriptions in TV scripts are so important, what to focus on in your TV prose, and treading the line between writing a script as a technical document versus a reading experience.

What makes good or bad prose? What are some examples of compelling scene descriptions? Should prose be efficient or florid? How do you convey textual information? When should you “direct” in a TV script?

Plus, a quick review of Shonda Rhimes’ TV writing masterclass.

The Paper Team illustrates their thoughts…

SHOWNOTES

Content

Announcements (00:49)
Odds-and-ends: Shonda Rhimes’ TV writing masterclass (02:23)
1 – What is screenwriting prose and why is it important (07:50)
2 – Why scene descriptions need to be efficient (09:33)
3 – Script: technical document or reading experience? (17:53)
4 – Describing versus telling (22:51)
5 – The screenwriter’s voice (27:39)
Takeaways and Resources (30:15)

Links

Shonda Rhimes’ TV writing masterclass
Six Feet Under
Alien script by Walter Hill and David Giler
David Foster Wallace
Shane Black
American Gods (TV Series)
Courier Prime
“Two for the Road” (2×20 – Lost)
“Exposition in TV Writing” (PT24)
Sherlock (TV Series)
“Sherlock: How To Film Thought” (Video)
“A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film” (Video)
Fringe chyrons

Resources

Hemingway Editor
Thesaurus.com
“The Synonym Finder” – J. I. Rodale

This episode brought to you by Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Writing Competitions

Use code PAPERTEAM to get $15 OFF when you enter a Launch Pad Competition

Special thanks to Alex Switzky for helping us edit this episode.

If you enjoyed this episode (and others), please consider leaving us an iTunes review at paperteam.co/itunes! :)

You can find Paper Team on Twitter:
Alex@TVCalling
Nick@_njwatson
If you have any questions, comments or feedback, you can e-mail us: [email protected]

Alex and Nick invite writer/producer Hilliard Guess for an in-depth discussion about his experience in the industry, working as a writer, and his involvement in the WGA and his Screenwriter’s Rant Room podcast.

How do you build a writing career without the traditional assistant or fellowship route? What are key differences in being a producer or writer, and juggling both roles? What are aspects of the WGA people should know more about? How do you overcome adversity and get things done? What are ways of putting yourself out there and opening doors?

The Paper Team goes rogue…

NOTE: We had a bit of noise on the line, and my upstairs neighbors decided to join in on the fun towards the end of the recording. We tried to fix most of the issue, but be aware there may be some residual audio.

SHOWNOTES

Content

Starting out, becoming a writer, getting writing jobs, being a producer, curating your work environment, being involved in the WGA, dealing with adversity, and the competition (00:01:22)
Resources and Next Week On (01:10:22)

Links

Hilliard Guess on Twitter
The Screenwriter’s Rant Room on iTunes
The Screenwriter’s Rant Room on Twitter
Hilldog Productions
Palo Alto (California)
Dangerous Minds
John Truby
Robert McKee
Jack Epps Jr.
Karl Iglesias
Z Nation
28 Days Later
World War Z (Film)
Two and a Half Men
Jaws
Million Dollar Listings
Million Dollar Listing New York
Fredrik Eklund
The Lot Studios
go90
WGA’s LGBT Writers Committee
WGA’s Committee of Black Writers
Lena Waithe
Michelle Amor
Dr. Phil (TV Series)
Dope
Straight Outta Compton (Film)
Wonder Woman (Film)
A Few Good Men
Precious (Film)
Mo’Nique
3rd & Fairfax WGAW Podcast
Lisa Bolekaja
Organization of Black Screenwriters
Kramer vs. Kramer
Jay Mohr
Mark Valley
Lynelle White
Army Wives
“Writing Action and Dialogue (126)” – The Screenwriter’s Rant Room

Resources

Pilar Alessandra’s On the Page
“Coffee Break Screenwriter” – Pilar Alessandra
Jen Grisanti
“The Sequence Approach” – Paul Gulino

This episode brought to you by Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Writing Competitions

Use code PAPERTEAM to get $15 OFF when you enter a Launch Pad Competition

Special thanks to Alex Switzky for helping us edit this episode.

If you enjoyed this episode (and others), please consider leaving us an iTunes review at paperteam.co/itunes! :)

You can find Paper Team on Twitter:
Alex@TVCalling
Nick@_njwatson
If you have any questions, comments or feedback, you can e-mail us: [email protected]

We launched Paper Team a little bit over ten months ago, and after 46 episodes, we’ve once again hit a new milestone:

Over 30,000 downloads!

Let’s repeat that in all caps.

THIRTY THOUSAND DOWNLOADS!

As always: THANK YOU listeners and fellow TV Calling aficionados for the love.

We’re in the process of recording a very special episode to celebrate our one-year/50th episode anniversary.
In the meantime, we’re still releasing new episodes every Monday. Tune in for that!

If you’re a fan of Paper Team, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes right now to celebrate!
http://paperteam.co/itunes

For any questions/topics you’d like us to cover, don’t hesitate to e-mail us at [email protected]

And, of course, you can subscribe to Paper Team on all major podcast platforms…

You’ve probably heard a lot of people talk about the A plot, B plot, and sometimes C plot when referring to TV shows, episodes and general TV writing.
So, what does “A/B/C stories” mean in the context of scripts?

Simply put, the term refers to the different narrative and story threads in your TV episode.

The “A story” will be the primary focus of your story. Meaning it will usually be about the lead and have the most amount of scenes (i.e. screen-time).
The “B story” is generally a parallel storyline headed by more secondary characters.
The “C story” (and deeper in the alphabet), also called a “runner“, are about ongoing/macro stories that pay off long-term (or, in the case of some comedies, quick gag scenes).

In procedurals, rule of thumb is that the A story will be centered on the “case of the week”, while the B story is the personal aspect of the leads. The C story is almost always some kind of “runner” that will have a long-term impact on the season arc.
For example: a detective is investigating a crime of passion (A story) while dealing with her own messy divorce (B story) and the precinct is trying to add new blood to the team (C story).
Even serialized or “macro” procedurals (like The Missing, The Fall or Broadchurch) have their A stories dedicated to the crime of the season, and how they impact the leads.

In more serialized shows, the A/B/C stories will often be divided based on characters and themes.
The Game of Thrones pilot has an A story all about Ned Stark and his family, while the B and C stories are split between Jaime/Cersei and Daenerys/Viserys.
Breaking Bad‘s pilot is almost a complete through-line A story about Walt, with some looser threads with Jesse and Skyler.

How much weight do you give each thread?

The real focus of your episode should be the A story. That’s the meat of the episode since it’s about your main character — and therefore requires many story beats to achieve a compelling character’s journey. Once you’ve figured that out, you can work from your other characters and fill in other narrative needs.

Some B and C stories directly come from the A story. Maybe the main character generates a problem in her A story, which snowballs into a secondary character having to deal in the B story with something related to that A problem.
Watch 24 and its pilot for an excellent illustration of the A story spiraling out into more threads.

The pacing of a TV show is often dictated by the A/B/C stories, and how quickly you alternate (or “cut”) between them. The shorter the scenes and faster the cuts, the more fast-paced it will seem. This is a trick used in “montages” (think of any show with a pop music montage at the end).
On the flip side, you can stay with a singular scene or storyline for a long time, and build up the tension.

Ideally, those A/B/C threads will echo one another, and connect with each other at some point in the episode.
If you do cut back-and-forth at a furious speed, then there needs to be some kind of correlation between the threads — otherwise you’ll leave your audience and reader completely lost.

Should you limit yourself to three threads?

Well, once again, it depends on the show you’re writing.

For half-hours/comedies, you’ll find an A and B story, with at most a C “runner” of one or two scenes. There just isn’t enough real-estate to have more.
The A story will already have, say, three beats an act (meaning upwards of nine for an entire episode), while the B story will have two (so six scenes total). There’s only going to have room for a couple of C scenes if need be.

For one-hours/dramas, the amount of threads varies greatly based on the genre and format of that series or episode.
You can take a look at How to Get Away with Murder for an extreme example of a serialized show that runs the gamut of the alphabet. It’s juggling with so many side-storylines (since it’s a primetime soap) to burn through story and keep its narrative momentum going. Whether or not it’s successful at pulling off this pacing is up to your preferences.
Better Call Saul is a good counter-example of a show very focused on its A (and occasionally B) storylines, which rarely deviate into other threads. That’s because Saul (or whoever the episode’s focused on) is truly the driving lead of the story. Look at Dexter for another idea of A stories filling almost all the episode.

Very few dramas (perhaps only single-episode anthologies) just have an A story for that hour. That’s because, to maintain dramatic tension, you’ll want to cut away to something else.
The fewer the stories, the more important it is to have a compelling narrative and characters that propel you through the script. You don’t have the luxury to “cut away” to something else, which can be a double-edged sword.
The first half of Breaking Bad‘s “Ozymandias” episode makes the best case for an A-only episode, but it has the benefit of being the payoff to a 5-year-long journey. In other words, not something you’d want to bank on in every episode.

You may think that TV structure seems very rigorous and pragmatic — and in some way it is.
It’s a bit like musical composition. There are rules to creating a music sheet, but it’s up to you to fill that abstract document with a fun and unique melody.

Write on.

Hi there!

Alex Freedman

I'm Alex Freedman, the writer behind TV Calling.


I started this site in 2008 to chronicle my own journey in television writing.

697 posts and 9 years later, TV Calling has also become a comprehensive resource dedicated to the full TV writing industry — from spec to success.


Everything here is written by yours truly (unless otherwise credited), so feel free to blame me for any missed deadlines.


I hope you'll answer your television calling, and join me in this creative journey.


Write on.


P.S.: New around? You should start here.

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