SAM'S QUESTION: How closely should my TV spec copy an actual episode?

Author:
Publish date:

Happy new year, everyone! Hope you all had a great holiday!

I wanted to kick off 2010 with a question I received from loyal reader Sam. Sam writes:

As a new year’s gift to myself I bought The One-Hour Drama Series: Producing Episodic Television
and am really enjoying it. There’s a war story on page 44 that gives a showrunner’s suggestion for how to write a script in 5 steps and I wanted to get your thoughts. It reads:

“1. Choose the series… watch an episode2. As soon as it’s over… sit down… and write the same episode all over again”3. You’ll remember enough.. to give… the required story, structure and character elements4. You’ll have forgotten just enough that you will have to add some of your own originality… to make it your own.5. Submit said script.”Robert Del Valle notes after the steps: “Draw your own conclusion.”

The conclusion I’ve drawn is blank – far be it for me to disagree with a showrunner’s suggestion on how to write a spec, but what would a reader think if they remembered the original episode? What do you think? Have you ever heard of someone writing a spec like this?

Great question, Sam, and I have to say-- I think that's probably some of the most CONFUSING advice I've ever heard. And while I may be interpreting Del Valle's source more than I should here, I'm gonna try and give the anonymous showrunner the benefit of the doubt...

I "think" he's saying: you'll remember the important structural points, such as when and how information is revealed... but you then "re-upholster" them with your own narrative details.

Personally, I believe that when you're speccing something formulaic, like a hard procedural, you SHOULD steal the structure-- as precisely as you can-- then just "disguise" it with your own story and details.

I feel like that's what the showrunner is getting at... but he goes a little too far.

Also, I WILL say-- as far as LEARNING how to write a spec-- but not necessarily writing one you want to submit-- I think transcribing an episode is a GREAT way to learn. I've done that a million times... you get such a great sense of dialogue, pacing, how scenes connect to each other. So in that sense, I think it's good advice... but as far as writing an actual spec to use, I feel like he misspeaks a bit.

2020_creative_gifts_for_writers

2020 Creative Gift Ideas for Writers

Searching for something special for that special someone who loves to write? Check out our 2020 creative gift ideas for writers with a range of fun gifts for the wordsmiths in your life.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2020 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 28

For the 2020 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets write a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. Today's prompt is to write a remix poem.

Omeara_11:27

Going Viral: Writing From the Hopeful Heart

Author Kitty O'Meara shares her experience of going viral online and how that lead to some exciting publishing opportunities.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2020 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 27

For the 2020 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets write a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. Today's prompt is to write a what's next poem.

plot_twist_story_prompts_an_invitation_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: An Invitation

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, give a character an invitation.

Vintage WD_Conder Soule 11:26

Vintage WD: Poetry without Rhyme—Or Even Thees and Thous

In this article from 1977, children’s writer and poet Jean Conder Soule explores the question, “How will I know when I’ve written a poem?”

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2020 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 26

For the 2020 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets write a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. Today's prompt is to write a thankful poem.

Richard_11:24

Building Better Worlds: Five Tips to Guide Your Planning Process

Writer and WD editor Moriah Richard shares her top advice to help you fight world-building overwhelm and organize your story.

March_11:25

Why I Write Mysteries

Mystery writer Nev March shares how she found herself writing historical mysteries and what she hopes readers will get from her storytelling.