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Home » Archives » January 2006 » Write Molehills, not Mountains
[Previous entry: "CLARIFICATION"] [Next entry: "The Joy of Specs!"]

01/27/2006: Write Molehills, not Mountains

I’ve already told everyone about the ABC Writing Fellowship, and I’ve encouraged all you aspiring TV writers out there to start getting your writing sample (spec script) in shape for the spring deadline. Even if you’re not interested in this particular opportunity, you’re going to need at least one (probably two) spec scripts if you want to pursue TV writing work.

We were talking about picking the right kind of story to tell in your spec script. I mentioned one Star Trek: The Next Generation spec that I wrote which fell flat. I had decided to be ambitious in this one, to take advantage of the fact that what I was writing was only a writing sample, and would not ever have to be filmed. So I used lots and lots of extravagant exterior locations on an alien planet, to tell a big sweeping story of Data and Deanna, forced to try to create a life for themselves when they thought the Enterprise had been destroyed. I don’t remember for sure, but if I know myself, this story would have been intercut with scenes back on the ship of the crew, miraculously undestroyed, clawing their way back to their lost colleagues, probably facing effects-heavy interaction with an enemy or a flashy space-storm. It was all epic. And unfilmable. I had demonstrated a complete lack of ability to tell a story with an eye toward real-life budget constraints. And, as a result, I had ended up telling a story that they simply wouldn’t do on their show. Writing a filmable spec, keeping it small enough, is an important part of the process.

As a corollary to this, try not to kill off Earl’s brother, Dr. House’s boss, or Jack Bauer. You’re thinking too big. The trick to a great spec is that it’s a story that they show might actually do someday, but done BETTER than the show will do it. How in the world can your spec be better than the real deal? Because you’ve got months and months to write it. And they’ve got two weeks or less. Whether or not you think that achieving this is possible, there’s certainly no harm in having it as your goal. It’ll make you work hard and keep polishing until it shines.

By the way, the person who is least likely to break into TV writing is the one who throws popcorn at the TV during an episode of Who Ate the Cake? or My Dumb Husband, and says, “I can write better crap than that!” Sure, some television writing is uninspired, but that doesn’t mean the bar for getting to do it is set low. No job that pays as well as this one does is that easy to get.

Soon, I’m going to give you guys some examples of good spec script stories I have met.

My Lunch: Chicken Toscana at The Macaroni Grill. It was on their “low fat” menu but it was good anyway! Check it out!


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