Home Contact Biography Works Media News

Jane Recommends
Who Hates Whom / Bob Harris

Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up A Woefully Incomplete Guide by Bob Harris

"The geopolitical equivalent of scorecards that get hawked at ball games. Only Bob could make a user’s guide to our increasingly hostile world this absorbing, this breezy, and—ultimately—this hopeful."
~ Ken Jennings, author of Brainiac


Jane in Print
Serenity Found: More Unauthorized Essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe, edited by Jane Espenson

Flirting with Pride and Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece, edited by Jennifer Crusie and including Jane Espenson's short story, "Georgiana"

Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's Firefly, edited by Jane Espenson and Glenn Yeffeth

Jane in DVD

Jane in DVD

Now Available:
+Battlestar Galactica Season 3
+Dinosaurs Seasons 3 & 4
+Gilmore Girls Season 4
+Buffy: The Chosen Collection
+Tru Calling
+Angel: Limited Edition Collectors Set

Jane in Progress


Home » Archives » January 2006 » Read More Television!
[Previous entry: "The Joy of Specs!"] [Next entry: "Making Mice"]

01/30/2006: Read More Television!

If you've just joined us, we're talking about writing a TV spec script. In a way, this is like analyzing the chemicals that make chocolate taste good; we're taking something fun and making it into a bunch of hard work. Come join us!

Once you’ve picked the show you want to spec, and you’re noodling around, trying to settle on a story, or trying to structure a story, it’s really important to watch your show as often and as closely as you can. If you can buy or otherwise acquire produced scripts for the show, that’s even better. These used to be hard to get if you didn’t live in LA, but now the internet can help you find them. By the way, it’s worth the effort to find actual scripts, not the things you sometimes see in which someone has made a sort of ersatz script by transcribing the episode. But if you’ve got nothing else, even those will do for this stage of the process.

Whatever materials you have, study them thoroughly. Eventually, you’ll be using the produced scripts to pick up subtleties of the characters’ voices and the style of stage directions and preferred formatting of your show and many other fun and tingly things. But right now, you’re just trying to figure out how they tell their stories.

For every episode you have (tivo’d or in script form), try to reconstruct the original outline. Now you have a list of sets and a short description of what happens in each scene. This strips away the language and allows you to see the story, standing naked and shivering. Now you can examine it. You are a biologist, learning how this goose-bumpy little creature is put together. Here are some of the things you should take note of:

How many acts does the show have? (Not as simple as it sounds. Many four-act shows have recently gone to five, and three-acts to four. Try to find a very recent episode to check this.)

How many scenes in each act (on average)? Is any one act consistently longer or shorter than the others?

How many stories thread through each episode? Having A (main) and B (secondary) stories is common. Does your show have both? Does it venture farther into the alphabet?

What percentage of the scenes are devoted to the A story? To the B story? Are the stories often both functioning within the same scenes, or are they kept separate? Do they alternate?

What kind of event tends to occur at your show’s first act break? At its second? Third? Does the main character tend to take an action at any particular act break? Does he tend to face a surprise at any particular act break?

Is there a big action scene in each episode? More than one? In which acts? Or a big comedy scene with lots of physical humor?

Do the acts always break on the A story, or is a B story act break common?

Do events in the B story always end up influencing the A story? Vice versa?

How many pages are in each scene? (You have to go to the actual script for this one, but it’s important.)

How many of the show’s characters are in each episode? Are they always all there or not?

How much (if at all) has the main character learned or changed by the end of the episode? Some shows feature baby steps of emotional knowledge, others huge chunks of practical knowledge. Others take cynical delight in their characters’ refusal to learn.

Is there any commonality among the multiple episodes as to the kinds of things that are learned?

Are there any sets that are always used? Or other signatures you need to incorporate? (I’m thinking here of the balcony talks on Boston Legal, and similar.) Endings are good places to look for these.

Now that you've made your observations, you can make sure that your own episode will bear a strong family resemblence to its siblings. As strong as possible, in fact -- at least structure-wise, and in terms of general story-shape. Not in terms of the actual events that happen in the story, obviously. Copy the skeleton, then hang your own scraps of flesh on it.

At this stage, you’re still looking to make your episode feel typical. Making it feel special is still ahead of you. We'll get there.

Lunch: Homemade crabmeat cheesecake served at a “The Inside” writing staff get-together. Wow.


Get Blog Updates Via Email

Enter your Email

Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz


Walt Disney Writing Fellowship Program
UC Berkeley
Jane recommends you also visit BobHarris.com



January 2006

Valid XHTML 1.0!

Powered By Greymatter
Greymatter Forums

Home | News | Works | Biography | Frequently Asked Questions

Site design Copyright © PM Carlson
This is a fan site owned and operated entirely by PM Carlson with the cooperation and assistance of Jane Espenson. This site is not affiliated in any way with Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox or ABC.