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Home » Archives » February 2006 » Shooting at a Moving Target. Don't Lead It!
[Previous entry: "Sweatin' to the Stereotypes"] [Next entry: "Keeping It Fresh (Why Not To)"]

02/06/2006: Shooting at a Moving Target. Don't Lead It!

Have you seen these new plastic plates and bowls? They’re the sort you might find on a picnic or a patio party. They look completely normal except the edges are sort of extra bumpy. Turns out, they lock together! One plate or bowl locks, upside-down, onto another one, creating a very solid little storage chamber. It’s genius! Is this the kind of thing I no longer know about now that I tivo through the commercials? It’s harder and harder to keep up.

Wow, that brings us effortlessly to the question of how one writes a spec script for a show that keeps changing. What if your spec relies on a character who is killed off in the very episode that is airing as you lick the stamp on the envelope to send it off to an agent? What if the story turn that you’d cleverly anticipated and incorporated into your spec never happens?

Well, in the case of the character that died, you actually might still be able to use the spec. It’s the other example that’s a bigger problem. Anticipating, projecting ahead so your script will seem current even into the future, is more dangerous than simply picking a moment in the current season and saying “Here. I’m making a script that will fit in right here.” If you pick a moment, the worst thing that happens is that eventually it’s obvious when the script was written – and that’s not a terrible thing. Every script has to be written some time. But if you project into the future and do it incorrectly, the script will seem to have been set in some alternate universe version of the show. Interesting, certainly, but probably confusing.

The fact is, spec scripts can have a surprisingly long shelf-life, especially if the show stays on the air. I once wrote a Roseanne spec that I used for years and years. When I wrote it, Darlene was in high school. In fact, the spec was about Roseanne’s reaction to Darlene announcing that she wanted to join the navy after she graduated, so it’s not like her age was inconsequential in the story. And yet, it was still getting me work three seasons later.

Writers who are already working have to write specs too. And most of the time, they will have no more idea than you do of what’s going to happen on the show they’re specing. Your script will not appear amateurish simply because it occupies a specific place in the time-space continuum.

When a showrunner is reading through a pile of spec scripts, looking for a good, cheap staff writer to round out their staff, they aren’t looking to find one who is clairvoyant. They’re looking for story, structure, voice, and some specifics like joke-writing or action-writing. They just don’t care that much if the episode would make time-line sense if it suddenly, magically, were on the air tonight.

So relax. This is one case where it's easier than it looks.

Lunch: Spaghetti-Os.


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February 2006

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