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05/21/2007: Sighs Matter
Okay, so we just tackled the problem of how to make sure your House or Office spec isn't too different from the show. Now let's think about how to make sure it isn't too much the same. Since everyone is writing these particular specs, you have to make sure yours is better than theirs. The key is emotion. You want to find a story that affects the main character emotionally in a way that makes sense but that the show itself hasn't already beaten to death. An emotional realization is especially nice.
If I were sitting down to write a House spec, I think I'd start by listing emotional moments I want to see that character go through. Regret? Genuine undistanced anger? A need for a human connection? What would cause that emotion? What would that emotion cause? I'd start working backwards from there. Notice that I am not starting with a disease.
If I were doing the same thing with a spec The Office, it's a trickier task because Michael, Jim and Pam share the emotional heart of that show. I want to see at least one, and ideally all three of them being affected emotionally in the episode. For example, if Jim and Michael connected over a shared emotional reaction to something Pam said in anger... hmm... that's a very interesting dynamic. So what made Pam angry? What do Jim and Michael do about it? And so on... Notice I'm not starting with "someone forgot to label their lunch in the breakroom."
And that's really all you need to make your script stand out. You don't need terrorists in the hospital or a fire in the paper warehouse. You don't need an episode to make a reader say, "Hoo! Nice explosion!" You need an episode that makes your reader say, "Oh, wow, I never realized House/Michael felt that way, but, yeah, that makes sense. Sigh." Yep, go for the sigh. Even in a dark show like House. Even in a funny show like The Office. Emotion rules.
Lunch: Salad bar and raisinettes