July 3, 2019

What are the 10 Questions TV Writers Use to Refine Their Scripts?

Recently, the BBC Writer's Room released a list of 10 questions TV writers use to refine their screenplays. Let's go through them together! 

Writer John Yorke created the BBC Drama Academy in 2005. He's a writer, teacher, and producer. John is also a drama producer. Over the years, Yorke has held the positions of Controller of BBC Drama, Head of Chanel 4 Drama and MD of Company Pictures, and oversaw the production of some of the UK’s best-loved, award-winning drama, including Shameless, EastEnders, Life on Mars, and Wolf Hall.

So Yorke knows what he's talking about.   

Recently, Yorke provided the BBC Writer's Room with 10 questions writers need to be able to answer in order to have a successful TV show. Today we're going to go over those questions and talk about how they can make you a better television writer. 

Let's go! 

What are the 10 Questions TV Writers Use to Refine Their Scripts?

Check out this handy photo the BBC Writer's Room released with all the questions: 

Credit: BBC Writer's Room

This is a helpful photo, but now let's travel through each of them and break them down for our readers. 

Whose story is it? 

When you're writing television we need to know who we will follow each week. Who are the protagonists and antagonists? Is it an ensemble or is this the story of one person? 

What does the character need? (what is their flaw? What do they need to learn?)

We follow stories on TV because they have legs. What is the main need of the protagonist? To pay off his cancer debts? To tell the story about how he met the kids' mothers? Build this in right away and you'll be able to hook the reader. 

What is the inciting incident?

Every story has the one thing that happens. Rory gets into Chilton and Lorelei can't pay for it. Don Draper needs to crack the cigarette account. Jess gets cheated on and needs a new apartment. Jimmy and Gretchen meet at a wedding, but Jimmy has to learn to be an adult. 

What pushes us into the next level of the story?   

What does the character want?

Wants and needs often get confused. But a want can just be a desire. Walt wants to be viewed as a dominant person and not a doormat anymore. Michael Scott wants to be seen as the cool boss. The cast in Lost want to get off the island...but they need shelter and food first. 

What obstacles are in the character’s way?

Conflict drives the best stories. What conflicts lie at the heart of your story? Tony Soprano keeps having anxiety attacks. People disappeared in the Leftovers and everyone has a different idea of where they went. In Lost, they want off the island but are stranded. They also have to face the "others." 

What’s at stake?

This can be life and death or just a personal matter. Sometimes it's a combination of both. Lorelei has to humble herself before her parents so Rory has a future. The gang in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia have different stakes per episode based on the situation (hence, sitcom). 

Why should we care?

What makes the audience tune in every week? Maybe we want to see how the Fresh Prince deals with Bel Air. Maybe we have been in a similar situation as the characters in Deadwood and want to see how local politics shake out. Whatever the case, we need to know why we want to be a part for weeks and years. 

What do they learn? 

The "lesson of the show" can sound trite. But there needs to be an intention behind what you want the audience to think and feel. Shows like Euphoria and even lighter fare like Man with a Plan have an intention with what they do with your time. They want to provoke discussions at every level and turn. 

How and why? 

This is all about the execution of the show. We need distinct reasons for how and why these things happen. Consider making a "because sheet" or a beat sheet.

For example: 

Because Diane and her boyfriend have time before their flight, they go to Cheers. Because they're in Cheers, her boyfriend thinks about his ex-wife. Because he thinks about his ex-wife, he leaves Diane to talk to her. Because he leaves Diane, he gets back with his ex. Because he gets with his ex, Diane has no future. Because she has no future, she stays and works at Cheers...

How does it end

Where is our story going? How does your episode end? What about the series? Create a bible that helps you show the throughline of the series. Get people amped up to see the entire story. 

What's next? Write your pilot today

Hundreds of pilots sell to networks and streaming services every year. What's stopping you from selling your idea? Want to learn how to write a TV pilot? You've come to the right place. 

Click the link to learn more!      

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