Check Out This Handy Writing Guide to Sitcom Format

Writing a sitcom means mastering story beats...

The one thing no one really talks about with writing is that, aside from passion and creativity, there's some basic math involved. When it comes to TV writing, you need to handle act breaks and storylines sort of like an equation. 

If you have 30 pages to tell a story, and 18 are devoted to the first act, how many are devoted to the others if the second needs to be 2/3 more than the other? 

Wait...what? 

Look, writing is not that kind of math, but it does have you balancing things that sometimes require an outline or just a solid plan. 

After analyzing a few sitcom episodes from Parks and Recreation, there's a guide now on Reddit that dictates how you can mirror this classic sitcom's structure when it comes to telling your story. Check out this Sitcom Structure Guide written by Reddit user castlescrumbled89

This is an overview of an episode's structure, arcs, and how the story breaks down minute by minute. 

So let' take a closer look. 

Check Out This Handy Guide to Sitcom Format

One of the hardest things about TV writing is juggling multiple POVs and also plotlines. Everyone needs motivation for what's happening and all of them need a satisfying ending as well. You also want to leave room to expand on stories such as unrequited love or bigger issues later in the season. 

So, it means not perfectly closing any of those loops. 

But this chart is just focused on one episode...not the entire series. 

sitcom structure

First up, there's so much information packed into these slides. Not only are we treated to the "what should happen" in each act, but there is a page approximation accompanying them. Each minute is about a page of screentime, so keep that into account when you are writing.  

I also like how the A, B, and C stories all mirror one another. 

Sitcoms are situational comedies and you need to put obstacles in the way of characters and let them hash it out. 

sitcom structure

I really like this chart that almost feels like it is a template for the show itself. We can see how A story, B, and C are all interwoven here. You could figure out your stories and beat them out this way for yourself, too. And you can even find out how these scenes overlap as you go. 

Hopefully, this resource helps you see your story more clearly. Honestly, this is why people love to make notecards. You can tangibly see the beats and move them as you go. What works here is the ability to see the story at its completion. 

These are only a couple of the resources provided on the page, which is totally worth a click and a deep dive. 

Consider outlining your story this way and let us know if it works in the comments. 

I'm excited to see what you come up with using this free tool. 

Up Next: Learn How to Write a Sitcom

Learning how to write a sitcom can open your career to more opportunities and get your ideas on the small screen. But first, you have to master the sitcom structure and format.      

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