Writing for TV - format, type and structure (2023)

WWith new streaming platforms popping up every year and binge-watching an art form, the television industry needs more writers than ever. Unfortunately, there's also more competition than ever. Getting started in television can be difficult, but here are some basic things you need to know to become a television writer, along with some actionable tips that can help you get closer to writing for television.

Writing television screenplays

Writing for TV vs. Writing for Film

Even though it's a feature filmscriptAndTV-ScriptThere are many similarities such asscene title,formatting technology, dialogue andcharacter descriptionThere are many differences between writing for television and writing for films. To understand the difference, it is important to first understand how television shows are created. This Vox video practically breaks down the TV production process.

understand TV writing

1. Script length:First of all, when writing for television, the scripts are much shorter than when writing for a feature film. TV programs last between 30 and 60 minutes, feature films are at least 90 minutes long, which leads to different script lengths.

2. Story-Engine:Feature films are meant to be solved at the end of the film. TV shows, on the other hand, should run over several seasons. This means that writing on television is based on a different urge to create than writing on film.

Movies lasting six to nine seasons are often very character-driven, relying more on the audience's investment in the characters than the plot itself.

(Video) How to Write a TV Show Treatment (with Examples) — TV Writing & Development: Ep1

Writing for TV: Character and Development Arcs •Subscribe on YouTube

TV shows often have multiple central characters who drive the show forward, in contrast to feature films, which often have just one central protagonist. Television shows utilize multiple storylines, also known as A, B, and C storylines.

3. Structure:Because TV shows have a different length and engine than movies, TV shows are structured differently. The purpose of writing for television is to capture audience attention and prepare for subsequent episodes.

4. Not resolved immediately:The episodic format of television shows means that each central narrative spans multiple episodes or even seasons. Because of this, TV shows don't have to tie neat loops in every episode like movies do.

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how to write for tv

Structure of a TV script

In the past, writing for television has always been limited to a formula that conformed to the format of weekly episode releases. With the advent of streaming services and the binge-watching phenomenon, almost any story structure can be achieved via television.

Some television series have even been described as ten-hour, episode-divided films. Other shows still use the traditional sitcom format. Regardless, it's important to know which story structure works best for your story.

The best TV show in history isbreaking BadThe pilot uses the familiar four-act structure. Check out the breakdown of this structurebreaking BadIn this video from screenwriting class.

(Video) How to Write a TV Pilot with Shonda Rhimes | Discover MasterClass | MasterClass

Breaking Bad • Writing for the TV pilot

Notice how this structure applies the next time you watch a great TV pilot. This will help you structure your TV show to best fit your story. Once you understand the mechanics of your show's structure, you need to create the necessary materials to promote your TV show.

TV drama writing format

TV Script Format

Structure also requires an understanding of script formatting. Before you submit any script (whether it's a spec or a pilot), you need to make sure it conforms to the standard script format. This makes it easier to read, more attractive and more professional.

For a better understanding of TV script formatting and professional TV show writing, watch the formatting video below. We cover everything from scene titles to sluglines to dialogue. Of course if you use the dedicated onescreenwriting softwareAs with StudioBinder, formatting is automatic.

How to Write a Screenplay: Writing for TV •Subscribe on YouTube

To learn how to write for TV, you need to know the story and the TV script format. Knowing different formatting techniques like brackets and inlines will expand your arsenal of TV writing tools. This will effectively make you a better TV writer.

TV writing and pitching

Part of a TV show

Basic advice on studyingHow to market a TV show, but the most typical technique isbe prepared.That means you know your TV show inside out and have the material to prove it and communicate it clearly.

1st treatment

Aprocessing of storiesHelps to get your concept or presentation in front of a wider audience. TV show concepts can be large and complex. When you summarize your ideas in a simpler, more condensed form, you increase the chances that your show will be read.

How to Write a TV Show Contract •Subscribe on YouTube

(Video) Basic Elements of a Film Script for BEGINNERS! (How To Format, Read and Write a Screenplay!)

Therapy will help you take the first step. However, it is important to have a full pilot script ready when treating someone.

2. Pilot script

yourPilot scriptis a major factor in the success or failure of your TV show idea. It conveys the story, your TV writing style and should demonstrate the potential of future episodes. The pilot episode is the cornerstone of the entire series. So how do you write great works? Check out our video breakdown analysisbreaking BadThe pilot and the reasons for his success.

How to Write a Screenplay for a Top Selling TV Show Pilot •Subscribe on YouTube

Finally, you need to be able to present your show concept to TV executives clearly and effectively, even when you're not in the room. That's where the bible of the show comes in.

3. Show the Bible

The show bible is used to introduce shows to television and digital executives to commission or select shows for distribution. They should clearly break down the whole concept of the show. learnHow to Make a Bible for a TV ShowOnce you've fully fleshed out the idea for your show, it's easier than you think.

How to Create a Bible for a TV Show •Subscribe on YouTube

A TV show bible should allow executives, writers, and readers to understand the show's concepts without having to explain everything to them.

(Video) How to Write a TV Show Pilot Script That Sells — TV Writing & Development Course: Ep3

When you're walking into a room to pitch your show, there are a few other tricks that can help you, aside from the material you've brought with you. Your presence and the way you pitch are very important to the success of your pitch. Here are some caveatsTV show pitching ideas.

How to Write for TV: Pitch •Subscribe on YouTube

Now that you know what you need to know about TV show writing, it's time to find out what actionable steps you can take to get closer to your TV writing career.

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  • Start writing your TV pilot today →

how to write for tv

Tips for getting into the TV industry

Writing a TV script and preparing a promotion is not a one-time task. In fact, it can last many nights. But aside from writing your own show, there are a few things you can do to further your television writing career.

1. Do your TV homework

TV skills are the best way to learn about your craft. Keeping up with the latest hit TV shows, watching classic TV shows, and analyzing how and why they work will help you better understand the mechanics of TV shows.

2. Write every day

The only way to get better at writing for TV is to hone your craft. Whether you're writing about your pilot, writing about therapy, or keeping a journal. Daily writing fuels the creativity you need in the television industry, where turnaround times are short and brilliant ideas have to come from nothing.

3. Write the specification

Canonical scripts are written independently from a production unit and are intended to demonstrate your skills as a writer. Specifying a screenplay can lead to the purchase of the screenplay and even later employment as a writer. learnHow to write specification scriptsUseful for anyone trying to break into the television industry. You will also learn how to write for television based on shows that have already aired.

4. Move to Los Angeles

This may not be news, but it's worth saying again. Most production companies are active in both film and television as well as screenwriting. If you get out there, you'll have a better chance of getting our next tip. Writing on TV has a lot to do with our next trick – the web. Being the center of attention on TV is a great way to socialize.

5. Network

Of course, it's not just about who you know, but it definitely makes a big difference. Joining forces with those already in the TV industry, as well as those trying to follow in your footsteps, will help you open doors to new and future opportunities.

6. Find a job as a writing assistant

Finding a job as an assistant television writer is a great way to get your foot in the door while also learning from those who are already in the industry. It will also help you build relationships that work in your favor.

7. Enter a writing contest

there are manywriting contestThere's serious competition out there. Even when the odds are against you, someone wins. At worst, writing for these contests is a great way for any aspiring screenwriter to learn how to write for television.

8. Have a positive attitude

In the film world, people often work together for long periods of time, even months or even years. If you're someone with a genuinely positive attitude, you're someone people will want to work with, which increases your chances of getting a TV writing job.

(Video) What TV Sitcom Writers Should Know About Structure - Bruce Ferber


How to write a TV show

Do you already have an idea for a TV show, but haven't realized or implemented it yet? Start by creating a handle. Processing is an excellent way to determine if your idea has what it takes to become a full-fledged TV series.

Next: How to write a TV show →


What is the structure of writing a TV series? ›

The Structure of a Television Series Script. With an hour-long television series episode, you write a Teaser scene, followed by Act One, Act Two, Act Three, Act Four, and sometimes Act Five, depending upon the show.

How do you structure and format a TV script? ›

A Guide to Formatting TV Scripts
  1. Act I: Introduce your characters and present the problem.
  2. Act II: Escalate the problem.
  3. Act III: Have the worst-case scenario happen.
  4. Act IV: Begin the ticking clock.
  5. Act V: Have the characters reach their moment of victory.
Oct 1, 2021

What type of script is the standard format for the television industry? ›

The Speculative Script

It is the traditional way writers use to break into the TV industry. There are two types of spec script you can write: a spec TV episode for an existing show, or a spec TV pilot for an original show.

How do you write a television script? ›

Break your story into multiple acts and high and low points.

Through the next acts, have your characters face the conflict head-on. The final act of your script is the resolution and shows how your characters solve the problem and move on from it. A 30-minute comedy usually only has 2 acts, but it can have more.

What is narrative structure in TV? ›

The Structure of Narrative

Most narratives typically follow a linear chain of events. The story is the chronological succession of events that serve as the foundation or the building blocks of the narrative.

What is the 4 act structure of a TV series? ›

Four-act structure, as previously mentioned, is broken into Act I, Act IIA, ActIIB, and Act III. Four-act structure centers its acts around key plot elements and events the protagonist experiences. The first act builds up to the call to adventure or the life changing event the protagonist experiences.

What are the 7 types of scripts? ›

Here are eight types of scripts that you can write:
  • Original script. Original scripts include those that you create from your own ideas. ...
  • Adapted script. An adapted script re-imagines an existing story or narrative. ...
  • Screenplay. ...
  • Storyboard. ...
  • Spec script. ...
  • Standalone script. ...
  • Pitch script. ...
  • Shooting script.
Mar 10, 2023

What is the 3 act structure of a TV series? ›

The three-act structure is a model used in narrative fiction that divides a story into three parts (acts), often called the Setup, the Confrontation, and the Resolution.

What is the five act structure in a TV script? ›

The five-act structure is a formula that breaks a story into distinct sections: the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. With roots in Aristotle's Poetics and Horace's Ars Poetic, the five-act structure is a valuable tool for screenwriters working on movies or TV pilots.

What is the basic format of a script? ›

In the most basic terms, a screenplay is a 90-120 page document written in Courier 12pt font on 8 1/2" x 11" bright white three-hole punched paper. Wondering why Courier font is used? It's a timing issue. One formatted script page in Courier font equals roughly one minute of screen time.

What are the 3 standard scripts? ›

Some of the most popular types of scripts in films include feature film scripts, documentary scripts, and short film scripts.

How do I format a TV script in word? ›

How to Format a Screenplay in Word
  1. Scene Heading/Slugline — Left aligned, all caps.
  2. Action — Left aligned.
  3. Character — Centered, all caps.
  4. Parenthetical — Goes below a character line inside parentheses, not exactly centered.
  5. Dialogue — block formatted below character (and parenthetical if present), not centered.
Jul 24, 2022

How many pages is a 45 minute TV script? ›

Scripts should always roughly be a page to a minute, so you should expect pilot scripts to be 45 - 60 pages. 45 - 60 pages equals out to about 45 minutes to an hour of screen time.

Can anyone write a TV script? ›

If you want to get into TV script writing you'll need a “spec” TV script (or three). As in the land of features, if you want to break in, you'll need a spec TV script. This is a script written “speculatively” that showcases your talents and can be used as a calling card.

What are the 3 types of narrative structure? ›

Most forms of narrative fall under four main categories: linear narrative, nonlinear narrative, interactive narration, and interactive narrative. Linear narrative is the most common form of narration, where events are largely portrayed in a chronological order telling the events in the order in which they occurred.

What are the 5 structure of narrative text? ›

Remember, narrative text structure uses a story structure that includes story elements such as setting, characters, conflict, plot (rising action, climax, falling action), and resolution.

What is 7 act TV structure? ›

The seven-act structure is the standard for "2 hour" films (MOWs) made for American commercial television, which have breaks for commercials roughly every 15 minutes (a TV film of this type is actually 94 minutes long - commercials, station breaks, trailers, etc. fill out the timeslot).

What is 6 act structure TV? ›

Six act structure is an innovative structural technique that takes the focus off of ambiguous narrator oriented concepts and places it where it belongs: on the actions and goals of the character. Most successful modern stories are structured on a universal pattern of six actions undertaken by their characters.

What is act structure in sitcoms? ›

Act One introduces the main plot and subplots, which is usually a problem the main character or characters must address. In Act Two, the characters attempt to solve the problem but usually make it worse. Act Three resolves the main plot line, and the characters return to the status quo.

What is the 3 act structure of a TV show? ›

Act I is the setup or exposition. This establishes the main characters and their goals. Act II raises the stakes culminating in the confrontation between the hero and the villain. Act III resolves the story.

How do you start writing a series? ›

Instead, focus your preparations on the following key aspects:
  1. Step #1: Map Out the Plot. ...
  2. Step #2: Create a Detailed Outline. ...
  3. Step #3: Create a tantalizing setting. ...
  4. Step #4: Develop rich characters. ...
  5. Step #5: Ensure continuity and consistency. ...
  6. Step #6: Get to writing. ...
  7. Step #7: Time for editing.
Mar 3, 2022

How many acts in a 30 minute TV show? ›

A 30-minute show is usually between two to three acts, and it can depend on what type of show it is and what platform hosts it. For example, a show on HBO doesn't have to deal with time restraints necessitated by commercials (which also act as natural act breaks), whereas a show on ABC or CBS does.


1. How to Format a Screenplay: Screenplay Formatting 101
2. How To Format A Screenplay - 5 Basic Elements : FRIDAY 101
(Indy Mogul)
3. Building a TV Series Episode 1: Writing a Pilot
(Tyler Mowery)
4. If You Can't Answer These 6 Questions You Don't Have A Story - Glenn Gers
(Film Courage)
5. How To Structure Tracks For TV Placements
(Sync My Music)
6. Building a TV Series Episode 4: How to Structure a TV Series
(Tyler Mowery)


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