TV WRITING TIPS & TRICKS: Story Impact In TV Series Drama

Yvonne Grace is an award-winning Television Drama Producer with 20+years experience in Script Development, Script Editing and Drama Production for the BBC, CITV and ITV. Her Script Consultancy Script Advice delivers workshops, provides online TV writing training and develops writer talent. Follow Yvonne on Twitter @YVONNEGRACE1.

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I am totally obsessed with the nature, shape, character and composition of stories for series television drama. This is just as well, as my day-to-day life fits around this work.

story impact 2I run my script consultancy to help you develop your writing and I run workshops on the craft of storytelling for television to further spread the word about what it’s all about and what skills you, the writer, will need to bring to the table if you are to get in, stay in, and enjoy the ride of writing for television.

When you come up with ideas for your next television project, here’s a handy ‘must have’ list for your concepts:

For True Story Impact, series stories need to:

  • Attack from a visual angle.
  • Engage from an emotional angle.
  • Connect with and involve other characters.
  • Send a clear message to the audience.

ATTACK FROM A VISUAL ANGLE.

Working in a visual medium, as I do, running my script consultancy which focuses mainly on Television writing; I find it odd how many times I come across a writer who is having trouble telling their story visually.

Selecting the correct image saves a lot of what no-one in this business wants – the dreaded exposition. An image that aids understanding of a character’s plight, or contrasts sharply with a character’s experience, speaks volumes and cuts deep into the psyche of an audience.

Using the geography of a place; bringing the visual aspects of the world in which your story sits, goes a long way toward imprinting the dramatic experience in the mind of your audience.

opening scene BBThe desert landscape of Breaking Bad for instance, adds to the blasted, cruel, wild aspect of the story lines and the people populating the world inhabited by Walter White.

ENGAGE FROM AN EMOTIONAL ANGLE

The UK TV Drama Series hit Last Tango In Halifax is a masterclass in how to generate storylines that resonate on an emotional level as well as deftly drawing in and connecting to other characters. Writer Sally Wainwright sets herself a task of keeping a disparate and feuding family at loggerheads for three series until she brings the whole damn mess together at a central character’s somewhat fated wedding. Soap-like maybe, but because of a solid and layered subtext for all the characters involved, this series rises above the two dimensions often achieved at Soap level and produces a stories that deliver on all the fronts listed above.

CONNECT WITH AND INVOLVE OTHER CHARACTERS

No character in a series drama is an island. Storylining for long runners is the art essentially, of drawing in connections, contrasts and comparisons between the storylines featured in one hour and having the skill, as a writer, to draw those connections out further, across the length of several episodes, or, in the case of the series storyline, across the whole series length.

Here is a blog I wrote about storylining which talks about this principle in more detail.

All successful television series dramas have a deftly woven storyline structure at their base. The way those threads are ‘knitted’ together is testament to the craft of the writers involved. Masterclass examples of this successful weavings are Better Call Saul better call saul(hardly surprising since it’s created by the amazing team behind Breaking Bad) and over here, on my side of the pond, Ordinary Lies

SEND A CLEAR MESSAGE TO AN AUDIENCE

There’s a ‘bumbling about’ stage in all storyline construction, in my experience. This is where you are when you realize there is something you want to say; you know the general area, you know the territory you want to explore, but you’re just not certain straight away, of how to say it and actually what the real message is that you want to get across.

In an ensemble Series like Orange is the New Black; there are as many messages as there are fabulous, diverse, strong characters. But the overall message – the one that underpins the series arc as a whole (and continues through the series as they develop) is the need-to-be-true to Yourself. Piper wasn’t true to her real self in the first series and it is through her stay in prison that she finally taps into what she always was, but had forgotten until her past catches up with her.

If you nail what it is you really want to talk about right at the outset, you will be on solid storylining ground.

There really is nothing worse, in television series drama world, than a poorly executed, woolly story line.

Need help storylining or shaping your series drama ideas? I am running an online course from my website that aims to focus, shape and deliver your ideas to their best potential. Check it out here.

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