Wednesday 28 July 2021

How to Write A Sitcom Like a Pro

The problem with a sitcom script is that it looks easy. It’s just words on a page. Anyone can type and hit print or send. It’s not technically difficult.

And a good script by a seasoned pro and a bad script by a rookie look the same. Superficially.

The two documents are virtually identical. Except for the words.

Moreover, the act of typing isn’t hard. Your 30 page script is probably 5000 words. That’s about two hours of typing.

But you’re not typing. You’re writing.

You can’t write without typing. But some writing, plenty of writing, maybe up to 95% of the internet, is just typing. Not writing.

Without wishing to toot my own horn too much, I’m a fairly seasoned sitcom writer. I’ve written a lot of sitcom scripts. So how do I do it?

So what’s the secret?

We’ll get to that in a moment. But let’s just reflect on the craft of writing a sitcom.

In many ways, it is no different from being one those artisans you see on The Repair Shop. A host of professionals restore leather bags, mend clocks, re-upholster chairs and fix cabinets.

Each craftsperson has decades of experience but what comes through strongly on the dozens of episodes of that show I have watched is this: they respect the process. They know that if something needs to be done properly, it needs to be taken apart, stripped back, cleaned with the right fluid, repaired, re-sprayed, oiled and re-assembled. That takes time.

New component parts may need to be made from scratch. That takes time.

Glue needs to be allowed to fully dry. That takes time.

Quite often they spend a fair amount of time unpicking someone else’s botched attempts at repairs. That’s how you and I repair things. We normally can’t be bothered to dismantle things and clean them properly. We don’t wait for the glue to dry, or for the paint to be ready for the next coat. We don’t like sanding down or doing the preparatory work. We just want to get on with it.

The professional knows the secret: there aren’t any short cuts. Respect the process.

The Script Process

It’s the same with writing a really good sitcom script. The thirty pages that you end up with and send out are just the visible tip of an iceberg of work. It’s probably a fourth draft, not a first.

That first draft was written from a carefully worked out ‘Scene by Scene Outline’, which in turn was the result of a ‘Beat sheet’, where the story is laid out in a series of beats or moments or twists, as the characters moderate their quest in the light of setbacks and other characters.

The characters themselves come from hours and hours of work and thought, and experimentation with plots and stories that are the results of more hours of work.

All of the above takes time. And a process. And a plan.

Why not take a day to get your head around it all? How about Nov 4th?

I'll be running an all-day webinar, Write a Sitcom In A Day. Which you obviously can’t do. But the idea behind the day is help you understand the process and make a plan so you can get a script written. Not typed. Written. Well. Wanna join me?

It’ll be with me, via Zoom, going through the whole process and with loads of time for questions. Book details and course info here.

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