Thursday 22 July 2021

Writing Sitcoms: Hard Work vs Frustration

Your sitcom characters can normally be described using adjectives. In general, you need to think of actions they can take so you are showing us, not telling us. But let’s stick with the adjectives for now. So here’s an exercise for the sitcom characters in your spec pilot script:

Try to think of how the characters see themselves and describe them accordingly:

Here are four characters by way of example.

Sally is super-organised.

John is intellectually curious. 

Isha is big-hearted.

Gordon is a maverick.

That’s how they see themselves. But other characters in your sitcom see them slightly differently.

Try seeing it from their point of view:

Sally sees herself super-organised. John thinks Sally is a control-freak.

John sees himself as intellectually curious. Sally thinks John has zero attention span.

But how characters see each other partly depends on the characters’ own specific flaws and personality.

So push your characters one stage further.

John sees himself as intellectually curious.

Super-organised Sally thinks John is no attention span.

Big-hearted Isha reckons John always has time for people and is a good listener.

Maverick Gordon knows that John is a coward who can’t commit to a single viewpoint and stick to it.

Similarly, Gordon thinks Isha is a pushover. And John thinks Gordon is a fascinating case study in arrogance. You get the idea. Go around your characters working out how they see each other. As you do that, you will see that a handful of characters and characteristics, and some shades of meaning, creating a web of complexity – and comedy – very quickly.

Sitcom Frustration

In the last blogpost, I explained that writing a pilot sitcom script is really hard work. I also used the word ‘frustrating’. What’s the difference between ‘hard work’ and ‘frustrating’? (Not a joke)

If you’re reading a blog like this, you instinctively know that there is a difference, just as there’s a difference between ‘hard-working’ and ‘laborious’ and ‘diligent’ and ‘fastidious’. (You character prides herself on her diligence. Another character would call her fastidious. Another might say she's got OCD.)

Not all hard work is frustrating. There are irritations that aren’t hard work, but are nonetheless frustrating. And some hard work is just plain satisfying.

So what’s the difference?


If something is hard work, you can make a plan to get through the work. It will only get frustrating if you’ve not left yourself as much time as you needed to get through the work or you encounter roadblocks along the way. Frustration here, then, is unexpected work.

The frustration intensifies when you realise you should have seen this coming. Or that you did see this coming but were in denial about it. Frustration can morph into rage, self-loathing and despair rather quickly.

Here are two solutions:

1. Give up. Walk away. Control+Alt+Delete.

2. Adjust your expectations.

Digging the Turf

The other day, I took up some turf on my lawn so we could have a flower bed. I watched YouTube videos to learn how and discovered it wasn’t technically difficult, but just required a lot of hard work. How much? It was hard to say. Once I’d started with my spade (see pic), I realised this might be even harder work than I had thought, and I very quickly adjusted my expectations. I realised this would take all day.

But once I got into a rhythm, I realised I could get it all done by lunchtime, if I pushed lunch back an hour. I did. And I enjoyed my lunch. The work was hard. Expectations had been adjusted. Frustration was low.

Expectation of the process, then, is key.

It's the same in sitcom writing.


So let me help you out.

How to supercharge your sitcom script

You probably know a bit about story, situations and character, and how scenes should work. So you don't need to start from scratch. (For that sort of thing, take a look at my video course, Writing Your Sitcom)

In my Sitcom Supercharged course, I talk about story and plots – and a bunch of other things.

I run through some highlights and what script readers and producers are looking for from a ‘spec’ pilot sitcom script. It might not be what you think.

Then I give some concrete advice on how long each stage might take, and how to make sure you’ve got time to not just write the script, but rewrite and polish that script so that by the time you’re submitting it, you can honestly say that it’s the best you could do - and we avoid the wailing and gnashing of teeth of regret that another opportunity has been missed.

Sitcom Supercharged short and punchy, big on practical advice based on two decades of experience of writing, and the UK sitcom world. Find out more here.

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