Screenwriting : General guidance on TV structure and subplots by Regina Lee

Regina Lee

General guidance on TV structure and subplots

Someone was asking me a question about TV structure and TV subplot writing. I don't see any great way to explain these topics, as there are different types of shows, different formats at different networks, and different ways to handle story, structure, and subplots. As one of these blogs states, "Unlike in movies, there is NO ONE WAY to structure each of your television acts." So please do NOT take any of these points as gospel. Different situations allow for different structures!! With that disclaimer in place, you might want to check out these blogs. Please note they are not totally current, and IMO, they should only be used as general guidance. http://eyesondeck.typepad.com/scriptfaze/tv-script-structure/ https://www.writersstore.com/the-rules-of-series-tv/

ScriptFaze
ScriptFaze
TV ain't the movies. And believe it or not, TV scripts look, read, and are structured differently than movie scripts. ScriptFaze already posted guides on how to structure dramas and sitcom scripts, bu…
Regina Lee

I promise this is worth a look from the newbie TV aspirants! Good luck!

Rosalind Winton

Regina Thank you soooooooooooooo much, this is a great help :)

Isaac Kwodzo Aklasu

Thanks for sharing this, Regina.. Very insightful

Regina Lee

Rosalind and Isaac, glad you found them helpful. Like I said in my original post, please know that there is no standard TV structure because each network is different. We in "Hollywood" typically stay in a generally accepted format, and then we tailor to the specific buyer once they've bought the project.

Rosalind Winton

Regina, thank you, that is great, I just have one more question. I've seen on some scripts, numbers for each location or character title and the numbers go in numerical order and each number is placed in the left and right hand margins. What do they mean and in what context is it appropriate to place them.. Thank you so much.

Regina Lee

I think you're just talking about Scene Numbers. Please Google Scene Numbers and confirm that's what you're referencing.

Regina Lee

Is this a trick question?

Rosalind Winton

Hi Regina I just looked it up and you're right, they're scene numbers only used at production stage, or for comedies or play scripts. That's good to know so that if I come across them when I'm editing, I know what to tell my clients and also whether or not to put them in when I'm adapting a story... it definitely wasn't a trick question, I'm learning.. thank you so much.

Regina Lee

"Only used at production stage." That depends on your local standards. In some non-US countries, it's acceptable to use scene numbers even in early development. With all due respect, how does one become a qualified script editor when one is so new to script practices?

Rosalind Winton

Regina, I have been editing for many years and whether it is a full length epic novel or a screenplay, the principles are the same when it comes to looking at grammar, spelling and continuity and everything else that comes to light when reading through a piece. In other words, it doesn't really matter how a piece is set out, I can edit it. When I joined Stage 32 I was trained by a screenwriter who very kindly allowed me to edit his screenplay to see if I could do it and I did so with no problem at all and it's snowballed from there, so all I've had to really do, is learn about the format and 'rules' of screenwriting in order to expand my knowledge and from there I have successfully edited screenplays for quite a few members of Stage 32 who have all been totally happy with my work. From doing this, I had the idea that I would like to try and see if I can adapt stories into screenplays as another string to my bow and also TV scripts and that's why I've been asking the questions, I've already started adapting a short story for one of my clients into a screenplay and so far, it's going okay. I am a literary editor with my own business. I have edited everything from full length novels, novellas, children's YA and picture books, articles, blogs and websites. I also successfully edited, produced and voice recorded a short story. Before I set up the business I worked in editing for The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and I edited all the books they published themselves, including their main publication The Military Balance, which listed all the armed forces of the world and it was this amazing experience at the IISS that prompted me to start my own business.

Bill Costantini

Regina - those are great links for people who are trying to write for television. People especially need to understand the "Cliffhanger" element and plotting structure described in the Scriptphase article. And kudos to Pamela Douglas, the author of the writersstore.com article. She's a Writing God when it comes to television, and sums it all up pretty nicely in that article, too.

David Levy

Always the fountain of information Regina. Lot of varying elements that need to go into TV structure. Great links!

Michelle L. la la Graza

Thank you, this information is just what I needed. :)

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