Recipe for Getting Ideas


by Lew Ritter

One of the most asked questions that most new writers ask is ” Where do you get ideas for your scripts?” The answer is simple, but often elusive. They come from out of the blue. Ideas are all around us like air. The important thing is to be aware of them.

First you add : READING

I wanted to write a police procedural spec script. Where would I get the ideas? Every city has a tabloid newspaper like the New York Daily News or New York Post. Scanning these tabloids can provide dozens of juicy conflict situations that are fodder for a script. An Iraq War veteran not getting appropriate care from his local V.A hospital. A politician going to jail for embezzling money. A neighbor who was abducted as a child and now has reunited with loved ones. Any situation where people are in conflict can be the basis for a story.


Sometimes just being aware of a situation can provide the start of a story. You are rushing to catch a flight. You rush into the terminal and spot a large line waiting to get through security. Maybe you see a person being taken aside by TSA and wonder why. Could this moment be the beginning of a potential terrorist script?


What if such and such happened? Why did it happen, or what would happen after that? According to screenwriting legend Sylvester Stallone watched the fight between a relative unknown fighter and a heavyweight champion. From that observation, he was inspired to create the story of ROCKY. He has used that one situation for five or six sequels and become wealthy and world famous. We should all be that lucky or observant.

A few years ago, I was taking a boat trip aboard the NY Circle Line. It is a pleasure boat that circles the island for three hours. As we cruised around the island, I realized that Manhattan was a very large piece of real estate. It was not all skyscrapers. The Northern tip of the island contains some forested areas. As I stared up at the midtown, I thought, what if someone owned all or even part of the island of Manhattan? They would be wealthy beyond belief. What if someone unearthed an unknown deed to the island?


One day I as I was taking a walk I saw a group of young girls playing an innocent game of hopscotch. What if I’d paid more attention and perhaps heard that what they were saying wasn’t as innocent as what they were doing. What if they were spawns of the devil? Voila, the basis for horror script.


A few years ago, I was hired to teach at an elementary school in a tough urban school district. Dealing with many of the students on an on-going basis was downright unnerving. At the end of the year, I was relieved when I was not rehired due to budget cuts, but I was inspired to do what every good writer does. I made it the basis of a script about problem students that I’m still fiddling with as a potential TV pilot.


It’s like a good recipe for a cake. Take the incident and figure out how you can embellish it. Sometimes, the dough will rise and you have a juicy story or script. Other times, the recipe will fall flat and be tasteless. Discover which it is by letting the idea marinate in the back of your mind. Give it the time it needs to become a really fine entree…or a great script.

New, Improved PEOPLE’S PILOT Opens March 1st

tv_writer_peoples_pilot_smby Larry Brody

Last week we announced that we were postponing the opening of the 2016 PEOPLE’S PILOT by a month, and I promised to explain soon. I figure that 8 days pretty much qualifies as “soon,” so here comes the ‘splaining.

First, the Good News:

We’re re-organizing and enlarging and otherwise improving everyone’s favorite online contest – well, mine anyway – the PEOPLE’S PILOT.

As the opening page of the PP site now says, “New Categories – More Prizes – Longer Entry Period.” The contest now will have three categories instead of two, be open for almost a year instead of just a few months, offer larger dollar amounts for First and Second Prize winners, and if all goes according to plan we’ll have not one but two helpful bonuses for all entrants.

How about some specifics?

  • Categories now include:
    1) Scripted Series 1/2 Hour or Less
    2) Scripted Series Longer than 1/2 Hour up to 1 Hour long
    3) Scripted Series Longer than 1 hour
    In other words, entries anywhere from, oh, a few seconds to several hours long are cordially invited!
  • Genres are totally unlimited. We’re really hoping to receive not just broadcast and cable pilot scripts but a substantial number of entries for web series and console game series. Shows that could play on any electronic media you can think of via major websites like Netflix, Amazon, and their ilk, YouTube and Vimio, and personal sites as well. We all know that “TV” isn’t really TV anymore, so let’s go for the alternate gold.
  • First Prize in each category is now $500. Second Prize is $100.
  • We’re whipping up a new entry bonus to join the Free Feedback and should be announcing it soon.
  • This year’s PP, our 26th running of the contest, will open March 1 and close November 1. 8 months in which to perfect and then finish your work.
  • We’re also creating a new entry fee schedule so that those who enter two or more scripts can get a discount even if they aren’t “Early Birds.”

What we’re really trying to get at here is an emphasis on creativity. We want to see scripts that are innovative and unique. And we’re wide open to input from all of our visitors. If you’ve got an idea for how to ratchet up the wildness, please, please, please lay it on us in the comments, okay?

Time now for the Bad News:

TVWriter™’s SPEC SCRIPTACULAR for this year has been cancelled, for three reasons.

  1. The number of entries in the Spec Scriptacular have been steadily declining over the past few years.
  2. Almost twenty-five percent of this year’s entries were, in effect, series pilots entered as specials or screenplays.
  3. The TV biz on the whole has become much less interested than it used to be in seeing spec scripts for current series.

The Industry is changing quickly, and the current currency for finding new writers to represent and hire for staff jobs and individual episodic assignments has become pilot scripts. Overwhelmingly so.

The powers that be seem to finally recognize that pilot scripts are a much better way for a writer to demonstrate his or her creativity and skills than spec episodes. Combine that with the fact that they’re also a hell of a lot more fun to write, and it becomes clear that the SS has lost much of its original purpose and usefulness.

And why in the world would TVWriter™ and I want new writers to spend time, effort and moolah on anything but that which will help them and their careers the most? I.e., pilot scripts?

Will the SS return? Sure. As soon as it mean something again. Showbiz is nothing if not cyclical. That time is bound to come.

Meanwhile, I’m eager to get your reaction to this new plan. And even more eager to read your next PEOPLE’S PILOT scripts. I’m feeling excited. And ambitious. And ready to take part in making what so many people are calling TV’s new “Golden Age” shine even more brightly.

And I’m hoping, for the sake of storytelling and storytellers and their audiences everywhere, that all of you are too.






8 Ways Studying Improv Will Make You a Better Comedy Writer

Probably not genuine improv, but, hey, we're playing it by ear here.

Probably not genuine improv, but, hey, we’re playing it by ear here.

by Erica Lies

Recently, it’s become a common adage — almost to the point of cliché — that if you want to be in entertainment, you should take improv classes. They’re recommended for a variety of benefits like networking or how they’ll teach you to think fast on your feet and be flexible. And improvising has become increasingly popular even for the regular folk, whether it’s for better communication or just feeling comfortable in front of a crowd.

But for writers who aren’t interested in performing, there’s more direct and obvious upside to studying improv: it’ll make you a better comedy writer. Yeah yeah, big shock that practicing comedy makes you better at it, but improv is often overlooked in favor of sketch precisely for those seeking writing skills.

I’ve been improvising for the last ten years, and busting my chops with various teams in front of both large and tiny audiences certainly helped me get up to speed with television writing much faster than I would have otherwise. Sure, improv gets a terrible reputation for being hokey and forced, and it’s been mocked everywhere from The Office to Broad City to You’re the Worst. But learning to do it well will give you secret ninja comedy prowess. Here’s a few of the skills you’ll pick up that are valuable to a comedy writer:

1. How to hold onto your material very lightly

Revising and editing scenes you’ve labored over can be so painful—really, that scene that took me two hours to write, I have to cut it and all my amazing jokes? But doing scene after scene in an improv rehearsal will teach you that for every scene that doesn’t totally work, there’s four more that can be conjured just as easily. Improvising taught me to love cutting out what’s unnecessary or what doesn’t work. I know there’s always more where it came from, and if those new scenes don’t work, I’m happy to cut them, too.

2. How to write efficient dialogue

To that end, improv will also train you to move scenes further faster. There’s a whole lotta rules you learn when first start out improvising, and in addition to the rule of “Yes, and,” an especially helpful one for writers is labeling your who, what, and where in the first few lines of a scene. You’ll also learn to use fewer but more specific words, because specificity creates humor. There’s no being wishy-washiness in the best improv, only statements that move the scene forward because they’re packed with information, much like a good script. In this way, practicing improv also teaches you to clearly communicate your idea or premise. The faster you can get on the same page with your partner onstage, the quicker you can start being funny, but without that base reality to play against, nothing stands out as unusual.

3. It’ll help your exposition sound less like exposition

Doing any screenwriting, whether it’s film or tv, ruins watching both, and for me, the worst is hearing clunky exposition delivered at the top of either. But of course, making exposition flow and sound natural in your own writing is tough, and that’s where improv comes in. Doing scene work repeatedly will teach you how story points sound when they’re delivered with more importance than simply the writer’s need to explain, and you’ll learn how to sound like a human being while portraying a high stakes prison break or how backstory can be suggested with simply a line or two.

4. How to recognize the unusual

Every school of improv has a slightly different approach to what’s referred to as “game,” or the funny part of the scene, but each one agrees that its starting point is when the first unusual thing happens. This is something that sounds like it’s easy to spot, but takes some practice. Because what’s important isn’t just noticing the unusual, but noticing it within the particular world of a scene. What’s strange in an everyday doctor’s office is worlds different from what’s strange in an alternate reality like a real life Candyland. But even the world of Candyland has a pattern and rules that apply to what’s “normal” there. For instance, a building not made out of sugar would really stand out in Candyland, and there’s where your scene potential lies. Once you’ve labeled your who, what, and where, you have what’s called that scene’s base reality. The first thing that happens that breaks that reality is where the funny of your scene starts.

5. How to convey character quickly through specifics

Once you’ve gotten a few classes under your belt and the terror of being in front of people has died down a bit, it becomes easier to implement that tool every writer loves and needs: specifics. And more importantly, you’ll learn how even the tiniest detail at the beginning of a scene can be used to inform a character’s attitude and worldview. A character drinking fancy coffee at the top of a scene might be someone who’s a coffee connoisseur and more broadly someone who enjoys the finer things. Maybe it turns out they’re a foodie. The point is improv will teach you to hear yourself and the tiny details you put forth, recognizing that they matter. One small detail mentioned because it’s the only thing in your head can be explored to reveal an entire character without having to strain or think much.

6. How to write “straight” and absurd characters

Much like playing against a base reality helps improvisers find what’s funny in a scene, playing what are called “straight” and absurd characters helps point out what’s funny and keep the scene simple. Despite the name, the comedy “straight man” has nothing to with gender or sexuality. The straight man plays the reality of the scene. They’re the sane person, or at least the person who finds the crazy absurd. Straight/absurd scenes are some of the most common in improv, but furthermore they make good scripted comedy. It’s the basis of nearly every strong comedy duo, from Abbott and Costello to Broad City. And if you become skilled in recognizing that dynamic quickly, it’s becomes much easier to write.

7. It helps you focus material and edit yourself

The stereotype of bad improv is that it gets too wacky, too crazy, and tries too hard, and that’s often what happens when players aren’t zeroing in on one comic premise—that “game” I mentioned earlier—and playing it out. Simply, playing a game in a scene consists of establishing a base reality, recognizing the first unusual thing that happens, then zeroing in on that and heightening (increasing the absurdity) and exploring (essentially, justifying) it. Recognizing a game when it pops up (and it will) helps improvisers focus on only one funny idea, rather than running with several different ones and landing in Crazytown (also known as that stereotype of bad improv). And learning to keep it simple one scene at a time helps focus writing, whether you’re working on sketch or a storyline in a pilot.

8. Improv teaches you to recognize rhythm and brevity

Once you start doing shows, you’ll notice a quick pattern with getting laughs: often the short, more direct line of dialogue is all you know. They more you improvise, the easier it becomes to feel the rhythm in scenes, and this carries over into writing dialogue. Too many syllables and the same sentiment isn’t funny, but make your exchanges short and suddenly it’s easier to feel where the laugh comes in.

Erica Lies is one-half of the writing duo of (not coincidentally) Erica Lies & Valerie Nies, whose extraordinarily funny script, EDGEWICK COMMONS, finished second in the 2015 People’s Pilot.


The Week at TVWriter™ – February 8, 2016


In case you’ve missed what’s happening at TVWriter™, the most popular blog posts during the week ending yesterday were:


Get Ready for the New PEOPLE’S PILOT

Peggy Bechko on Writing “Experts”

Looking for TV Pilot Scripts?

A Table Read of Joss Whedon’s WONDER WOMAN Script

And our most visited permanent resource pages were:

Writing the Dreaded Outline



The Logline

The Teleplay

Who sez TVWriter™ doesn’t treat ya right?

Major thanks to everyone for making this such a great week. Don’t forget to click above and read what you missed. re-read what you loved, and, most importantly, come back for more soon!

Hypable.Com Needs a New TV Writer


Hypable, a site dedicated to in-depth coverage of various genre fandoms uses volunteer writers to cover TV, movie, and book series in their chosen arenas, and right now they’re looking for a writer who can…oh, wait, let them tell it:

Today we’re looking to bring on a writer who can cover at least three of the following television shows: Scandal, American Horror Story, The Catch, The Vampire Diaries, and Quantico.

By agreeing to cover these, please know that we will ask you to write at least three original articles per week, per show while it’s in-season. While the show is not airing there are far fewer requirements. We also ask that each writer covers at least one in-season show all year (in other words: when your usual shows are off in the summer, we’d like you to write about a show that airs over that summer).

While this is a volunteer position (we pride ourselves on being run by fans and not a corporation), we’ll help you get the experience you need if you’re pursuing a career in writing about TV. What’s more: if you’re in college and looking for the coolest internship ever, Hypable can offer internship credits! (Staying at home to write about TV? What could be better!?)

We think this is a good opportunity – almost as good as, you know, volunteering to write for a certain even cooler (as in ubercool, ya hear?) site called TVWriter™. Details on how to apply for the Hypable gig are HERE

While we’re at it, for details about becoming a writer or even a Contributing Editor (if you have the cred) email us HERE

Turning Pro (Rookie Writer to Professional)

by Diana Black

the rookieIf what follows doesn’t resonate with you, then do whatever does. The important thing is to be writing and working on your craft every day. You’ll never take yourself seriously or be taken seriously by others if you don’t start thinking and acting like a professional.

Ideally, at any one time you should be taking actionable steps on a daily basis – with any or all of the following: stories in ‘Creative Preparation’ stage, stories ‘In Development’ – either in the vomit (first) draft stage or being rewritten and polished. And finally, stories in ‘Pitch/Marketing’ stage – you’re pitching it/them directly or researching and/or organizing to market in some way. Your daily workload will of course depend on how many you have and in what stage.

Stories in ‘Creative Preparation’ stage are ideas/concepts in rough-note form. No matter how outrageous/silly these notes might be, don’t discard them – ever – lock them in a drawer. People know you’re a writer and such is expected of writers and you are one aren’t you? They’ll not suspect you of being a serial killer but mark it ‘fiction’ if you have to. Always have a notebook handy – jot down ideas, characters, events etc. – immediately – wherever you happen to be and whenever they present themselves. You’ll think you’ll remember that stupendous idea later but chances are you won’t.

For those ‘In Development’ – aim for at least 5 – 10 pages on a daily basis. Get the ‘Table Read’/s done, once into your 3 rd or 4 th draft and put ego aside for a while. If you leave the ‘read’ ‘til its polished – you’ll think it’s ready and if you’ve had professional actors on board, they’ll have things to say. There’s also professional script coverage – pricy but if you’ve chosen wisely – the notes should be comprehensive. For both forms of feedback, listen then address the comments as you see fit. Don’t allow people to fuck with [it] to the point where it’s no longer recognizable – you had a great concept/premise that you tested on those you trust long before you put serious pen to paper – so don’t lose sight of that and serve your story faithfully and well.

For ‘Pitch/Marketing’ stories – devise a strategic plan to generate interest in and ultimately sell your creative project. To generate interest, submit it into screenwriting competitions – ones that in Stephanie Palmer’s way of thinking are highly regarded in the industry with the potential to lead to something bigger. Lots of production companies apparently use competitions as a ‘Gatekeeper’ these days. Regarding selling, don’t be disrespectful and throw your ‘gift’ out on the street. You might get lucky but if it now belongs to those who’d trash it beyond recognition – will you respect yourself in the morning? Being judicious is not being overly precious.

Develop a database/list of prospective buyers – those working in your particular genre and within the perceived budget range. Have you checked out how their previous work fared? Okay, you’ve narrowed the field down to those who appear to be professional filmmakers with a strong skill set and a professional approach – great – but can you get them to read it? Many refuse, so be polite and professional but don’t necessarily take that first “No” as the final answer – they may be just testing how determined you are. Offer them something else or express a willingness to take on writing assignments and to that end, ask whether you can send them a writing sample – they’ll know you’re professionally committed and not a ‘one-show pony’.

If they’re open to receiving a well-crafted Query Letter (QL), present it, but don’t hold your breath – pitch and move on. The actors among you know – the ‘job’ is to audition, not necessarily ‘book’ the job and the same applies here – create quality material and pitch it that is if you believe in ‘the product’ enough to put your neck out on its behalf and if so, be brave, determined and …get busy!