Writing the Genre Show Script

The devil’s in the details when you’re trying to make it as a writer. And so’s the success. Which is why these details are here for you:

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by Craig Engler

In the last installment of How to Make a Genre Show I took you up to the point in the show-creation process where you had detailed outlines (approved by the network!) for the episodes of your series. Now it’s time to take that outline and turn it into a script — which I did, when I wrote episode six of Z Nation, which airs tomorrow night.

I’ve previously co-written two TV movies from relatively scant outlines and those scripts were painful to write. The ideas were solid but when it was time to flesh out our meagerly detailed acts into 100 pages of compelling writing, the gaps and shortcomings of our story structure became hideously evident. Thank god I had an awesome co-writer to help sort it all out.

By contrast, working from the detailed outlines created in the Writers’ Room makes writing a TV script much easier. Since we’d already broken the plot, character arcs, themes, etc., I knew exactly what I needed to do and could actually focus on just writing the sucker, which was utterly refreshing. In TV you generally spend way more time preparing to write than actually putting fingers to keyboard. And if you do run into problems, a quick chat with our showrunner or a fellow writer could solve the issue.

That’s not to say it was a breeze. Interestingly, writing my first script for Z Nation was tricky because of the unusual fact that we didn’t have a pilot script…or any other scripts for that matter. I was in the strange position of writing episode six in a series where episodes 1-5 hadn’t been written yet. That made for some unexpected challenges. For instance, while I knew the continuity for the season-long plot and the broad strokes of the character arcs, the nuances of our characters’ lives hadn’t been developed yet.

I couldn’t reference, say, a running joke between our gang that started in episode two because there was no episode two. And if the writer in episode five got to the end of his script and suddenly decided to leave one of our gang with a bullet wound, I wouldn’t know about that until after I’d written mine. Sure, we talked ahead of time about all the stuff we planned to do, but one of the joys of writing is that you find new, interesting moments as you go along. And your characters are often revealed in those moments.

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