Writing for Television

Since I haven’t written a blog in a long time, I thought I’d start with a snazzy heading. It makes it seem as if I write for television already.  After living in Southern California for about three and a half years, I’ve noticed that more often than not, that’s how many writers present their work: as if they’ve already sold it.

If they write a script and send it to a contest, it is “being reviewed by industry professionals.” In prose fiction we call this “Waiting for a rejection.” I have not fallen into the trap of outward optimism toward my projects, that is tempered only by continual inner pessimism.

Instead, I am doing what I have always done. I write because it’s fun, or because I have something troubling I need to purge, or both. I wrote a novel after I moved here, a short one. I also wrote some short stories. But then I tried my hand at a screenplay. I thought it was utterly brilliant. However, one person tore it to shreds-rightfully so. Two others said something along the lines of “there’s too much going on for a feature.” Okay fine, not utterly brilliant at all. But kudos for me for being excited about it.

One friend pushed me to make it into a television series. This all sounds really cool, but all it means is that I took the feature and spread it over 10 episodes, including a fully fleshed out pilot. I sent the pilot to a friend and he said, “This is really good but there’s no hook.” So I watched a lot of pilots on Netflix, and came up with a hook. And I rewrote. Then the fantastic title I had before Pretty When She Cries didn’t make sense anymore. Nor did a lot of wonderful things in the original feature script. Like the fact the main point was the villainous grandmother figure who I had to soften up for TV to instead make her likeable. She went from being utterly detestable to somehow starring on the show because that’s what will sell, a tough as nails, strong, funny misunderstood matriarch. Or so I’m told.

In the end, I have a pilot and a treatment and a logline and a synopsis. There. Done. Except now what?  Living in the area, I could hit the streets and schmooze like crazy, and probably I still wouldn’t sell it. But I’d have a better shot than my plan now which is to work full-time and occasionally enter it into a contest.

A few months pack I paid to list my logline and synopsis on a website that supposedly sells to producers. Early on I got a notification that ABC had it under review. I was excited but then nothing ever happened. They never asked me for my well written script or the treatment. When later two more movie companies also had it under review, I rolled my eyes. It’s still under review and I don’t think that amounts to anything at all.

I will say writing scripts and writing TV episodes is a lot more fun than writing prose. It all happens so fast and you can “show” so much better than telling. A single action, if written well, can send ripples of fear or angst to a viewer far more than a few paragraphs of well-chosen words to describe it.

It was hard to get used to not using a character’s introspection to relay the story, but eventually that came too.

There are so many channels now on cable, on Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and web series. I keep hearing that everyone is starving for content. I’m jumping up and down and saying “I have content. Look over here!!!!” So far, no one has heard me.

I think in the coming months I will have to double down, get over my shyness, and really work to make connections, or at the very least, go to a lot more sites that help promote these sorts of things. If anyone has any recommendations, please let me know.

Until then, I will be thinking of the next thing to write, even if it never makes it to the big screen, or the little TV screen or the smaller computer or tablet or phone screen.