Jen Grisanti5 Questions for Writing a TV Pilot that Sells

Guest Post by Jen Grisanti, Telling and Selling Your TV Pilot

Writing the TV pilot is one of the most challenging scripts to write, and to write well. I’ve helped in the development of thousands of scripts over the past 20 years. I was a Studio Executive at two major studios for 12 years, I am currently a Writing Instructor at NBC, and I’ve been a Story/Career Consultant for 10 years.

From the 48 pilots sold from the writers I’ve worked with since starting my business 10 years ago, there are the five questions that I believe every writer should ask themselves when they are writing their TV pilot:

  1. Does my series trigger push my central character into a powerful enough dilemma to set up season one?
  2. Is there a personal component that sets up the personal dilemma of my central character?
  3. Does my central character actively make a choice in the pilot trigger and dilemma that leads to a pursuit?
  4. Is my pilot goal clear?
  5. How do I setup the series?

Trigger & Dilema

With your series trigger and dilemma, you want to think about something that happens to your central character that knocks their life out of balance. At this point in the story, your central character is often reactive versus active. The dilemma should make us feel empathy for your character.

Personal Component

With the personal component, you are setting up the personal dilemma of your central character that leads to the professional pursuit. This sets up the void. The pursuit is one step towards filling this void. With the personal part, you want to think about the arc of the wound. The best pilots have a childhood wound that the series trigger and dilemma splits open. The personal component in your story is the emotional part of your story.

Central Character

With the pilot arc, your central character goes from being reactive to active. With the setup of the series arc, they react to what happens to them. Then, they make an active choice that leads to the setup of the pilot arc. In the pilot arc, we should be clear about what your central character wants and why they want it by the end of Act One.

Pilot Goal

If the pilot goal is not clear, the story doesn’t work. In each act, the central character should take an action, hit an obstacle, and the stakes should be raised to the pilot goal. If the goal is not clear, you cannot link these points. We should feel what your character wants and what is in the way for every scene.

Series Set Up

After the resolution of the pilot arc, you need to set up the series. When I see this done well, it bookends what happened in the series trigger and dilemma setup and helps to build the next level of the concept. The point of this is to make your audience so enthralled that they can’t wait to see what happens next.

Mastering a story by utilizing the right tools is what will lead you to a sale.

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International speaker Jen Grisanti is an acclaimed Story/Career Consultant at Jen Grisanti Consultancy Inc., writing Instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC, a former 12-year studio executive, including VP of Current Programming at CBS/Paramount, blogger for The Huffington Post, and author of the books, Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story, TV Writing Tool Kit: How To Write a Script That Sells, and Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Your Success. Her new video series is Telling and Selling Your TV Pilot. Learn more.

Read my Q&As with Jen on Story Line and Change Your Story, Change Your Life.

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