TV Writing Seminar - Part 1

Welcome to the Stephen J. Cannell writing seminar. Stephen's goal here was to share with writers the knowledge, craft points, and, yes, tricks that he learned during his thirty-five years of writing Television, Movies and Novels. Enjoy!

Part One - The Discipline of Writing, Part Two - The Number One Rule, Part Three - Choosing Your Story, Part Four - More Rules for Starting Your Story, Part Five - Designing the Characters, Part Six - What is the Three Act Structure?, Part Seven - Conflict, Part Eight - Other Things to Think About...

Before we start, it is important to know that there are rules for good story and screenplay writing that should not be broken. That does not mean they can't be broken. The problem usually comes when you break a rule and you are unaware you are breaking

If you know the rules and choose to break one for a set of specific reasons -- and you are alert to the problems caused by breaking the rule -- then go ahead and give yourself permission to break it.

Example: When I was writing the pilot of Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, I realized, while designing the story, that I was not going to be able to bring my two heroes together until more than halfway through the script. I was writing a "buddy" comedy, so this would appear to be a major structural flaw. (Download Tenspeed and Brown Shoe script)

On the other hand, I felt that in order to maximize the comedy in the relationship, a full examination of each character was necessary before throwing them both in the barrel together. I knew before I started writing the teleplay that I had designed this "flaw" into the script. But I had a solution that I thought would work. It was incumbent on me to make sure that I entertained the hell out of my audience with each of my character's antics before bringing them together.

I reasoned that if I could do this, maybe I could have it both ways. I wrote the script, which turned out to be one of my best (Writers Guild Award for best TV Drama, Long Form, 1981). In fact, it was this broken rule that made the script so enjoyable. There is nothing wrong with breaking the rules as long as you understand why you are doing it. Don't break them out of ignorance.

That being said, let's get to it.

On to Part 2