How to Write a TV Pilot Script

 

Before you learn how to write a TV pilot script, it’s important to understand the definition of “story.” The simplest explanation is this: a story recounts the struggle of a hero, fighting an obstacle, to achieve a goal.

Hero. Obstacle. Goal.

In this article, I’m going to take things one step further by discussing ways to make your story more compelling.

  1. The bigger the obstacle, the more interesting the story. In the example of Jack and the Beanstalk, the giant is the obstacle. He’s not an angry dwarf, or a surly leprechaun. It’s a mean, angry giant who eats the bones of Englishmen.
  1. The better the goal, the more interesting the story. Once again, using this fairytale as an example, the goal is the goose that lays the golden eggs. Not the bronze or silver eggs. First place, baby!
  1. And finally, the story doesn’t begin until your audience can identify the hero, obstacle and goal. Until then, you’re just boring them… begging them to find something better do to with their time.

Honestly, most online screenwriting courses don’t convey this concept simply enough. Good screenwriting isn’t easy, but it’s simple. If you can implement this into your storytelling, your TV pilot script will improve dramatically.

Think about action movies. They’re thrilling because obstacles are constantly being thrown in the main characters way. For example, just when you thought the hero escaped the crashing airplane by diving out the window, his parachute doesn’t fully deploy. This doesn’t just apply to James Bond movies, it hold true for drama and comedy as well. And it should certainly apply to the script for your pilot.

Take the brilliant and popular show, The Handmaid’s Tale. Offred gets tons of huge obstacles thrown in her way, each one bigger than the last. The couple that she’s property of are high ranking zealots. They can’t be reasoned with or ignored like ordinary people. Nor is Offred’s escape from Gilead practical, because she doesn’t want to leave her daughter behind. And she’s surrounded by other handmaids, many of whom she can’t trust. All of her obstacles are enormous, and this makes for great drama. And what is her goal? It’s the most rootable goal of all: freedom.  Freedom from emotional and physical abuse. It’s not like she wants something less consequential, like a softer bed or a more comfortable bonnet.

And finally, the writers of this show don’t hide the obstacle and the goal. They’re not vague or open for interpretation. They make then very clear. From the pilot scripts that I’ve read, most aspiring writers don’t quite get this concept. For those who want to learn script writing online, click here for my next article.

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Author Details
For the past 25 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.