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TV writing is a realm where the writer can become just as popular as the show they create. While there are fundamental similarities to any genre of screenwriting and script writing, writing for television is its own area of specialty.
If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a TV series, we’ve rounded up a bunch of books that need to be on your reading list. Even if you already work in television, or are thinking about writing a screenplay, you’ll find some useful information in the titles below. From tips on spec pilots, spec scripts, writing compelling stories, developing characters, cast size, creating shows for streaming services, and getting your script in the hands of producers, the seven books below cover important techniques and strategies to help you out. For more literary recommendations check out best screenwriting books, and 10 books every first-time filmmaker should read.
“Write to TV” breaks down tips on crafting smart, original stories and scripts for a bunch of different formats and genres, including comedy, drama, pilots, web series, and streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. The book’s latest edition is updated with chapters on utilizing free platforms such as YouTube, writing for niche markets, breaking into the writer’s room, creating binge-worthy content, and expanded information on creating complex and compelling stories, including how to write an anti-hero or a strong female protagonist. Included in the book are over 20 interviews with input directly from studio and network executives, agents, and managers on what they’re looking for in new writers; how to avoid common pitfalls, and advice from successful creators and showrunners on creating original content that sells. You’ll also find access to sample outlines, checklists, script pages, and countless other resources.
“Save the Cat! Writes for TV: The Last Book on Creating Binge-Worthy Content You’ll Ever Need” by Jamie Nash
When you’re searching for screenwriting books, Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat!” usually comes up on the list. Screenwriter Jamie Nash picks up Snyder’s torch in this step-by-step guide using his principles for both new and experienced writers. “Save the Cat! Write for TV” includes strategies for writing and structuring a compelling TV pilot, nuances, tricks, and methods of pilot-writing, and tips to improve your story and your pitch. The 272-page book includes sheets of the pilots of “Barry, Ozark,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Black-ish,” “The Mandalorian,” “This Is Us,” and “Law and Order: SVU.”
This how-to-guide features nuggets of wisdom that the author picked up as a writer for hit series including “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and “Coach.” The handbook outlines steps to becoming a TV writer — starting with tips to writing a winning script. From elements for that essential Concept Line to “Mining the 7 Deadly Sins” for fresh and original story lines, and “selling” vs. “telling” stories, Sandler packs in a comprehensive lesson on TV writing complete with in-depth graphs and script breakdown charts.
It’s one of the older books on the list, but still worth a read for sitcom writing. “Writing Television Sitcoms” serves up suggestions for writing a funny script, building jokes, punchlines, pitching a new show, launching your career, and more.
“The Hero Succeeds,” has everything from concept to writing a professional pilot, and covers essential elements such as: characters, world of the show, tone, story engine, and themes for dramas and sitcoms. Veteran TV writer Kam Miller outlines the steps for creating your own TV series, and details the groundbreaking character-driven structure designed to help you solve even the most difficult script problems.
A simple and straightforward read, “Writing the Pilot” takes you through the entire process of conceiving and writing a spec pilot script. From the initial idea through the finished script, you’ll learn how to identify a show concept that can span a hundred episodes or more, and how to create characters who will stay interesting year after year.
Understanding dialogue writing starts with increasing writers’ awareness of what they hear. “Writing Compelling Dialogue for Film and TV” provides an assortment of dialogue and language tools, and exercises on understanding the function, intent and thematic/psychological elements that dialogue can convey about character, tone, and story. Written by a veteran screenwriter, playwright and screenwriting professors, this book offers up a clear set of exercises, tools, and methods to raise your ability to hear and discern conversation at a more complex level, and in turn allowing you to create better, more nuanced, complex and compelling dialogue.