In the first part of her article, experienced television drama script editor, Yvonne Grace discussed the importance of structure in the work of the television writer. We followed with her the progress of an episode of TV drama as it made its way from Story Conference (creating the stories) to Storylining (creating the story shape). Here, in the concluding part, Yvonne outlines two further stages: Script Writing (delivering the story shape) and Script Editing (polishing the story shape), revealing how the story, pitched at conference, is refined and made ready for production.
The writer uses the Story Document to shape his/her episode and to give it the recognised format of that particular show.
This document keeps the writer on track in terms of at which point along the storylines this episode sits and also in terms of continuity of character development; bringing in their motivational/subtextual arc across the block of episodes.
Here the storylines finally make it into a script format.
This is the first draft stage. There will most likely be only one more of these. Some shows manage three drafts (even, in drama heaven, a fourth) but in most soaps, due to the turnaround factor, most scripts have two drafts before they are expected to be at rehearsal stage and the production get their hands on them.
There will be an A (or main/central) storyline identified in the Story Document, a B(supporting/serialised) storyline, and a C (usually a comedic, or lighter-toned) storyline, adding texture to the episode as a whole. This is not set in stone, some shows have more storylines per episode.
Each storyline will have been broken down by the Storyliner, into scenes for the purpose of the Story Document. A rule of thumb: each paragraph is a scene in the document. This again is not set in stone.
The writer gets to make this script their own by adding texture, tone, visuals, subtext, and hopefully a creative, engaging energy that transforms this structure-heavy document into a fully fledged dramatic episode, which packs a narrative punch, but is held together by a solid framework; sensitive to the pace and tone of each storyline.
The storylines (via the talents of Storyliner) have been shaped by the Story Document to fit the script, and thanks to the Writer, the script finally anchors the storylines into their specific place within the series as a whole.
First draft complete
Now it’s time to get the script into the production process…
The talents of a good Script Editor should never be taken for granted. Here the script, with its allocation of storylines, must be taken from what is normally a serviceable, but often forgettable first draft, into second draft, which not only delivers on a structural level, but also on a narrative, dramatic level.
There are production issues to address at this point: set allocation, the exterior to interior scene ratio, and also editorial issues to get right: length, number of ad breaks, pick up points, cliffs, story beats per scene, and storyline progression across the episode as a whole.
It may transpire at this point, that a script is story-light, or that a script has too much story. Care is obviously taken at Story Conference to get the distribution right, but often it is not until the writer gets to grips with each storyline on the page, that the overall ‘story weight’ can be truly ascertained. If necessary, the Script Editor will engage in a spot of ‘story bartering’ to re-balance the story distribution across the block of episodes as a whole.
Storytelling in long-running series is strangely flexible, albeit within a very structured, restrictive episode shape and length. The format is key, but the process of sharing story across those formatted scripts is a fluid process that only stops when the script has made it to rehearsal stage.
Which, for the sake of this blog, ours has.
The script is complete. The storylines are in the right place; they have been created, developed, shaped and polished. Now the production starts in earnest and the visual takes over from the written word.
Time to tune in!
Yvonne Grace helps writers write better scripts for television.
Visit her website: http://scriptadvice.co.uk/
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