Lesson #1: Structuring your story using sticky notes tremendously helps.
I hate outlining stories and usually stare at my screen for hours, writing-deleting-rewriting-redeleting until I just throw in the towel.
Jamie Nash suggests using sticky notes – or similar small paper cards – to organize your three acts. Once card = one scene. You can play with them, move them, toss them away.
I made three rows of 5-6 cards each, each row corresponding to an act. Here’s an example:
Act 1: OPENING IMAGE 1 | SET UP 1 | SET UP 2 | SETUP 3 | CATALYST
My first card was my opening image scene. The SETUP cards are 3 scenes showing the hero’s world as it is before the CATALYST happens.
On each card, I added a short description of the scene, the character(s) involved, and the goal of this scene.
Doing this allowed me to have a clear understanding of my stories. The author recommends doing it at the very end, just before writing, once you have your TV pilot almost all figured out. But I used it at the beginning of the process to get a general idea of where my story was going.
Lesson #2: Build rooting resumes for your characters.
Why do you think your characters deserve your audience’s attention?
Make a list of all the distinctive traits that make your characters compelling.
They can be underdogs (why? how?), maybe one of their parents died, or their best friend. They might have had a difficult childhood (be specific).
What are they chasing?
How do they try to make their lives better?
What do they care about?
Lesson #3: Find your theme by looking inwards.
All stories need a theme, especially TV shows. That’s what you sell to producers and to the audience.
The author suggests a very effective exercise to uncover your theme:
Why are you the right person to write this particular story?
Freewrite. Jot down your ideas on the page, just like in a journal. Don’t limit yourself. Here’s an example:
I’m the right person to write this story because I’ve always loved witch tales, ever since I was a kid. They fascinate me. Magic fascinates me. It gives me hope that there is a higher power, something that’s not up to us. That there is more to this than just our lives on Earth. I also feel deeply for my characters who are trying to find meaning in their quest. It reminds me of my own journey trying to find my purpose and doing meaningful work.
The theme here is meaning. Finding meaning in magic and life.