Planning ahead in TV writing

Stepped back to do some planning this week. I hit a point in the story last week where I wasn’t sure where things were going next, and realized I really needed to sit down and think this out some. To do that, I am leaning heavily on my experience with my fan fiction project, The Destroyer, because my previous experience in original fiction was to not think too far ahead, and that’s not going to work, either. With TD, I never thought more than two or three episodes ahead and only outlined the one I was currently working on. But I knew where I wanted to take the main characters by the end of the story, and I had few “An episode where X happens” ideas saved up for down the road.

I have been thinking this week about how television series (like my “virtual” series) get written because I am watching the final season of Lost and reading fan debates about whether the writers “had a plan” or not for the entire series. Television writers get criticized for not having “a plan”, understandably sometimes in the case of Chris Carter and the X-Files, which got somewhat anti-climactic in Seasons 6 and 7 when the mythology arcs delivered their lackluster “pay off.”

But I also think television writers get unfairly criticized for “not having a plan.” Most television writers/producers are not J. Michael Straczynski with a “grand vision” and the actual opportunity to carry it out. Most television writers and show-creators/producers are lucky if they get one season or thirteen episodes without being canceled. To plan out a five- or seven-year series arc ahead of time under the constraints imposed by television executives is an exercise in heartbreak. Then, when they do get renewed or approved for additional episodes, they face the year-to-year tightrope of wondering if they will get renewed or not, having story lines derailed by actor’s career decisions, and facing the possibility that they will have to wrap up their story in mid-stream.

And what I do know from virtual series writing, just getting the next episode out consumes all your time. You think ahead to what’s coming, but you are also very much forced to live in the now.

So what’s the point of all this with regard to my new original fiction story? I guess it’s that planning ahead is a luxury I should start embracing, but there’s no necessity to plan everything, as long as I have a general idea where I want the characters to be in the end.

9 thoughts on “Planning ahead in TV writing

  1. I really expected this post to garner a bit more controversy. But I do sort of bury the point in self-involved blather.

  2. I’ve taken a number of seminars lately designed to impart just these kinds of arguments and information, and came away from them more convinced than ever that I’m a pantser. Honestly, though, I’m a little of both. But I’m so left-brained, I need to give my subconscious time to generate good ideas, and that doesn’t happen from the top-down.

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