I love David Mitchell like nobody’s business, but can we talk for a second? His laugh on WILTY? last night was terrifying…meanwhile, Miranda Hart’s laughing fit / super-corpsing / mental breakdown / whatever you want to call it was freaking HILARIOUS.
I just thought Miranda’s laugh deserved a bit of attention. :)
* Disclaimer: I am not actually named Helen Chapman. She is a character. This is a satirical how-to guide. I hope it will make you laugh. Or, at the very least, I hope it won’t make you cry…
How to Become an Amazing Screenwriter and Win at Life and Other Things:
A Step-by-Step Guide by Helen Chapman
By Helen Chapman
Hello budding writer! A little bird tells me that you are ready for your first foray into the world of writing for film and television. (Actually, it’s an assumption I’ve made because you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. Also, birds can’t talk.) Being a prolific writer for the screen myself—both large and small—I am ready to hold your hand through this process and guide you to becoming an amazing screenwriter, winning at life, etc. (See title.) This can be a daunting journey, so we’re going to start out slowly by going over the basics of writing for the most slovenly and useless medium available: series television.
WHAT YOU NEED BEFORE STARTING:
1. A typing device; any of the following will suffice:
o Typewriter (for those time-traveling from the past)
o Cyborg and/or Stephen Hawking (for those time-traveling from the future)
o * Note: DO NOT WRITE BY HAND. You will feel overwhelmingly antiquated and die of shame.
2. Drugs (any type will do—this includes caffeine.)
3. Ideas *Note: If you’re not sure how these manifest, please refer to the above bullet point.
Once you have acquired all of the above, you are ready to take the first step. Which leads us to…
STEP 1: LEARN TO LOVE NOTHINGNESS
Margins are your friend. Blank space will make up the majority of your script. (This is mostly because established writers who live and work in California are constantly being told to be ecologically friendly, so this is their passive-aggressive way of deforesting the world and pissing off annoying liberals.) If you hold a script up to the sun and are not immediately blinded, you are not writing properly. *Note: DO NOT HOLD PROPER SCRIPTS UP TO THE SUN, YOU WILL BE IMMEDIATELY BLINDED.
Most novice scriptwriters are more concerned with substance and content, completely forgetting about the importance of format. Format is the single most important part of writing—if your script does not follow the correct format, no one will read it. Any producer who might potentially option your work will spontaneously combust if he sees an incorrectly formatted script. Not only will you have senselessly ended a human life, you will also have ended a career opportunity for yourself. *Note: for a guide on how to properly format a script, please see separately sold text, How to Become an Amazing Formatter of Scripts and Still Win at Life and Other Stuff and Whatnot: A Step-by-Step Guide by Helen Chapman.
STEP 2: CHARACTER CREATION
Attempting to create multi-faceted characters is counterproductive. Successful writers only utilize previously established stock types. Human beings can basically be boiled down to several categories. Below is a list of character types you may choose from.
CHARACTER TYPES FOR COMEDY SERIES:
THE LOVABLE LOSER. The Loveable Loser is the comedic male protagonist. The universe is usually out to get him—simply for the sport of it. He is chubby and unshaven yet consistently beds women who are miles out of his league. In the pilot episode he will be fired from his job, be evicted from his apartment, be dumped by his girlfriend, or all of the above simultaneously. This happens simply as a result of bad luck, and has no connection to his personality or actions.
THE DOUCHEBAG. The Douchebag usually fulfills the role of being The Lovable Loser’s best friend or enemy—or both—throughout the series. He is misogynistic and will abandon loyalty and friendship for his own self-gain in a heartbeat. He does not have a soul. He is usually far better looking than The Loveable Loser or, alternatively, has the confidence of a man who is far better looking.
THAT GAY GUY. Effeminate, limp-wristed, caustically hilarious, fashion forward, and totally into dudes—That Gay Guy is a relatively new addition to the canon of stock characters. Gay people were only invented about 50 years ago anyway, so this isn’t surprising. This character serves mostly as a reminder that some guys sleep with other guys—which is weird and hysterical. *Note: only use That Gay Guy when you feel your script is weak and needs something immediately funny to prop it up. Using That Gay Guy will offend religious viewers, so avoiding use of this character is recommended unless absolutely necessary.
THE SLUT. Scientists have proven that women are not funny, so there will usually be only one or two per comedy series. Most, if not all female characters, will be The Slut. She sleeps with most, if not all, of the male characters at some point. She is typically blonde, wears a D-cup, and is clueless. She functions mainly as a sounding board for the concerns of male characters, unless they try to make a joke, in which case she doesn’t understand it.
THE UGLY GIRL. The only other type of female comedy character, aside from The Slut, is The Ugly Girl. She is usually played by a stunningly gorgeous actress wearing slightly large glasses. There is nothing else remarkable or unique about her beyond her ugliness.
CHARACTER TYPES FOR DRAMA SERIES:
THE HEROINE. She sleeps with most, if not all, of the male characters at some point. She is typically blonde, wears a D-cup, and has a clue. She functions mainly as a sounding board for the concerns of male characters, unless they try to make a joke, in which case she ignores them because there’s some serious shit going down that’s more deserving of her attention. She often stares very seriously at other characters, eyes wide, mouth slightly open as if unable to speak, and occasionally with one single tear running down her cheek. She may also carry a handgun.
THE HERO. In the pilot he is either fired from his job, evicted from his apartment, or dumped by his girlfriend, or all of the above. Which is entirely inexplicable and heart-wrenching, because he is completely gorgeous and has amazing abs. His parents may also be dead. He may also carry a handgun or be a doctor of some kind, or both.
THAT GAY GUY. Effeminate, limp-wristed, caustically hilarious, fashion forward, totally into dudes, and HIV positive.
STEP 3: HOW TO WRITE DIALOGUE FOR YOUR CHARACTERS
Before we delve into the finer points of your script, let’s discuss writing dialogue. Be prepared to write lots of it—dialogue uses much less space on the page than anything else does. This will help you drastically with Step 1. The biggest problem most writers have with writing dialogue is their tendency to make it sound contrived and fake. Always strive to write entirely believable lines for your characters. You may be used to speaking with other writers and people working in the industry; however, those conversations are not representative of the vernacular of most Americans. Real people are incredibly rude and profane; they are far more edgy, cool, sexy, and real than you will ever be. Though a lowly writer for the stage, playwright David Mamet has mastered this style of writing. *Note: if you do not know who Mamet is or what theatre is, see separately sold text, How to Understand That Thing Where People Stand on a Raised Platform and Say Stuff in Front of a Large Crowd and Maybe Sometimes Start Singing For No Apparent Reason: A Step-by-Step Guide by Helen Chapman. Become comfortable with words like “fuck” and “shit” and “fucking shit”. These words will be your most valuable tools in writing a successful script. If every seventh word in your script is not “fuck” then stop and start again—you are not writing properly. I know what you’re thinking: “But, Helen, that seems excessive. The word ‘fuck’ will start to become tedious and predictable. How will I keep an audience’s interest?” I will tell you how. Remember that you are a writer—you are creative and resourceful. Feel free to spice up a continually used word by using creative variations. Some examples might include: “holy fucking fuck,” “fucking balls,” or “fucking shit”. The key is to keep the root word involved, as it is a fundamental building block for any good television script. *Note: This mostly applies to non-major networks during non-primetime slots. Which is really the best thing to write for, according to basically everyone. If you want to write for normal cable shows, children’s TV, or anything closely monitored by the FCC, then get another book and fuck off.
HELPFUL TIP #1: Try not to use “big” words. These can be confusing and keep your script from being accessible and enjoyable. For example, instead of using a word like “preposterous,” use a more accessible word such as “dumb”. If the letters comprising a word cannot be counted on an American viewer’s fingers, the viewer will not be able to fully understand it.
HELPFUL TIP #2: Allow characters to address each other by name as frequently as possible. Chances are good that all of the actors cast in your show will be similarly tan, blonde, well-endowed, and incredibly sexy, so it will be difficult to tell them apart. An example of acceptable dialogue would be: “Jessica, I’m fucking Brad. He is such a fuckface, Jessica, I don’t know why you’re dating Brad. Fuck this shit, Jessica, I’m fucking going shopping.”
STEP 4: THE BEGINNING
Just like learning to ride a bike, painting a picture, or evacuating one’s bowels: starting is always the hardest part. The trick of the trade is to arrive late and leave early. NEVER gently ease your audience into a story—throw them into it as violently as possible. If you’re writing a dramatic series, killing off a character immediately in the pilot is one way to do this. If the show is a comedy, then kill off a character in a funny way. Always SHOW, never TELL. Never explain anything ever in a drama; you will reveal the story eventually. Unless the show gets cancelled before you’re able to. Regardless, at the beginning, your viewers should be asking themselves, “What in the hell is going on?!” In fact, your characters should be asking the same question of one another as frequently as possible. Never allow the relief and luxury of answers. Nothing will bore an audience more than clarity.
Whether killing off a character or not, a comedy show’s beginning is the polar opposite. Make sure everything is entirely predictable. If your audience can’t tell what the next punch line is going to be, they will become offended and change the channel. Create an event through which your protagonist must suffer, but make sure it’s something that can be easily resolved over the course of the episode. An example would be: Your protagonist accidentally becomes the CEO of an ad agency but is afraid to look dumb in front of its employees, so continues to lie until everyone working for him is abducted by aliens and he is able to sneak back home to his wife, whom he tells he was simply out for a long walk; she accuses him of infidelity but in a funny, sarcastic way, and then they both go to sleep, preparing for next week’s zany misadventures.
STEP 5: THE MIDDLE
For the inexperienced scriptwriter, the middle may seem to be the hardest part. He or she will panic and exhaust himself/herself by trying to come up with something clever or “original”. *Note: originality, much like Rebecca Black fans or the Loch Ness monster, does not actually exist. I am here to assure you that there is nothing to be afraid of because the middle of a script is, in fact, the easiest part to write. If you have not done so already, you may want to reveal that one of your protagonists is a vampire. Not the old-fashioned kind with pointy ears and a cape, but the sexy kind. You could attempt to use another type of magical entity, but this is really hit or miss. The safest thing to do for your career is to follow the current trends and copy other successful writers. If you insist on substituting something like a banshee or other unheard of cryptid, be sure to make this character incredibly sexy. This brings us to the other way of sustaining your story—a gratuitous sex scene. You’re already writing for a hip channel like HBO, so go nuts. Out of the 44 standard minutes per episode, this could easily fill up at least 30 or something.
HELPFUL TIP: If you’re still having difficulty writing material for the middle, you may want to change drugs.
STEP 6: THE END
Ending a comedy is easy—as previously discussed, an ending must be predictable and bring your characters full circle so that they can start all over from Point A in the subsequent episode. Don’t worry if your comedy characters suffered injuries or ended a relationship; neither sling nor ex need make a future appearance. Comedy characters are incredibly resilient and heal fast, and any unwanted people in their life immediately pack up and move out of town.
Ending a dramatic episode is slightly more difficult. You’ll have to decide between killing another character off, turning a different character into a vampire, or giving a character a potentially fatal disease whose symptoms only start acting up within the last minute of the episode. For writers who enjoy creating work with only a beginning and middle, this task may be slightly less daunting. Better yet, if you are a person who consistently makes empty promises to friends and family, writing for a drama series will be ideal for you. Drawing something out is an art, and if you are the aforementioned type, you may already have the skills required to do so while writing for TV. By employing subtle repetition in dialogue and circumstance, you can fuel an entire series out of a single idea. Repetition is very important in drama. I cannot stress enough how crucial this ability is. In fact, you could write a substantial amount in ANY medium through this means. The writer who is economic with his/her words, rather than mastering the art of rambling, is never able to write enough to merit submitting something for publication or production. If words were carefully chosen and edited down to the bare minimum, each season of a TV series would only consist of one or two episodes. To reiterate, repetition and long-windedness are vital. Writers who can’t go on and on and on until they are blue in the face need not apply. Remember, there are others out there who can write circles around you—empty, pointless, substance-less circles. But circles nonetheless. They could keep doing so forever. It is your job to learn from them, utilize their tactics, and play their game so that you too can succeed as a writer. They can say the same thing in twenty different ways, all in the same paragraph. Study their work and learn from them. This skill is invaluable, and must be learned earlier rather than later. Rhetoric is an art. Always remember to repeat and ramble. Always.
STEP 7: SUBMITTING YOUR SCRIPT
Most screenwriters you speak with will not be aware of the following tidbit but, as a longtime writer of scripts in many genres, I am here to give you the inside scoop and help you succeed. The best screenwriters use pennames. If you have a flop on your hands, your identity and reputation will be protected. In fact, it’s not uncommon to share pennames with other writers. As your mentor and friend, I highly recommend you borrow my name as your penname. Be sure to put Helen Chapman on all of your scripts. If pitching a series to executives, be sure to introduce yourself as Helen Chapman, regardless of your gender. I only make this suggestion for your sake; I want to see you flourish and succeed in this business.
STEP 8. HOW TO WIN AT LIFE AND OTHER THINGS
Be an amazing writer. Succeed. Be awesome.
Now that you are equipped to be an amazing writer for series TV, you’re ready to begin the next chapter. In Chapter 2, we will cover the second lowest form of writing: writing for the stage. Be sure to read this before moving onto Chapter 3, in which we’ll move up to a more complex genre: how to write for reality TV.
Just putzing around. Found these screen caps of a Youtube video for Tom Rochon’s Latin exchange at the IC commencement this year.
I’d just figured out how to use Youtube closed captioning (yes, it took me a while, shut up) and these are some gems from aforementioned video. In the last frame, I don’t think he was actually saying anything at all. lol.