My Blog

5 Must-Haves for a Great TV Series

Does your TV series idea have the “legs” to run longer than an episode or two?  

Ideas for films tend to be about a problem that are acute and solvable but TV series ideas tend to be about a problem that is chronic and unsolvable i.e. it’s a basic idea that can keep running for a whole series – and some.

 Whether you’re working on a half-hour sitcom or 10 – part drama, your TV series must have these elements.

  • 1) A Strong Narrative Drive – When you think about just about any successful series there is always a challenging goal driving the main character. What’s going to drive the narrative of your series? 
  • 2) Engaging Characters with depth, flaws, agency and clear goals. These fictional representations need to be relatable and engaging to watch. Or we just stop watching.
  • 3) Conflict – Every television show needs conflict. Differences between the values, needs and goals of the characters.  Ideally, characters should also have to deal with internal conflict as they struggle with the consequences of their decisions and actions.
  • 4) Great Dialogue – we all know great dialogue when we see it. But in TV it is the primary vehicle for telling the story. Great dialogue is believable. It fits the character and reflects the way people communicate in the real world.
  • 5) An interesting and surprising storyline – sometimes we can predict where an episode story is going to go and the writers’ challenge is to get to an expected conclusion in a fun, unpredictable way. Other times we are blown away by the unpredictable turns the story can take – but it still has to be believable and logical within the world of the series.

Want to create and write a TV series? Register for my Beginner’s Guide Writing a TV Pilot Workshop (April 19th)

Can’t Finish Your Project? 6 Questions to Help You Work Out Why


Image: Kelli Tungay

We all have projects that grind to a halt and leave us staring at the unfinished draft (aka a big, hot mess) wondering now what? Or worse still we limp on in circles and start to get resentful. We’ve invested all this time and energy – and it’s still not finished!  We start to see our once beloved story as a chore.

But go easy friend, there are ways to work out why you’re stuck – AND what to do about it.  Now it might be time to jettison this project and start over but before you take that drastic step let’s investigate further.

There’s going to be a reason you’re struggling with this particular story and these 6 questions might just help you work out what it is and get you back on track.

Q1: Do you know how your story ends?

Are you stuck because you don’t know how to end your story?  Or are you stuck because you have an ending that you’re dubious about or feel uninspired by? Writers will always have some doubt about their work – but ignore those nagging critics and be honest with yourself – does your ending feel good to you?   No matter what the issue is with your ending – it’s so much easier to get to a destination when you know where you’re heading.

Solution:  Embark on some good old-fashioned brainstorming and explore possible endings.  Try mind-mapping or coming up with the lamest endings you can think of – just to reboot your thinking.  One of my favourite brainstorming exercises is to write the question that’s bugging you in the middle of a piece of paper, then set a timer for 10 minutes – and keep answering that question until the time is up.  Some of your answers will be nonsense but that doesn’t matter – the goal of this exercise is to keep writing.  It will stimulate new ideas – and very likely give you insights into the ending you need.

Q2: What Was Your Original Vision For This Story?

Maybe you’ve fallen out of love. Think back to when you first started this story. Think about all the things that you loved about it.  Remember why you started writing it in the first place.  What’s changed?  Has the current version gone off on a detour that has led to a dead end?   If so why and when?  Which elements are you still in love with?  Which elements can be recycled – which can be trashed?

Solution: Take a step back and reassess.  What was and IS your vision for this story? (And I mean YOUR vision for it – not what you think it should be.) Now go back and work out which elements in your story don’t serve that vision.  Then re-state your intent for this story.

Q3: Is This The Type of Story You Enjoy?

If it isn’t then no wonder you’re finding it hard to write.  Yes, you’re ultimately writing for an audience – but right at the moment how about writing for you? How about you start writing the type of story you enjoy?

Solution: Find your way back into your story by spending some time reading the type of work you want to write.  (And this goes for screenwriters too.) It’ll re-invigorate your imagination and you’ll start seeing new possibilities for the existing work.

Image: Annie Spratt

Q4: Are You Giving Yourself Enough Time?

It’s easy to sit staring in frustration at that unfinished chapter or poem or scene and declare it hopeless.  But remember this – writing isn’t for the faint-hearted. It requires some intestinal fortitude and commitment.  There are many seemingly valid reasons to do something else instead of write but none of them will help you finish your work. And the more you procrastinate and avoid – the harder it will be to get that story momentum going again.

Solution:  Get serious about committing some time to your project. Seriously! Carve out a regular appointment to write and stick to it.  Whether it’s 15 mins a day or two hours a week – it doesn’t matter.  Regularity + commitment + discipline = productive writing habit. And it doesn’t matter if you use this time to play or brainstorm – just forcing yourself to start is surprisingly effective.

Q5: What Are You Telling Yourself About You As a Writer?

Sometimes we tell ourselves things about ourselves that just aren’t true. Labouring under self-limiting beliefs can slow anyone down.  So identify the main criticisms you’re leveling at your writer self – and ask yourself this – are those criticisms opinion or fact?   If they’re fact then you’ve got something to work on.  But if they’re opinion then you can probably let them go.  It’s only an opinion based on not very much actual evidence.

Solution: Write down the four attributes you have as a writer.  Then write down the four attributes you think a writer needs to finish their project.  Which of these attributes do you already have?  And if there are some you don’t have – how can you develop them?

Q6: Do You Need Some Feedback?

Sometimes talking out a story problem or just talking about your project generally gives you a way back into it.  Not to mention renewed enthusiasm for it.  There are plenty of ways to get feedback – you can go down the professional route, you can get involved in a writers’ group or online forum.  And if you need to connect with other writers for support and inspiration – it’s hard to go past a writing workshop – check out my Writing Room for example!  And I also have the BIG Mid-Spring Write-In coming up.

Solution:  Think about what type of feedback will best serve your project at the moment. Do you need an intensive critique or friendly encouragement in a group?  Do you need to discuss a specific part of your story?  Work this out and go find the place, people or situation that will give you what you need.

Happy trails folks…

What’s Stopping You?

Is it workshop-a-phobia?

I’ve been surprised to learn recently that many new writers break into a sweat when they think about turning up and attending a writing workshop. So they put it off and put it off again. Hard to believe?

Meet Dave. He’s the director of creative and hard-working Ad Agency Hot Butter that creates video content for Digital Channels. He describes himself as a funny guy who loves life and thrives on the magic we learn from life’s challenges. No slouch, right? And yet…

Dave attended one of my workshops recently and it took him 8 years to get there! He’d been receiving my newsletter for 8 years! Looking at everything I had on offer and thinking how much he’d like to attend. When he told me this it blew my mind.

Why, I asked, did you wait so long? And this is what Dave told me.

” I think there was probably a sense of fear that I wouldn’t be good enough. That I didn’t have a guaranteed good idea for a new show at the tips of my fingers.”

Whaaat? How is that possible? But then I realised I hear the following all the time…

“I won’t be as good as everyone else in the room.”

“I don’t want to share my work in front of people.”

“I’m really new – and worried that I’ll make a fool of myself.”

I know writers and I’m familiar with that yearning aspiring writers have to get their stories down on paper so it makes me sad that fear is stopping them enjoying, not to mention learning about, something they love to do.

So it made me really happy to have Dave tell me that it was worth the wait.

“It was great to meet you for the first time and realise how down to earth, encouraging and funny you are! It was reassuring to meet other writers who are finding their way and looking for structure to bring their ideas to life.”

Dave Munn – Hot Butter Productions

Dave Munn - Hot Butter Productions

Staying on Track…

Hey, we’re halfway through 2019 – so what better time to check in with ourselves and see where we’re at with our current writing project?

So at this juncture – where are you at?

Are you further along than you hoped or not quite where you wanted to be? If you’re where you hoped you’d be – excellent!  And well done on maintaining momentum and being so goddamn awesome.

If you’re less than happy with where you are I have some thoughts about how you can get back on track and stay there.

Something you probably don’t know about me is that I really hate housework.  Don’t get me wrong, I love clean and tidy I just have to force myself to do it and then tend to stop halfway because I’m bored.   Sound vaguely familiar?

I hear this same kind of talk about writing all the time. We love and want the outcome – so what’s the big deal? Why is it sometimes so hard to start and go after what we desire?  (The answer to that question is a whole other post, probably a book…)

So how do we get ourselves motivated and working?  Some tips for you…

Getting to Work Tip #1 – Take Small Steps
Here’s how I force myself to do housework (I wish I was joking – I’m not.) I set the alarm on my phone for 15-minute blocks – and try to get as much done as I can in that time.  Here’s my rationale – I don’t want to do it but I know I can bear 15 minutes of tedium.  And then I just rinse and repeat until I’ve done 15 minutes in every room.  And it works.  Squalor avoided – phew!
How about applying that technique (or a variation thereof) to your writing task every day?  Little and often is surprisingly effective.
My housework trick is essentially my own variation of the Pomodoro Technique which you may also find useful. 

Getting to Work Tip #2 – Choose a deadline and stick to it.
The world is awash with competitions and submission opportunities – my monthly newsletter is always full of them.  Choose one that suits you and your medium – and then work towards it.  A deadline is fantastic – otherwise, there’s the temptation to meander forever. (I know, I’m in that place right now on a particular project.)   And it is SO satisfying sending off that entry or application.  Notice how whether you are successful or not – just entering/submitting has forced you to move your project forward.

Getting to Work Tip #3 – Get a Writing Buddy
Being held accountable to someone makes your writing life easier.  If you have to show up, you probably will.  If someone is waiting for you to show them your work – you’ll probably do it.  

Getting to Work Tip #4 – Consider a Writing Group
As you may know, I’m a big fan of the writing group as a mechanism to help you move your project forward.  Company, motivation and regular accountability. These are exactly the guiding principles, the very point of The Writing Room that I run in Auckland – check it out.