D is for Development

After coming up with an idea for your film project, you then need to develop ideas.

This will include:

  • brainstorming the concept to get a solid outline of what you want to show, convey or explain.
  • research to further refine and clarify the idea – use references, look at other work
  • experiment and test out ideas
  • write first draft of treatment or script – jot down main ideas for the film –
  • developing a drama – write down scenes, characters, locations, actions and events, storylines
  • developing a documentary – list main content, use of material, techniques, approaches

C is for Concept

You need to have a strong idea for your project proposal – a concept.

Think about all the aspects of the idea – what is the subject, theme, mood, atmosphere? What kind of style do you what, what is the aesthetic – the look and feel that you want to create?

A is for Action (the rules of writing)



“Quality drama, and the best screenwriters, are all to be found on TV these days.” Whether you agree with that statement or not, it’s certainly hard to argue that shows like Homeland, the Red Riding TrilogyBreaking Bad and Downton Abbey don’t contain some damn fine writing skills.

So, if you want to make a break into writing for telly, whether you come from features, or starting screenwriting from scratch, here are some rules to consider. (All rules are made to be broken, yadda, yadda, yadda)


1. Character Cast Size

Consider how many characters you will feature. Typically 4 or 5 with a stronger ‘lead’ character seems to work. Pick a handful of shows and check for yourself.


2. Characters in Conflict

Create characters that will constantly create their own conflict, even if just locked in a room together. Take a look at Family Guy for example: a slob dad, an uptight mum, a scheming baby, and an intellectual dog. Put any two of those in a room together and they would be arguing in 5 minutes, just because their personalities are so different. Conflict is key, both for drama and comedy – and having characters that generate it automatically, rather than relying on outside ‘plot’ will be extremely helpful.


3. Characters Don’t Change

In general, if you’re writing a returning series, especially a sitcom, your characters shouldn’t change, grow or arc – they need to be reset to their default position at the end of every episode. They may learn, but they don’t grow (think Scrubs). There are obvious exceptions to this, but it’s a good rule of thumb.


4. Make Characters Want Things

Give characters goals and motivations – make them want to achieve things. This should keep them moving, and bring them into conflict with other characters (when they want different things, or both want the same thing but only one of them can have it.


TV Writer's Summit5. Use ABC plotting

Your A plot is the main storyline, your B plot the secondary storyline, and your C plot (if used), the tertiary. Use a roughly 60/30/10 split. Giving characters goals (i.e. the previous point) is a great way of generating these plots.


6. Ad Breaks are Act Breaks

If you’re writing for a broadcaster who advertises, your act breaks will come at the ad breaks. These all need to be cliffhangers (N.B. there are different types of cliffhanger). If you’re going to show without adverts, then you need to figure out your own act breaks. Typically there are 4 acts in television.


7. Dialogue Comes Last

Snappy dialogue is the hallmark of much good telly, but it shouldn’t be your focus, even in sitcoms. Good structure, good plotting and good characters should make the dialogue easy to write – so focus on those first.


8. Create a Series Bible

Even if you’re only writing one or two episodes on spec, create a series bible that contains the bigger picture. Character bios, episode outlines for the whole series, maybe some background, notes on the setting etc. Keep it snappy and interesting though – the word ‘bible’ can be misleading – think of it more as a pitch document.


9. Research the Formatting

Do as much research into formatting as possible. It can vary quite widely and you need to match it to the preferred style of whomever you are submitting to.


10. Know your Audience(s)

You need to have a specific audience in mind – a good way to research this is paying attention to the target market of adverts played during similar shows. You also need to have an idea when you see your show airing and what content is suitable for that time. Research the watershed rules. Finally, you need to know who broadcasts shows like this: BBC 1 and BBC 3 are very different, let alone Channel 4, Sky, and of course all the independent production companies. Do your research.



Raindance aims to promote and support independent filmmaking and filmmakers.

From new and emerging to industry pros, Raindance connects, trains, supports, and promotes visual storytellers through every step of their career.

The Raindance Film Festival runs each Autumn in London’s Leicester Square.



Starting a script idea

Some useful guidelines from BBC writers lab:


1. Introduction

Before you get started

Writersroom is an open door at the BBC for anyone in the UK who is new to writing but believe they have a real talent and great ideas for screen and radio.

When you’re new to writing, just getting to the end of that first script is really hard. This section of the website is for those who want to write, who have an idea that is itching to get out, and who would like a guide or structure to help them take it from idea right through to a first draft.

What you get here is a series of steps in the writing process with essential elements, questions and challenges you will face. It’s not designed to be exhaustive. But it’s not just a basic ‘how to’. It’s the essentials of what we believe go in to making a good script.

And if you have already written a script – more than one, even – and are looking for a similar helping hand through your next idea, then try using these steps to structure the process. Essential principles and problems remain important throughout a writer’s career – not just at the start of it. Because writing a good script is always hard. And losing sight of the essentials is much easier than you might think.

2. Developing your idea

What is the story?

All ideas are only as good as the characters that drive them, and all good ideas need to be dramatic.

Drama literally means ‘action’ – to act. What is the central dramatic action in your idea?

What is the story? Do you have a compelling enough journey for the character and audience to go on? If it’s a series or serial, do you have enough story to keep it going over a number of episodes or weeks?

Creating a coherent world is crucial. What are the rules of your story universe? What do and don’t we need to know and see? Less is often more – the writer needs to know all the rules and background – but the audience only needs enough to stay hooked without being confused.

You can read a couple of great examples of this in the scripts for the first episodes of The Fades and Life on Mars.

What kind of story is it? Are you using a recognisable genre, such as thriller or romantic comedy? If you are inspired or influenced by an archetypal story of old, what is it that’s different about your idea? You need to bring a fresh perspective to familiar tales, worlds, subjects and genres.

What the experience feels like for the audience is also crucial. What is the tone and feel of the story? Are they consistent and coherent? There’s nothing more frustrating than a slasher movie that suddenly turns into a romcom (or vice versa). But then sometimes clashing genres can work if they’re handled intelligently.

And the emotional response you are trying to aim for is just as important. What physical reaction are you looking for? Something so poignant it makes the audience cry? So funny it make their sides hurt from laughing too much? So terrifying it makes the hairs on the nape of their neck stand on end? So thrilling their hearts are in their mouths and they’re on the edge of their seat?

You need to know why writing this idea now is important. Is it something that keeps you up at night and has really got under your skin? What’s it about? What’s the theme – what are you trying to explore, what are you hoping to communicate?

Don’t write anything you don’t care about just to be ‘expedient’ – because it will only ever be competent at best. Is it an idea that will strike a real chord with an audience? Who do you think will want to see it? If you have a burning desire to write, then it’s more likely to grab our attention.