Crucial Ways To Craft Great Story Ideas - (Short Version)
Crafting a TV Show
How does one craft a brilliant TV show idea? First, it’s important to understand what exactly that means.
Longevity of story is foremost what separates an idea suited to the small screen, from one suited to the big, or one that has solid story engine!
"Shaping story tests the maturity and insight of a writer." - ROBERT MCKEE
Does the wider story consist of many contained, smaller stories?
Is the wider story inconclusive? Or is its conclusion not a spec on the horizon from the opening?
Is the idea so thematic that it requires multiple premises, compiled as an anthology?
If any of the answers are yes, then in all likelihood it has potential to be a good TV Show idea. As a writer or showrunner you cannot forget, that you are putting something on a market, which is bombarded with thousands of stories every year, especially nowadays with so many streamers fighting for their market shares.
So first, YOU ARE DESIGNING a product for steamers & networks, so quality, structure and appeal need to be present. Period. You don't have to run after trends, it should interest you first and foremost. One could write a hundred stories about, say, a stationery supplier’s sales team. The idea seems too dull and repetitive to get anywhere near a a screen, however, if it’s crafted with inspired characters, far-fetched situations and hilarious jokes within a mockumentary format, then we’re talking about The Office, and the genius of Ricky Gervais!
Navigating the realm of speculative TV ideas can be tricky. Indeed, network execs themselves can’t really predict whether one of their purchases will be brilliant. Many greatly anticipated shows flop, even the script is really good. We all need great. A great script at least works as a magnet to get a great talented ensemble of people to work on the story. For the original true art, the craft of writing, there are fundamentals to lay out brilliant TV show ideas. And the hits can teach us a ton of lessons. So let’s take a look!
1. Generate Ideas with Indications of how you see the world, but do not bore the audience
“You’re allowed to bore your friends and family, but to bore your audience is unforgivable”
Before developing any of your ideas and fill page after page whit you plot, you should already have a strong indications and clearer ideas of:
Central character dynamics, the emotional arch for each important character
Stakes for Leads & Cast, as high as possible
Obstacles, what if the characters don't get what they want
Tone and/or mixed genres (if you are bold enough!)
Setting/World, could be a supermarket, as long as it feels like a fresh and new approach
Why do we have to see such a show today? It is the zeitgeist? Or other important reasons?
The premise is really the concept of your TV show. For example, 2 Broke Girls is a workplace sitcom about two financially-challenged waitresses in a Brooklyn diner. Or The Big Bang Theory is an urban tribe sitcom about nerdy scientists.
We start drilling deeper into the TV Series here. The world is more than just the setting. It relates to the look and feel of the show. Know your world, and do your research as already suggested. What is its thematic focus? What is the scope of the world the TV Series takes place in? Does your story change locations, timelines, dimensions or planets? Have fun, but know the details in and out.
DETAILS ARE GOLD.
This is one of the most important ones. to consider. It relates to character dynamics. Not only do you need to strongly define the dramatic functions of each character, you need to define their interactions and their level of interactivity. Interactions relate to whether they assist or hinder the main character. Are they friend, foe, mentor or what? Interactivity relates to the frequency and intensity of the character interactions. How do they service the story engine?
What's the signature defining trait that drives your character's behaviors and interactions. Do you know you traits? The traits of your parents, co-workers? Get real with their worldviews and daily habits. The character is in their daily habits. It’s worth mentioning that TV characters should remain reasonably static for the life of a TV series. Sure, they learn lessons and gradually evolve over the seasons, but their core values and traits should stay the same.
Emotional beings in TV, an emotional and visual medium, so establish the world and the characters first, then explore and generate storylines, and plot your way through it.
2. Novelty and Research
Living in the age of content cuts both ways. Whilst there’s room for risk because streaming services are less regulated and try to outdo each other by picking up originals, there’s also a feeling that everything’s been done. Is your style fresh, if your core concept isn’t? Russian Doll , for example, is a stunning reinvention of the idea behind Groundhog Day. And since its success, unique time loop premises keep cropping up.
From fantasy to crime, TV shows are all based on reality to some degree. For a series to have authenticity, research is an essential part of the writing. Whilst you don’t necessarily need to research when crafting an idea, it may still come in handy. For example, if you’ve always wanted to do a cop show but need a fresh angle, then researching that field might reveal a previously un-televised aspect.
Research often takes the form of consultants and advisors long after an idea has been greenlit. That said, so many journalists (with serious research chops) end up crafting brilliant ideas not just for TV but for books and films too. One of the most famous examples of such a career switch is the creator of The Wire, David Simon:
3. Story Engine to Push the Story Forward
Your story engine is to define what drives every episode in the series. The engine is the nerve center of your TV Series. You might know where the show starts, but you also need to know what direction it's headed in, and what powers it again and again. The engine defines what your story is and what it isn’t. It will keep your story on track. You really have to leaner the art form. Long form storytelling is different than writing a feature, as you want to produce 50 hours of material! Know why yo would like to watch it, and understand, learn why the story can last for multiple episodes or seasons!