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Shonda Rhimes Master Class: Halfway There

A lot of you have been asking about the TV writing class I’m taking online and since I’m exactly halfway through it, I decided to share a little bit about what I’ve been doing!

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When I signed up for the class, I really had no expectations. I’d never taken a Master Class before so I had no idea what it would be like. Part of me thought it would be one video, maybe an hour long, and then I’d be on my own, while another part of me thought Shonda would walk into my house and start teaching me. (Rationality had already left me at that point.) Instead, what I’ve gotten is a network of amazing writers, so many resources I’m still trying to work my way through them all, and unbeatable advice from the Queen of Television herself that I wound’t have gotten anywhere else.

A lot of you already know I’ve written a full pilot script for my “TV show” (it’s in quotes because I know the probability of it ever making it on screen is about 0.2) but I didn’t really talk about how I got to that point. So, let’s go through the lessons, one by one, and I’ll walk you through my brain for a few minutes!

LESSON ONE: INTRODUCTION
Ok, so this one doesn’t need any explanation… it was just an intro. Think of it as the first day of school with 100000 syllabi to sign and trying to find a place to sit. It was like that except on a computer screen.

LESSON TWO: TEACH YOURSELF TV WRITING
This lesson was a lot of note taking. Watching old pilots (West Wing was a favorite) and just tearing the scripts up and taking as many notes on them as humanly possible. My notes were longer than the script. I don’t mess around.

LESSON THREE: FINDING AN IDEA
This was actually one of my favorite lessons because it gave me an excuse to eavesdrop on everybody’s conversation. Literally everybody. I never imagined how hard it would be to come up with a TV show that doesn’t already exist… I ended up pulling that off, but without listening to real world conversations, I don’t think I would have.

LESSON FOUR: DEVELOPING THE CONCEPT
Once I figured out a basic idea for the story, this is when I took that and ran with it. Fleshing out the premise, the story bible, coming up with show titles, character descriptions… that’s what this lesson was all about.

LESSON FIVE: RESEARCHING YOUR STORY
This was my least favorite lesson, but it’s one of the most important. If you want to write an authentic story, you’ve got to put in the time and energy to research enough information to make that happen. Shonda didn’t write Grey’s Anatomy without researching medicine…

LESSONS SIX & SEVEN: CREATING MEMORABLE CHARACTERS
Turning someone you’ve made up in your head into a three dimensional person is quite the process. And, for me, it was scary. I had these characters in my head and putting them out into the real world was scary… I didn’t want to share them with anyone, and still don’t. That’s probably why I’ve been so quiet about this up until now.

LESSON EIGHT: PITCHING YOUR SHOW
Writing a pitch for a television show is stressful. But once I had it finished, I was like a kid in a candy shop. I was so excited that this idea in my head was actually written out on paper. I didn’t ever think I’d write a pitch for something I created on my own, but there I was, eleven pages later, I was holding it in my hands.

LESSON 9-12: WRITING A SCRIPT
The next few weeks were spent learning how to actually write a script. I already had a pretty good foundation on the structure, so that wasn’t an issue for me. The discipline was new though: when I write, I tend to work until it’s finished. Meaning, I was going to sit down to write the pilot and not get up until it was done. And it was going to be like that for every script. So far, I’ve got over 100 pages of script written for multiple episodes. I’ve also learned how to get over writer’s block (FINALLY) and this is something I had struggled with before. The secret? Don’t force it. If a story isn’t coming to you, move on. Skip it for now. Working on something else will open that space in your brain that was stuck and then you go back and fill in the blank spaces.

LESSON THIRTEEN: WRITING AUTHENTIC DIALOGUE
This sounds like it should be obvious but it’s actually really easy to fall into writing cliches. And according to Shonda, anything that’s been said before is aΒ clichΓ©. So, you go back to listening to conversations. Sitting on the metro in Berlin, listening to one-sided phone calls in the coffee shop, listening to the arguing couple two booths over from me… I pulled from different situations and that’s helped my writing. I’ve also learned that people don’t speak in complete sentences… at all. We rarely speak in proper English. Writing a TV show is nothing like writing an essay for English Literature. I’ve learned to let go and loosen up a little in my writing and that’s helped me across the board. Each character is unique, and so is their way of speaking. Working with that many personalities at one time can be a little overwhelming, but I’m getting the balance down and am getting better at writing from that character’s perspective. Dialogue is tricky but it’s really fun once you get the hang of it!

LESSON FOURTEEN & FIFTEEN: CASE STUDY – GREY’S ANATOMY
For the last two lessons of the first half, Shonda took us through the pilot script of Grey’s, scene by scene, act by act, and explained decisions she made as a show runner. And that’s all I can tell you about it right now because I haven’t done that with my own scripts yet. It’s coming, don’t worry.

And that’s the halfway mark! I will do another update as I get closer to finishing the class, but for now, maybe a teaser of my script will help. (Those of you who follow my social media accounts have already read this. It’s still the same!)

*You’ll have to zoom in to be able to read anything… whoops.*

And finally, to answer the question I’ve been getting since I first started this class: I ABSOLUTELY recommend this class. But only if you’re serious about writing. It’s not cheap and it takes a lot of time and energy, but if writing is something you’re truly passionate about, then go for it! I’m always here to answer any questions you might have before committing to anything, just leave a comment or shoot me an email!

xoxo,
J

 

 

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