Typing Faster

May 27, 2009

Thoughts on Serialized Specs

Filed under: Craft, Specs — petertypingfaster @ 2:42 pm

Continuing with all the speccy goodness I thought I’d offer some ideas on how to spec a serialized show.

Now I’ve already mentioned that speccing a serialized show is much more difficult than writing an episodic spec. In a serialized show you have to worry about fitting your story into an existing timeline, and doing so without dramatically changing the already existing world (cause change in a spec is “Not A Good Thing”). It can be an uphill battle, but here are a few strategies that might make it a bit easier.

1. The Event Episode
Structure a stand alone spec around an existing event. If, for example, you were writing a Brothers & Sisters spec, you could write the Thanksgiving episode. This approach would allow you to write a story largely unfettered by the ongoing serialized arcs of the series.

2. Write an episode set between seasons
A lot of serialized shows will have a time jump between seasons. A good example of this would be a show like Mad Men where they jump years between seasons. If you know where the characters were at the end of the previous season, and where they start at the beginning of the next, then why not write an episode in the middle that shows how they got from point A to B? The danger with this approach is, of course, that if they decide to give an different explanation for why things turned out the way they did mid way through the current season you’re kind of hooped.

3. Write an episode set between existing episodes
This is a riskier variation on number two. This is when you pick a point between two episodes in the previous season and write a spec that occurs between them. The specificity of this approach can be both a help and a hindrance. It’s nice in that you know exactly what happened before, and what will happen after, your spec, but the downside is it really dates your spec. Consider taking this approach with a strong dose of caution.

4. Write the first / last episode of a season
This is probably one of the better strategies to take when speccing a serialized show (though of course it depends on the show). A lot of serialized shows will have one serialized arc per season, a la Veronica Mars. You can fairly easily write the beginning of a new season, setting up a new season long arc, while still serving all the existing characters and being a good spec. The danger you run in doing this are the same you run whenever you write a pilot, it’s tough to set all the things you need for a season up in an hour.

Writing the last episode of a season is a little more difficult. You have to write a satisfying conclusion to a season that the reader is going to know nothing about (because unfortunately you can’t just write an alternate ending to an existing season, at least I wouldn’t recommend it). I’ve heard of people who’ve been able to pull this off, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Of these four strategies I’ve used the first two, with varying degrees of success. Your mileage may vary, and if anyone has any other ideas on how to tackle a serialized spec, drop a line in the comments!

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