Writing the Spec Script- Plotting
Note: This is the second post in a three post series about writing a Spec Script. If you haven't read the first post, you can find it here: https://www.breakingindustry.com/post/writing-the-spec-script-pre-work
In my first post, I came up with six steps to writing that spec script. As a refresher they are:
1. Choose a show
2. Study said show
3. Find a minor detail that you can spin into a plot
4. Outline your episode
5. Write that first draft!
6. Edit it!
This post is going to focus on steps three and four, which are a bit of a puzzle, so let's dig in!
Finding where to put your episode-
Step one: Pick a Season
After watching the entire first season of Nancy Drew, I debated watching the second one too. I didn't do so for two reasons:
1) The new season will introduce a new story line which could complicate things.
2) The second season would not finish before I needed to submit my script.
I suggest you try to write your spec script as late into the series as you can. It makes little sense for you to write a spec script for season one of Grey's Anatomy when there are 17 to date. Doing so alerts your readers that you haven't studied the show in full, and often you'll be using characters that are no longer around. This doesn't do what you want a spec script to do (discussed in the earlier post), so try to stay within the last two seasons. And please, please don't write a spec script for a show that is no longer being produced. You may adore I Love Lucy, because let's face it, who doesn't? But it won't be a productive use of your time. Unless of course it is for pure enjoyment, and then I say go for it!
Step Two: Find a Minor Detail you can Spin into a Plot
After you choose a season, you're going to need to figure out where your show fits. You have two main options. One you can make a prologue episode or you can write a 'between' episode that fits between episodes 3 and 4 or 12 and 13, etc. I personally feel like the prologue episode is a copout. You don't have to show that you watched more than the first episode and you can develop all sorts of characters besides the ones in the actual series. So I went with option number two.
Option number two is a lot harder! But, I think it is a lot more fun because it was like a puzzle. Especially in a show like Nancy Drew which is serialized (each episode builds off of the previous one) it felt like there was no room for an extra story. I needed to do some investigating to find my in!
ENTER 38 PAGES OF NOTES!
See! I knew I wasn't crazy... or I guess I am just glad that I didn't waste all that time while I was watching the series. From looking at the notes, I realized that most episodes started right off from the last one like dominos; however, I found that episode 10 and episode 11 were not as closely linked. A possibility for a show in-between? Sure. As long as then I could carve out a story...
So the next thing I had to find was any little detail that the show writer's left hanging or didn't feel like was important enough to continue. Luckily for me, episode ten had just the thing. I latched onto it, made sure it never came back anywhere in the series, and then developed the plot. The following will contain SPOILERS for Nancy Drew: Season 1, so be warned!
In Episode 10, Ryan Hudson finds and keeps a Grecian urn which could incriminate his family in the sinking of the Bony Scott. In Episode 11, Lisbeth arrests Everett Hudson for the crime through a sting operation—one that doesn't include the urn. The show never mentions the urn again, at least in season one (remember I haven't watched season two). Now, I have an object, and I know Roman coins have activated lots of spirits from episode 7. From there, I am off to the races. My episode explains the importance of this particular urn and explains why the sting happened rather than Ryan using the urn as blackmail.
Note: After I finish editing the script, and submit to the fellowship, I will post the script so you can see how it turned out!
Step Three: Plotting it Out
Most writers have heard the plotter vs. pantsers argument. Some people work it out ahead and others like to just start writing and see where it takes them. I'm not here to say anyone's writing process is better than anyone else. Personally I love plotting, it just might be my favorite part because it is like a puzzle I am piecing together. And as a person who uses her GPS frequently in the city she lives in, having a road map in writing makes me feel comfortable. It's not like I never go off roading, my characters often "misbehave", but I like to know the destination I am trying to get to. Stephen King, on the other hand, pants it out and seems to be pretty successful...
All I can do is share my experience of what works for me, and that is plotting. So, how do I plot? Well, I am a huge fan of the physical board. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE technology. My father started me young, and I use it constantly in my teaching. But when I am in the early creative stages, there is just something about physically writing things down.
In my perfect world, I would have a giant cork board like they have in school classrooms. This cork board would act as my plotting haven; however, I don't have one of those so, with the help of my parents, I designed a second best option. It is a piece of plywood, covered with butcher paper, and I use lined sticky notes as my 'notecards'. I love this system. The sticky notes allow me to move scenes around as I figure out their correct place in the story. Often I know what important scenes I need to include, but it isn't until I am working on the board that I figure out how it all fits together. Like I said, it feels like a puzzle to me!
I made a digital version of my 'board' below. Those of you who like to work on the computer, make a copy. Those of you who want a physical board can use this as an outline of how to make one of your own. I established my plotting design after studying Save the Cat and K.M. Weiland, who writes the awesome Helping Writers Become Authors blog. It helps me hit the important steps in my stories, but yours will probably shift as you make it your own! Totally okay, and totally acceptable.
Click here for google docs version of the plotting board!