How to write a script to a teenage sitcom

Maybe you’re an aspiring comedy writer or maybe you have a school project to complete. Either way, writing a 30-minute sitcom script is not as hard as you would think. As in any story, a sitcom episode has to have a well-thought out plot with well-conceived characters. It will also be important to learn how to write your script in the proper format.

Step 1

Create a cast of characters. When creating new characters it is important to know everything about them — how they look, how they talk, what makes them funny, what they do for a living, what quirks they have and what sorts of things are they likely to say. For a sitcom, it is advisable to create between four and eight main characters who will appear in every episode.

Step 2

Plot out the story lines in your script. Sitcoms, minus the commercials, are typically 22 minutes long. Thus, a sitcom script is generally between 25 and 40 pages long. Every sitcom episode has a main plot (story A), as well as one or two subplots (stories B and C). Sitcoms usually have three main acts (divided by two commercial breaks), as well as a teaser scene in the beginning. Make sure that the problems or challenges of stories A, B and C are wrapped up or have some conclusion by the end of the third act.

Step 3

Buy or download a scriptwriting program or template such as Final Draft or the Screenwright screenplay formatting template. Both programs provide directions on where your margins should be, where the dialogue goes and where your stage directions, scene headings and character descriptions go in the script. Start each scene heading with either “INT.” for a scene taking place indoors, or “EXT.” for a scene taking place outdoors. Indicate where the scene is taking place and the time of day. Write the entire scene heading in caps and separate all of the information using a dash. For example, INT. JOE’S APARTMENT — LIVING ROOM — DAY. Tab down two lines and describe what’s currently happening and which characters are in the scene. For instance, Jack and Jill are chatting at a local café or are sitting in a park having a picnic. All of your scenes must start with a scene heading.

Step 4

Write the teaser of your script. The teaser typically consists of one or two introductory scenes that get people interested in your program and that will make them want to stick around for the whole half hour. The teaser scenes can be stand-alone (having no connection to plots A, B or C) or can be the start of one of your three main plots. The title sequence, show title or a commercial break generally follows after the teaser.

Step 5

Write acts 1 and 2 of your script, which should consist of three to five scenes in each act. In act one you will start each of your two or three plots by presenting a character or various characters with a problem, challenge or obstacle (i.e. a character might think she’s pregnant, another character is wants to break up with his annoying girlfriend who is also his boss while another character needs to find a job). Act 2 will see a continuation of plots A, B and C and show the characters’ progress in overcoming those problems or obstacles. The final scene in acts 1 and 2 should feature some sort of twist or added complication that will leave the audience engaged and make them want to wait through the commercial break to see what happens in the next act.

Step 6

Write Act 3 of your script, which features the resolution to all of your main story lines. For example, one character will find out the results of her pregnancy test, another one successfully breaks up with his girlfriend, and another character finds a job.

Keep the dialogue in your script funny. The greatest element of a sitcom is the comedic moments that come from the dialogue and actions of the characters.

Have as many people read your script as you can and have them each offer you feedback. This can help you learn what your writing strengths and weaknesses are and how to improve the script overall.

Caren Kennedy

  • 25 May 2012

Synopsis. Summary. Two words capable of striking fear into the hearts of even the most hardened and experienced of screenwriters. Now why is that? Because more often than not a writer has less than five minutes flat, sometimes less, to sell an idea complete with storyline, setting and characters.

What happens when you visit a book store? You cruise shelves and if a cover, title or author’s name catches your eye, you grab the book and scan the blurb on the back. One of three things happens next. Either the book gets returned and you move on or, if it seems interesting, if it poses a question you want answered, then you’ll thumb pages and read excerpts. It might even end up coming home with you.

The purpose of the synopsis in television is exactly the same. It’s what writers use to try and sell their ideas. For although you may have a clear picture in their head about what your story is all about, unless you can communicate this idea, complete with the storyline, characters and situation, using circa less than 500 sparkling words, then that is exactly where your idea remain … dead and buried in your head.

At the initial pitch, whether in writing or in person, a writer has one minute – two at the outside – to sell an idea. It doesn’t matter how amazing this idea is, if the writer can’t capture a script editor’s attention, he will never be seduced into reading or listening further. However, if the synopsis seems interesting, suggests depth, and seems like a practical yet exciting proposition, then a script editor might be enticed into taking the idea further.

To do this, the synopsis should answer some of the possible questions going through a script editor’s mind, such as:

  • What is this story about? Meaning where is the comedy or drama?
  • What sort of characters are involved?
  • Where does the action take place?
  • How much will it cost to make?
  • Who’d want to watch it?
  • Do I want to hear more?

Distilling an idea into a few short sentences involves re-writing and yet more re-writing. The language used must be concise, vibrant and evocative. Every single word must perform a function or be cut. Ruthlessly. Newspaper legend Joseph Pulitzer summed up the essence of succinct powerful writing in one 34-word quote:

Put it to them briefly, so they will read it;

clearly, so they will appreciate it;

picturesquely, so they will remember it;

and, above all, accurately, so they will be guided by its light.

Some writers say condensing a complex plot down to few short paragraphs is impossible. But it can be done. It must be done. There’s no way round it if you want to make a career out of writing for television. And the only way to learn is to practise and to keep on practising.

A good exercise to try is after watching a show, be it comedy or drama, write a summary of what happened. Keep going over it until the summary has that essential ingredient … it tempts the reader to keep on reading. Read it aloud and if you stumble over a word or a phrase go back and edit.

If doubts begin to creep in as you do this, always remember writing for television is rewriting. Four Weddings and a Funeral, a Channel 4 co-funded project, went through 17 re-writes before hitting the screen. It takes numerous edits to achieve clarity in a synopsis without losing the sizzle factor … the thing that spurred you into plonking your bottom down and writing up your idea in the first place.

However, when you get to a point where you can close your eyes and see your story playing out in your head without feeling the need to grab a pen, make changes or explain anything, you’ll have it nailed.

For more about Caren visit …

Writing under the name of ‘Caren Kennedy’, Elizabeth is the creator of a scripted television comedy drama series optioned by JJ Abrams (Star Wars) and Warner Brothers TV (2007 – 2014) and co-author of Fake Alibis (BenBella Books, 2009). In 2015, she won a place on the RED ROCK Writers Academy (funded by Screen Training Ireland and the BAI) where she underwent intensive training on writing for television with John Yorke, former head of Channel Four Drama. This included completing a shadow / trial script and she began writing for TV3’s RED ROCK drama series in 2016 (Season 3, 2017).

Elizabeth is also book editor with Cyberscribe.ie, online writing tutor with The Inkwell Group, and active member of Arts Council Ireland sponsored ‘Writers in Prisons’ scheme. She is currently working on completing her first screenplay, Tough Love, an extract of which came runner-up in the Linen Press 2015 ‘New Beginnings’ Competition for its: multiple layers, depth, political backdrop, vibrant and rich dialogue. Other writing credits include local, national, and international publications.

She is a full member of Writers Guild of Ireland and is represented in the US by Vamnation Entertainment.

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How to Write a Puppet Script. Writing puppet scripts for children can be a challenge, but it can also be fun. Sometimes children are hard to please, but if you write skits that you believe are entertaining and interesting chances are your audience will too. The following steps will help you create a puppet script.

Things You’ll Need:

  • Puppets
  • An Idea

Know your audience and know what you can or cannot write about. If your skit will be put on in a church, make your skit about Biblical principles and so forth. If your skit will be put on in front of an organization run by the government or in a government building you may not be allowed to use religious beliefs in your skit.

Know the characters that will be in your play. Look at what you have to work with and write your script around that. Pick a main character (protagonist) from among the puppets you have in your selection.

Choose a bad guy (an antagonist) who will make life hard for your hero. When choosing this character, which can be a boy, girl or animal, make sure it is one that is believable in appearance. For example, don’t choose a sweet looking little boy to be your villain.

Come up with a plot. Along with who your character is, you need to know what your play is about, where it is happening and what is wrong. Your character must desire something, but is unable to get it for some reason.

Come up with some humor. Children love slapstick humor and lots of animation. Make it fun and exaggerate everything to the hilt.

Practice your skit with your puppets. Check out their expressions as you go through the play which will give you inspiration. Use improvisation as you go and write down any new ideas or dialogue that comes to you in this process.

Try to avoid preachy language or longwinded dialogue. Make your skit full of action and try not to let the scenes in your script be stagnate. The most important rule in creating a puppet skit is to make it fun and enjoyable.

Make you characters distinctive and exaggerate their flaws or features. Name your characters according to their quirks. For example, Jolly Ginger laughs a lot, or you can not please Mr. Grumpy. Incorporate music into your play if possible, especially at the beginning and at the end. Print your skit so it is readable to those performing it. Design the outline in a script format and make the names of the characters in large capital letters.

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A television show idea that is written out without being put in script form is called a treatment. It’s a long synopsis that summarizes everything that will happen within an episode, and it’s written in prose form with little to no dialogue. Writing a television treatment before writing a script is advisable because you can read it like a story and see if it works before you spend time and energy completing a full script. A television treatment can also be useful when you try to sell a concept. These tips will show you how to write a television treatment.

Create an outline of your television show idea. Try to break it up into acts with distinct breaks for the commercials. Leave each of these breaks on a cliffhanger that will make the audience want more.

Write the title at the top of the page in quotation marks. Two lines down, type the author “By: ” centered on the page so it falls under the title. Skip two lines. Start at the left side of the page, and do not indent your paragraphs.

Set up the opening scene. It should be the first thing readers see so they can instantly get into the story. Describe things in the present tense so that the treatment reads as if it was happening just as the reader gets to it on the page. The first time you mention a character, capitalize his first name. Then add a comma, his age and a brief physical description so the reader can visualize him.

Describe the actions of the story–i.e., the key points that continue the plot and push things along. You can leave out the smaller filler items and dialogue. Include only key lines that change the story or become a catchphrase or common theme that propels things along and brings elements together later on.

Write each act in equal parts. If you’re writing a four-page treatment then act one should be one page, act two should be about two pages and act three should be one page long. This is because the first act is 30 pages, the second 60 pages and the third another 30 pages. Keep the treatment as even as possible so the story seems to stay on the same flow time wise and makes sense to the reader.

Read the treatment aloud after you’ve written it and listen to how it sounds. You want it to read like a story stripped of all the adjectives, descriptive language and details that can make a book run on so long. Make sure you explain all the key story elements. Make corrections or changes as necessary.

Keep your paragraphs relatively short so they are easy to read.