How to Outline Your Spec Pilot Script

One of the best ways to break into the television industry as a scriptwriter is with a strong spec pilot script. A great idea for an original television series and a strong spec pilot script can open a lot of doors for you. Even if nobody ends up buying your pilot script, you could easily find work as a scriptwriter for someone else's television series. But like all scripts, your spec script must begin with a strong outline.

Before you begin your pilot script outline, you must have a strong idea of what happens in your pilot script and how many characters will be in it. Decide how many acts will be in your script and whether it will be an hour long or half hour show. Get copies of television scripts that are already on the air so you can compare your structure to theirs.

Outlines for hour-long drama scripts can be anywhere from 7 - 10 pages long. Structure the outline into the appropriate number of acts and make sure you're pacing your main plot story and subplots evenly throughout each act. Be sure to include cliffhanger endings at the end of every act and something compelling at the beginning of every act. The stories shouldn't get resolved until the very end of your outline.

To begin your spec script outline, start with a cold open (also called teaser), which comes at the very beginning of your pilot script - and before the opening credits. This is a great place to introduce your main character(s) and set the tone for the entire series.

Every scene in your pilot script outline should have its own paragraph. Start the paragraph with a word or two about where the scene takes place. Then describe who's in the scene and what happens. Include snippets of dialogue if it helps the reader imagine the scene better. Here's an example:

Cove Neck, suburban Long Island. Julie pulls her minivan into the driveway of her home with Harry in the front seat next to her. He's dumbstruck at the sight of the huge house and rolling lawn. Julie acts awkward around him; "Before the accident, I think we both said things we regretted. Let's start over - okay?" She looks at him lovingly - the reality of her husband waking up from his coma is just sinking in: "I thought we lost you." She lunges to hug Harry but he shoves her away.

Once you really love your television script outline, show it to other writers and get their feedback. Ask them whether the plot lines were clear, whether the characters were interesting, and whether the story kept their attention. Keep rewriting your television script outline until the answers to all these questions is 'yes.'

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