Random notes from the Shonda Rhimes Masterclass

One of our readers recently took Shonda's outstanding online masterclass.  Here are some of the helpful tips and invaluable writing lessons that jumped off the page while our reader was taking notes during the class. (Shonda Rhimes is a television producer, screenwriter, and author best known as the creator and showrunner of the television medical drama Grey's Anatomy, its spin-off Private Practice, and the political thriller series Scandal. She has also served as the executive producer of the ABC television series Off the Map, How to Get Away with Murder, and The Catch. )


"WRITE STORY AROUND CHARACTERS -- not the other way around..."


"Characters are people with needs. Be emotionally honest; reward the audience and they will follow..."


"Cut things that don't affect the plot or character -- kill those 'witty moments' you think you need (but you actually don't)."


"Read the pilot scripts for series you like.  Count the pages in each act; identify the act breaks; feel the pacing, etc."


"ACT BREAKS need to be natural from planted seeds; don't force them."


WHAT GETS CUT THE MOST FROM SCRIPTS? "Mostly stuff in acts 1 & 2 -- the setups you thought you needed. Don't over explain."


"Think about the script in terms of the series -- don't give it all away too soon."


IN THE PILOT FOR SCANDAL -- "...Quinn is the audience; she was created to ask questions."


"Use each character's individual skills to solve a problem..."


"...when in doubt, add a BABY to the pilot..." (Hey, it's been a very successful trick for her!)


STARTING A SCENE: (Much like Aaron Sorkin said) "Best to come in mid-conversation in a scene."


"Don't have people who know each other talk like strangers just so they can spout exposition."


"Don't have characters talk about themselves as they're not reliable; not 100% honest"


"TV series are about characters... Characters are defined by their choices..."


"Don't send a character to the moon if they wouldn't go there naturally..."


"Avoid clichés; make clever choices. Use reversals effectively"


"END OF ACT 4: the 'all seems lost' moment!"


WHEN WRITING THE SECOND EPISODE OF A NEW SERIES: "...reiterate the premise; don't change the pilot. The audience wants and needs to trust you."


"Fulfill the promise of the premise that you made to the audience."


"The audience should be able to skip episodes and still be able to follow the series."


"Use every idea you have each season."


"If you plant it, pay it off! EXAMPLE: If you show a gun you better fire it."


"BE VERSATILE -- and evolve your show. Maybe each season is a 'newer version' of the original pilot; think evolution."


BREAKING INTO THE INDUSTRY... "Take the film job over film school -- film school is too expensive these days"


"When working any job in Hollywood, a great attitude will take you far."


“Network with your peers; these are future industry decision makers."


"When asking someone to read your script -- give it to them blind. No logline; no explanation."


WORKING IN A WRITERS ROOM: "Have an original voice and an opinion."


“Don't write specs; write original material.  Show no fear, and be willing to fight for your opinion.”


“Always be ready with ideas. Don't be mute - or talk too much. Find a balance."


"Your pitches are always based around CHARACTER!"


“‘WRITING’ IS THE ONLY JOB YOU CAN DO WHERE NO ONE HAS TO HIRE YOU FIRST."

--- END OF RAW NOTES ---

The notes above are just scratching the surface of what you'll learn. Check out the online course here!

Want more? Check out our review of the Aaron Sorkin Masterclass here!