Make A Scene

As you get used to timing, you'll develop a feel for the logical number of characters, sets, and possible scenes in any given show. You can't throw a lot of eggs up in the air to hatch a plot. Your story is really no more than a good excuse for your characters to interact in a humorous sketch.

Scenes usually start off sensibly, but then get silly and end abruptly with a cut to the next scene. M*A*S*H often opened with shots of serious operations; then the banter removed the seriousness.

When you've decided on one or more of your "What if . . ." ideas, expand them into a one-page outline. Then, by yourself or with a collaborator, brainstorm your ideas. How would the characters react? Who would take the lead in resolving them? Who would obstruct action? Why?

Break it down into the various acts and then into the necessary scenes. You only have three sets, so don't jump all over the globe. Your work will be filled with false starts, weak dialogue, and then—finally— sudden brilliance. Think of the rewriting process as a mandatory luxury, probably the only luxury in a writer's life that never seems to end.

It will help if you study as many successful sitcoms as possible. You can find collections of scripts in the libraries of many colleges and universities, particularly those with large drama departments. And if you have a video recorder, tape and analyze some of the many classic sitcoms now in syndication to develop a feel for pacing and a better understanding of how all the elements come together in performance.

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