TV WRITING TIPS & TRICKS: Storylines – How to Create Narrative Stretch By: Yvonne Grace

Here’s the storyline check list – a long running narrative must have:

bookcover front tv book1. Text

2. Story Engine

3. Subtext

4. Resonance

5. Make Connections

6. Explore Character

7. Message

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The components of a good story are not immediately obvious to all writers all of the time.

In my experience; sitting around a Story Conference Table of a long runner with a block of episodes to fill does not guarantee against a writer mistakenly pitching what they think is a story line, but what, under the inevitable analysis that ensues, is in fact an idea; a sequence of moments; an event with no outcome or resonance.

stepping-stones (1)Series storylines have to go somewhere and carry with them a certain amount of dramatic baggage to travel the distance.

So, given that quality storylines are the one, pure, unadulterated MUST HAVE in any long running television drama; here is a Storyline Wish List I compiled during those sleep-deprived years of Drama Production, and I still mentally refer to this list in my consultations with my Script Advice writers.

Quality storylines for a long-running series must have:

* Text – the story needs to be about something; say something. Even if it is not a plot-driven story (eg: the collapse of a business enterprise) but more of a character-driven story (eg: the collapse of a marriage following a car accident).

* A strong story engine. What keeps the narrative running through the episodes? What or Who is driving the story and why and how are they doing this?

* Solid Subtext. Paramount importance in relation to Text, this is the under-tow, the shadow cast by the plotline and the motivator of character. Subtext gives all stories essential resonance.

* Resonance. Does this story have an impact? Visual? Emotional? Psychological? The storyline needs to be able to vibrate throughout the episode and beyond; the audience needs to feel and see that ripple effect.

* A good series storyline needs to engender connections with other storylines. So the storyline knits itself into the fabric of the episode, via its interaction with other story strands.

For me, quality long-form narrative is all about this knit; the way the storylines in the dramatic world we see unfolding on our screens; weave, move, interact and contrast with each other.

* The storyline needs to express but also explore the character/s involved in it.

* It needs to carry a message – it needs to deliver a textual (this is what happens from A – B) as well as a sub textual message (this is what you are left thinking about when the story finishes)

Prime examples of Series storylining excellence over here in Blighty?

Cucumber – Russell T Davies (just finishing on air over here) Blindingly original, clever, emotive, immediate and relentlessly polishing the character subtext episode after episode.

Shameless – Paul Abbot (the earlier series are better) Again, a mould breaker when it first aired on C4 in 2004. Crude, character-ful, story-packed, naughty, funny and sad in equal measure.

As writers, we all know that the guaranteed way of achieving on-screen Story Narnia, is by honing the storyline at the planning stage.

Here’s the storyline check list – a long running narrative must have:

bookcover front tv book1. Text

2. Story Engine

3. Subtext

— See more at:


My favourite Series in terms of  storylining strength from the U.S?

Well, anything (literally; I would watch this man’s shopping list come to life if he had penned it) by Aaron Sorkin but most significantly for me of late;

The News Room. The opening sequence of the first episode is nothing short of sublime.

The Good Wife. Stylish, sassy, exactly what the U.S does best in the eyes of a Brit; caustic, witty, pacey and just very, very good.

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