There's been a meme doing the rounds of UK screenwriting blogs about books on our craft that we rate. Here's another one to add to the list: The TV Writer's Workbook by Ellen Sandler A week or two back Canadian screenwriter and showrunner Alex Epstein wrote in praise of The TV Writer's Workbook by Ellen Sandler. Alex rarely gives poor advice and, since he's authored his own excellent book on the subject [Crafty TV Writing], I ifgured I'd give his recommendation a try. Good call.
There's almost no decent texts about writing for British TV, so wannabes on this side of the Atlantic have to make do with books from North America. These are designed for people trying to break into writing for US or Canadian TV, so there are sections and even whole chapters that aren't applicable for those in the UK. The most notorious difference is the fact it's commonplace for would-be TV scribes in America to write a spec script for an existing show, to demonstrate their abilities to create good stories and dialogue for a pre-created show. Not so in the UK, where speccing an existing show is frowned upon.
In Britain you're expected to demonstrate your voice by creating an original pilot. Chances are, your first jobs will be writing other people's storylines for other people's characters, such as on long-running serials like soaps. Script editors and executive producers will start want you to bring your unique voice, your own take on the world in that script, but the characters must still be true to what's already been established - a trick balancing act to pull off.
Anyway, The TV Writer's Workbook is well worth buying, despite the obvious US-centric elements. As the name implies, it is a workbook designed to arm you with easy to use tools techniques to augment your existing talents. Sandler writes in a friendly, no nonsense style; there's no need to wade through fifty pages of storytelling guru philosophy, nor does she have some dazzling new technique of story structure anaylsis to show down your throat. Sandler's background is sitcoms [she was Emmy-nominated for her work on Everybody Loves Raymond], but her book is about writing TV fiction, not solely comedy. I'll be using this book a lot in the weeks and months to come. Check it out for yourself with this extract.