So you’ve begun a TV or web series and you’re desperate to write episodes that aren’t derivative crap.
As classic as certain sitcoms and animated series are, you’d like something that doesn’t involve an evil twin, a switcheroo or an incident of amnesia.
Or maybe you’re open to these things but you just don’t want it to be cliché.
Writer rooms are a haven for people to bounce ideas off of one another until they come up with something the showrunner or producers like.
If you really want to wow your colleagues, actors or your audience, a fresh approach to unlocking episode ideas is crucial. Here are three ways.
1. Examine various plot types
From adventure to metamorphosis, and discovery to descension, all plots are not made equal. Some plots will unearth certain challenges, adversaries, solutions and heroes. Certain plots call for certain actions and consequences, and are tailored for certain characters.
Plot types are often observed in movies and classic literature, but there’s no doubt you can use them for your episode ideas. As a matter of fact, you probably are using them and don’t know it.
If you take a look at the episodes you’ve already written, they fall in a certain type of story and will require a certain conclusion based on the character the story is centered around.
You could also take the ideas you have now and filter them through the various plot types that exist for a whole new story.
People label these archetypal plots differently, but Ronald Tobias has a list of twenty. They are: Quest, Adventure, Pursuit, Rescue, Escape, Revenge, The Riddle, Rivalry, Underdog, Temptation, Metamorphosis, Transformation, Maturation, Love, Forbidden Love, Sacrifice, Discovery, Wretched Excess, Ascension and Descension.
2. Use character traits to dictate conflict
Your characters are the lifeblood of your show. They may be admirable or sinister, but the most important thing is that they are not perfect. With perfect characters, there isn’t any conflict. If there isn’t any conflict, there’s no plot or story or show.
There is something flawed or incomplete about your characters. It’s no different than people in real life. You watch how they get into their problems and hijinks while they are dumbstruck that the same things keep happening to them.
That’s because that is simply how they are. They are imbued with a trait that they cannot see as separate from themselves.
Mike is a womanizer and as a result he triggers the ire of feminists. Sabrina is depressed and in an attempt to get rid of that state of being, she will do things that not only fail to solve her problem, but exacerbate it.
There are various ways for these characters to express their dark side and these can easily be turned into episodes for your show.
3. Have the end of your show in mind
If you are writing a serialized show rather than an episodic one, the episodes of your show should take your audience on the journey from episode one of season one to the series finale.
This allows you to write episodes that lead you to the eventual conclusion you have in mind for your show.
Now, this could be daunting because you have to figure out everything from the beginning. But it gives you direction. If you want to get from point A to point E, you know you have to get to points B, C and D first.
So if you have something you want your audience to learn or something you want a character to experience, having the end in mind illuminates the path to your destination.