Known for wearing signature hats and writing wicked fast dialogue, writer, director, and producer Amy Sherman-Palladino is a force to be reckoned with.
There’s plenty to learn from the creator of Gilmore Girls, Bunheads, and, most recently, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, about crafting the most important elements of story, creating compelling characters, and believing in your own writing.
Fall in Love with Your Story
“I don’t believe you should go into any project with a shot in hell of succeeding if you have a specific zeitgeist desire. It just can’t work. You have to fall in love with your story and what you want to tell people, and live in a world that you’re gonna enjoy for a while, and hope to drag some people along with you.” (Rolling Stone interview)
First and foremost, fall in love with your story. Many writers sink into the trap of trying to deduce what will be “hot” in the upcoming pilot season or predict what kind of shows execs will be interested in ordering to series. As Sherman-Palladino suggests, that’s not the way to do it. Instead, craft characters and a story you truly care about. If you love the story, that passion will come through in your writing and your pitch and be contagious to anyone listening.
What a Story's Really About
“Always make the big small and the small big. It’s not about the plot, it’s about the people… The truth of what the characters are feeling has to be the most important thing you put out there.” (Variety interview)
Never forget that story grows organically from characters. When Amy Sherman-Palladino pitched Gilmore Girls, the pitch was simple: it’s about a mother and daughter who are more like best friends than mother and daughter. The relationship between Lorelai and Rory Gilmore was always central to the series, and every plot and storyline grew out of their characters. While plotlines can get messy and tangled, the truth of the story always comes back to your characters’ universal experiences and emotions.
Create Characters Who Need to Grow
“Sometimes people who have the biggest journey to take are the most interesting characters in the end.” (Rolling Stone interview)
Amy Sherman-Palladino loves Joel. While Midge Maisel’s ex-husband isn’t perfect by any means, that’s what makes him such an appealing character to his creators. Joel has room to learn, grow, and evolve, which makes for a much more interesting and complex character arc. Writers must remember that for any character arc to feel earned, the character has to experience some kind of growth. The journey must feel earned.
Have Some Kind of Plan
“We’ve always made sure that, anything we pitch, we can see at least five years in our heads. If you can’t, there’s nothing worse in life than, “We have a great pilot and then it’s like, now what do we do?” (WGA interview)
You may not know the final four words of your series from the very inception like Sherman-Palladino did with Gilmore Girls, but it’s still crucial to be able to look ahead. While you may only be writing a pilot episode, your concept must have the legs to carry an entire series — whether it be for two seasons or 20. Make sure that your characters have room to change, your storylines have the ability to morph, and your themes can be just as meaningful at episode 100 as they are at episode one. Some kind of plan is better than no plan at all, and just because you have one doesn’t mean you have to stick to it exactly.
Believe in Your Work
“People make terrible mistakes in the fear of being fired. And it’s better to be fired than to compromise on something that is going to destroy what you had in the first place.” (BAFTA Guru interview)
As Sherman-Palladino explains, TV writers are often driven by fear — fear of being fired. The process of creating television is collaborative by nature, which means there are usually too many cooks in the kitchen and notes flying back and forth like stray ingredients in a complicated soup. But as a writer, you have to be fearless. You have to believe in your work enough to step up to bat for it when someone tries to change it. Stick to your guns, stand up for your story, and believe in those words you’ve put on the page.
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