Writing for Television: Lessons from Shonda Rhimes’ MasterClass

By July 12, 2017Main, Screenwriting 101

By: Terri Emerson

Shonda Rhimes never doubted that she could be successful at whatever she wanted to do with her life. She knew she had “to love what she did” and “tell a good story.” Her determination and passion for storytelling has produced popular television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice and How to Get Away With Murder. Her success led her to a point in her career where she became “interested in building the next group of showrunners and the next group of writers.” To those who are interested in writing for television, Shonda Rhimes Writing for Television Masterclass delivers everything it promises.

What seems like a heavily guarded secret is now available for those who would like to pursue television writing as a career. If you are one of these people, after you take Rhimes’ Masterclass you may feel as if you’ve just won the lottery. The course is only $90, which is more of an investment if you’re serious about writing.

No matter where you are on the writer’s journey this class is designed to help you become a successful television writer. Rhimes takes you through the TV pilot writing process, step by step. The class is broken down into 30 easy lessons. Each lesson is 10-20 minutes long. You can view them at your convenience. Also, you can replay them at anytime for review. Each lesson consists of a video of Rhimes teaching a specific writing topic, a pdf copy of the lesson summary, and an activity to help you practice the writing skills you just learned.

If you decide to take the class, you will need to familiarize yourself with Rhimes’ work, specifically, the Grey’s Anatomy pilot, and the Scandal pilot. You will need to watch and read both pilot episodes. You will be provided with a copy of the pilot episode for both TV shows. What you learn from reading and watching Rhimes’ work is invaluable to a writer. There are a multitude of valuable experiences within the class.

Here is what you can expect:Get ready to immerse yourself in television.

Diving into the world of writing for television means you will have to watch television. It’s suggested by Rhimes that you should watch current shows, as well as older shows that were popular throughout history. It’s important to see what works. Having a good handle on television and its history will prepare you for the work you will need to do to be a successful writer.

Learning the process of writing a TV pilot from concept to finished product.

The process of thinking creatively begins immediately and continues throughout the duration of the class. In the first few lessons you will learn how to find ideas for a television show. We follow her process starting with brainstorming and evaluating those ideas and how to choose the best idea for a TV series. Then, you will learn how to develop the concept from start to finish as Rhimes uses specific examples from her own work.

You will be provided with a copy of the TV bible for Grey’s Anatomy, which outlines each episode and each character in detail. You will also learn script structure and the entire process of writing a TV pilot. Rhimes takes you through the process of how to create memorable characters that audiences will want to tune in and watch every week. She also gives advice as to how and when to kill off your characters.

You get a glimpse into the writing room.  

You will be guided through Rhimes’ thought process while she breaks down the Grey’s Anatomy pilot. She goes into more detail when she dissects each of the five acts of the Scandal pilot. She discusses this valuable process with four other writers in a writer’s room. She goes into more detail and explains why she made certain story decisions. Rhimes also elaborates on how to develop specific scenes, dialogue and characters for subsequent episodes.

The importance of character.

Rhimes delves into character and invites us into her thought process regarding character, their reactions, actions, dialogue and motivations. She teaches the writing process involving how characters should interact with one another. She breaks down specific scenes as to how they’re written and the purpose for each scene. Her advice is to “write a story around character.” In a television show characters should change and evolve over time. For the audience a character should seem true and emotionally sensible.

How to break into the industry.

Rhimes encourages and empowers writers throughout the class. She states, “if you can write, someone will hire you.” She does recommend taking your time to hone your craft and write original work. She emphasizes the importance of writing every day, no matter what. If working in a writer’s room may be your dream, it will take a few steps to get there. Rhimes offers tools and sensible advice about how to succeed before you make it to the writer’s room. She explains that you can get noticed if you find ways to be useful, helpful, kind, the first one to arrive, and the last one to leave. After you get into the writer’s room she explains that a writer shouldn’t be afraid to have an original voice in the writer’s room. Don’t be afraid to “speak up and fight for your opinion.”

Insight into the life of a writer.

Rhimes teaches what it’s like to be a writer after you break into the industry. You learn from her what will be expected from you. She often gives advice and encouragement from her own personal experiences such how to tackle the struggle of balancing work and your personal life. She encourages her students to remember, “you belong in any room you enter.”

After you’ve finished the class you can go back and watch at any time. Rhimes invites writers to come back and revisit the class often. Especially when you have a new idea, or get stuck. Her final word of advice after you finish the course is to, “start writing immediately.”

Click here for more information on Shonda Rhimes’ Master Class.

Full Disclosure: While we stand by this review of Master Class wholeheartedly, the links to Master Class in this article are affiliate links and we make a few bucks when you sign up for a class through one of them.  It helps us keep the lights on.  Thank you for your support!