Crafty TV writing requires you to know some of the tricks of the TV writing. You can’t just put together a bunch of stories and plots and hope it’s going to get things done. Sure, it may look like that’s what even the dullest shows do, but there’s a reason they made it onto the air, a reason that their pilot was green light.
One of the most counter-intuitive crafty TV writing tricks you’ll need to learn is to never truly give the audience what they want. That’s not what they’re looking for. Even comedy shows need to create tension, however light, to create the sense that things are progressing. A show that lacks tension is a boring show and if you keep resolving things with, say, a happy ending, there won’t be any tension.
Crafty TV writing involves giving them just a little taste of what they want, then taking it all away. Let us examine it according to a comedy – usually, the tension here comes from the beginning of a romantic relationship between two characters. Take a look at Ross and Rachel, the iconic “Will they or won’t they” couple of the 90s to the early 2000s. The audience is constantly teased by the promise of them getting together. Crafty TV writing is knowing when to let it happen and when to tear it apart. Do it properly and it will seem perfectly organic and will force the question “How will it happen now?” Do it wrong and you will not be able to sell your script.
Crafty TV writing also involves the use of foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is the act of implying a future event without clearly defining the future event. Done properly, it creates interest in future episodes and can bring the writing of a show together. Done improperly, it will seem phony and it will make the show predictable, killing the tension once more. The best way to handle foreshadowing is to do it as lightly as possible.
Even the slightest hints will seem sharp and in focus the moment the event actually occurs – just be sure that the hints are “accurate” yet unnoticeable. Have something that links the events, or by foreshadowing through music, a cut, or dialogue. Once the event occurs, you will have people thinking back to that once innocent moment and understanding the organization and development of your screenplay, which is truly craft TV writing.