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STORY MAPS: TV Drama: The Structure of the One-Hour Television Pilot (Volume 4) Paperback – March 19, 2016
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About the Author
Daniel P. Calvisi is a story consultant, screenwriter and the author of Story Maps: How to Write a GREAT Screenplay, Story Maps: 12 Great Screenplays, and Story Maps: The Films of Christopher Nolan (with William Robert Rich). He is a former Story Analyst for major studios like Twentieth Century Fox and Miramax Films. He teaches webinars on writing for film and television with The Writers Store and speaks at writing conferences. He holds a degree in Film and Television from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. He lives in Los Angeles. To learn more about Story Maps and how you can work with Dan, visit ActFourScreenplays.com.
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I had not found a clear, usable answer until now. "Story Maps" solved my problem and iIt did so using as examples work with which I was already quite familiar, "Breaking Bad", "Mad Men", "TWD" etc. (The only two pilot examples I had to seek out for a first look were "Scandal" and "Mr Robot").
Using his methods I was able to quickly structure the existing elements of my story into a framework I am not fleshing out with dialogue, etc. and I did so within just a few hours after first opening his book.
I concur with many of the other points being made here by other 5-star reviewers, so I won't repeat those. "Story Maps" is a concise, inexpensive, highly effective solution to a significant challenge. Calvisi delivers exactly what he promises.
for 1-hour dramatic series.
The first titles that I read were those by William Rabkin.. After that, Kindle's recommendation algorithm kicked in and suggested one book after another--about a dozen in all. I came across "Story Maps" about midway through the lot.
With no disrespect intended to any of the other authors, "Story Maps" is, by far, the best of the bunch. Before I explain why, let me give a few thoughts on this genre of books as a whole.
First, it is my very distinct impression that these titles are intended for the aspiring and enthusiastic amateur writer--perhaps recent film school grads and/or writers in other genres, e.g. short stories, film, comedy, or journalism who are looking to break into TV writing. Put another way, such books are probably NOT written for people already working as writers for dramatic series--the assumption being that these folks already (should/do) know most of what is contained in such books.
With that having been said, a somewhat a philosophical/pedagogical question arises: what kind of book on the subject of writing 1-hour TV dramas would best serve the aforementioned enthusiastic amateurs? Based on my many years of teaching graduate and undergraduate students--albeit in very different topics--one important criteria is brevity.
I say this because of one well-known drawback of learning from experts: they have so much too say and often want to teach all that they know. Dan's book doesn't fall prey
to this problem. I didn't do a page count but I'm pretty sure that it's the shortest of all books that I read on the topic. And to be clear: it's brief because it's focused on the essentials--the structure of the 1-hour pilot, just like it says in the subtitle.
A second all-too-common problem of learning from experts is that they rely too much on war stories and colorful anecdotes. It's easy to understand why: war stories--especially those told by professional story tellers--are fun to listen to. And they are no doubt instructive. But they are no substitute for spelling out the conceptual vocabulary of the field and the analytical framework needed to apply the concepts to realistic, instructive examples. And it is here that Story Maps really, really shines. (Would it be too redundant if I said "really" one more time?)
As the title suggests, the books give a a concise description of what the structure of a 1-hour Drama is. That discussion begins in earnest about 35-40% of the way through the book. Leading up to that, a number of important distinctions and definitions are provided--what the core formats are (comedy, dramedy, drama, etc.), the different
kinds of pilot episodes (e.g. premise vs. 3rd episode), and the meaning/ importance of setting, theme, crisis, teaser, arcs, A/B/C stories, etc.
All of the definitions are supported by examples from highly popular and successful shows in very different genres, all created by writers at the top of their respective games. But the listing and defining of the key terms is only the set-up for the real important contribution of this book--the beat sheet that links the terms together and shows how they unfold in a sequence of 4-6 acts over 54-60 pages.
In short, the beat sheet takes the reader step-by-step, from teaser/act one through the finale, showing how the many parts combine to make a "engine" that drives the story forward. Each of several shows is analyzed and used as an example in each section of the beat sheet. This is smart teaching. It allows one to see how the same elements combined in different stories but all to the same effect--a compelling pilot that launched a popular and highly acclaimed series.
It's hard for me to overstate just how well-organized and useful this part of the book is. If you're like me, you'll need to read and study the beat sheet, and practice diligently at the examples. But should you persist, you'll end up with an excellent command of the structure of the TV drama pilot that will serve you very well going forward.
Starling Hunter, Ph.D.