Take Friends and Cougar Town, even shows like Desperate Housewives and Castle.
These shows, like a novel or short story, start with the first season, the first episode; you will find the characters and the setting feel a bit ….well, forced.
Our actors are over-acting as they try to figure our the traits of their characters, there is the back story to be laid out for the viewer, and the reveal of the angst in the protagonists past that motivates them now — which all builds up to the first 4 episodes — this can be a bit of a slog for the viewer to get through. The shows that become great, arguably, have ‘the spark’ right from the start, but those first four shows are where your audience decide if they are going to invest in the characters, their believability and their story.
Now, by the time the fifth show is filmed, the actors are becoming more comfortable with their characters and who they are supposed to be. The backstory has been told and the writer can start cracking jokes and weaving the story they actually wanted to tell in the first place. In the case of a sitcom they have to hit the ground running, cramming in the past, the present and plot points. Once filming has begun there is no going back when they’re six shows in to re-film episode one.
But as the writer we have the time, (and lack of funds) to write, read, edit. Write, read, edit – rinse and repeat – you get the idea.
As writers we often hear the aphorisms ‘show don’t tell’ and ‘less is more’, (btw I think sayings like these are equally right and wrong, depending on what you’re writing.) But we don’t have the first four episodes (chapters) to warm up our readers, we have to get them on the first page to keep them turning.
Some of my work that I’m the most happy with are my flowery, descriptive introductions — I craft and polish, read and edit, in efforts to create the exact opening scene I see in my mind’s eye….
But one of the hardest things I’ve had to teach myself is to leave it alone; once I’ve edited the work to death, I force myself to drawer it, wrap it, box it, attic it; whatever works, but it has to be out of sight for a good fortnight, maybe more. And then, with fresh eyes, I re-read. And, without fail, it’s the introduction that always get cut; the introduction is the self-involved ego of the piece. It’s the fluffy waffle that isn’t giving the reader anything. All those hours; sent to the Archive Bin.
But what can I tell you – writing is hard. And yet in our hoards, we keep coming back for more.
Happy writing folks.