As a screenwriter who is always trying to perfect her craft, I have read numerous books by people who profess to have mastered the art. The TV Writer's Handbook by Ellen Sandler, published by Delta Books (Bantam 286 pages, $15.00) is one of the best books for the business both for novice and established writers who want to better their writing. Most of what she says in the book applies both to TV and film writing, although there are some chapters geared especially to those trying to break into TV.
Her launch party at the Writer's Store (2040 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA ) on Saturday, March 31st was a sell out to standing room only. Hey it was a free seminar. Ellen focused on dialogue dos and don'ts like not putting too much exposition into your words or ways to hide it, if you have to have it in there. She also talked about how to punch up dialogue and make it shorter, to hide exposition by turning it into a joke (the goal of almost every script.)
Each chapter has exercises to strengthen your ability as a writer even if you think you're already good. It goes both into questions beginning writers have as well as hints for polishing the script. She breaks down TV scripts and gives you instructions on not only how to plot the story that will earn you a notice but how to make sure it is in tune with the show that you are trying to write for. What and who do you need in your scenes. Remember the show is about one central character and everything has to be from that view point.
After reading her first chapter I realized why my spec CSI script failed -- because I had introduced characters that were new and I had been concentrating on the story and not on the characters. I also learned how to repair it. Even though I think I'm a pretty good screenwriter, this gave me tips on how to deepen my characters and make my dialogue more quirky.
She also addresses in her book contacting people in the industry, doing pitches, dealing with agents, and working with showrunners. She gives examples of how to address your query letters and the importance of not acting as if you know what you are doing when you clearly do not.
A former co-executive producer of Everyone Loves Raymond, Ellen received an Emmy nomination for her work on the show. She has also written for Coach and created pilots for all the major and minor studios. She is currently at work on one now.
As a result Ellen developed Sandler, Ink, a consulting company that helps with script development and career coaching. She teaches at UCLA's Writers Program, Screenwriting Expo, and is a highly sought-after speaker. She does private counseling as well and can be reached through her company Sandler, Ink (www.SandlerInk.com). Many of her students have gone on to successful careers in TV and film.
The Writer's Store (formerly Writer's Computer Store) offers numerous free seminars such as this one and has books to fit any of your writing needs.