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How to Write a 30-Minute Sitcom Script

by Dan Richter, Demand Media

    Maybe you’re an aspiring comedy writer or maybe you have a school project to complete. Either way, writing a 30-minute sitcom script is not as hard as you would think. As in any story, a sitcom episode has to have a well-thought out plot with well-conceived characters. It will also be important to learn how to write your script in the proper format.

    Items you will need

    • Scriptwriting software or template
    Step 1

    Create a cast of characters. When creating new characters it is important to know everything about them -- how they look, how they talk, what makes them funny, what they do for a living, what quirks they have and what sorts of things are they likely to say. For a sitcom, it is advisable to create between four and eight main characters who will appear in every episode.

    Step 2

    Plot out the story lines in your script. Sitcoms, minus the commercials, are typically 22 minutes long. Thus, a sitcom script is generally between 25 and 40 pages long. Every sitcom episode has a main plot (story A), as well as one or two subplots (stories B and C). Sitcoms usually have three main acts (divided by two commercial breaks), as well as a teaser scene in the beginning. Make sure that the problems or challenges of stories A, B and C are wrapped up or have some conclusion by the end of the third act.

    Step 3

    Buy or download a scriptwriting program or template such as Final Draft or the Screenwright screenplay formatting template. Both programs provide directions on where your margins should be, where the dialogue goes and where your stage directions, scene headings and character descriptions go in the script. Start each scene heading with either “INT.” for a scene taking place indoors, or “EXT.” for a scene taking place outdoors. Indicate where the scene is taking place and the time of day. Write the entire scene heading in caps and separate all of the information using a dash. For example, INT. JOE’S APARTMENT -- LIVING ROOM -- DAY. Tab down two lines and describe what’s currently happening and which characters are in the scene. For instance, Jack and Jill are chatting at a local café or are sitting in a park having a picnic. All of your scenes must start with a scene heading.

    Step 4

    Write the teaser of your script. The teaser typically consists of one or two introductory scenes that get people interested in your program and that will make them want to stick around for the whole half hour. The teaser scenes can be stand-alone (having no connection to plots A, B or C) or can be the start of one of your three main plots. The title sequence, show title or a commercial break generally follows after the teaser.

    Step 5

    Write acts 1 and 2 of your script, which should consist of three to five scenes in each act. In act one you will start each of your two or three plots by presenting a character or various characters with a problem, challenge or obstacle (i.e. a character might think she’s pregnant, another character is wants to break up with his annoying girlfriend who is also his boss while another character needs to find a job). Act 2 will see a continuation of plots A, B and C and show the characters’ progress in overcoming those problems or obstacles. The final scene in acts 1 and 2 should feature some sort of twist or added complication that will leave the audience engaged and make them want to wait through the commercial break to see what happens in the next act.

    Step 6

    Write Act 3 of your script, which features the resolution to all of your main story lines. For example, one character will find out the results of her pregnancy test, another one successfully breaks up with his girlfriend, and another character finds a job.

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    Tips

    • Keep the dialogue in your script funny. The greatest element of a sitcom is the comedic moments that come from the dialogue and actions of the characters.
    • Have as many people read your script as you can and have them each offer you feedback. This can help you learn what your writing strengths and weaknesses are and how to improve the script overall.

    About the Author

    Dan Richter began freelance writing in 2006. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the "Wausau Daily Herald," "Stevens Point Journal," "Central Wisconsin Business Magazine" and the "Iowa City Press-Citizen." Richter graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in communication and media studies.

    Photo Credits

    • Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

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