From Shonda Rhimes's MasterClass

Developing the Concept

Show titles, story bibles, tone, structure - Shonda walks you through how to take your idea and turn it into a fully-fleshed out concept.

Topics include: An Idea vs. a Premise • Story Bibles • Show Titles • Structure and Tone


Show titles, story bibles, tone, structure - Shonda walks you through how to take your idea and turn it into a fully-fleshed out concept.

Topics include: An Idea vs. a Premise • Story Bibles • Show Titles • Structure and Tone

Shonda Rhimes

Teaches Writing for Television

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Here's the difference between an idea and a premise. An idea is, what if I wrote a show about gangsters? A premise is, really, filling that out. It's, what if I wrote a show about modern day gangsters who lived in New Jersey, and that gangster went to see a therapist on a weekly basis, because they had problems? The Sopranos. That's the difference between an idea and a premise. And, I think that makes it really clear, because the more specific the idea is, the more it becomes a premise. That's a good way to think about it. Really, you're taking an idea, you're sort of honing in on it. You're thinking, I want to do a show about surgeons. I want to do a show about surgical interns. I want to do a show about female surgical interns, and how hard it is to be them. I'd love to do a show about female friendship while they're surgical interns. They need to be competitive. A woman whose mother was a famous surgeon, and what's that like to have that as your history, and then you're struggling to live up to something. The more specific you become as you think about who the characters are, and what the world is, the better it can be. Anybody can say, I want to do a medical show, but you have to do a medical show that's about something very specific, in order to make it an original idea. I want to do a show about astronauts, yes, but that's not the same as wanting to do a show about a very specific piece of that. Think about journalism. Who, what, why, when, where, and how? If you can't answer those questions, you don't have anything to talk about yet. You really need to be able to say the who, and the what, and the why, and the when, and the where, and the how. And, as well, what are the central conflicts? What do the characters need? What do they want? What are they searching for? You should be able to tell somebody your premise in a couple of sentences, and have it be able to be clearly stated, so that they can understand it. I want to do a show about competitive surgical interns, at the center of which is Meredith Gray, a woman who is hiding the fact that her mother has Alzheimer's. You really want to be able to be concise, so that when you're telling your story, you know what you're talking about. If you don't know what you're talking about, no one else will, either. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think when you're developing a story-- I don't necessarily think of it as, there needs to be this character, this structure, it has to be this genre. I don't think of it that specifically. I mostly-- and I think that it's more organic this way-- I mostly try to think, who am I telling a story about, and what story am I telling? I look at it that way, and I really try to make sure I can tell a story. I don't know if that's helpful, but, for me, everything is about the journey of the character. Who is this person? What journey are th...

Make Great Television

When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she got so nervous she had to start over. Twice. Since then, she has created and produced TV’s biggest hits. In her screenwriting class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, and stand out in the writers’ room. You’ll also get original pilot scripts, pitch notes, and series bibles from her shows. Welcome to Shondaland.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

absolutely fantastic. I loved listening and in a strange way felt invited to believe in my creativity . I understood there is no right or wrong way but just a way. truly thank you

This has been a HUGE help. I really needed that expert advice on how to get the ball rolling. As a first-time script writer, this has gotten me to where I need to be to feel the most confident with my writing.

inspired me with dialog and listening and writing everyday

I have learned tactics of TV drama and i will try to implement in my writing. Thanks Shonda Rhimes for your valuable thoughts......


Purity R.

SO HELPFUL. I know this doesn't mean Im technically able to do it, but what i do know is I feel like a kid again LOL Remember spinning around hecka fast till you get dizzy? Im spinning Ma'am. Thank you! - P.R.

Silvia P.

Is not possible to download the refference material. It seems to have an error.

A fellow student

this was helpful because often times i found myself writing too soon and then going back to change character roles and situations the story bible allows me to be even more creative and in depth i am able to disect the hurricane of thoughts in my head and organize them visually

Matthew G.

I love this chapter solely because as human beings we have the tendency to be attached to certain ideas, names, titles, and so forth. Being able to develop a story (through a story bible) and STILL not have a title or some character names down is reassuring to the extent of when you are pitching an idea, you don't have to know absolutely everything about your story, including the title and some character names. Personally, that's beautiful.


I love the way she is so precise. So far, I am happy to be on the right track. Even though I have been writing a long time, the format and process for today's television viewing seems new to me.

A fellow student

I'm not able to view the video. I can hear the lesson but I'm not able to view it.

ernest C.

should all of the characters have a purpose or should the main character in a scene be the one with MAIN PURPOSE?

Stephen P.

She is so helpful! For once a MasterClass that doesn’t just say there’s no rules. She does say that but she guides you in the right direction.

A fellow student

Loving the course so far, but the link to download the Story Bible is broken (as others have pointed out). I have put in a ticket with support to notify them of the problem and they are working on it. But if this link or any other in the course does not work for you, please contact their 24 hour support team (they're very fast!) and ask them to email you the missing file(s). I did, and had the Story Bible in under five minutes. Now that's great customer service!

Mikaylynn W.

I think this was my favorite lesson so far. I honestly love the development part of writing and coming up with ideas, and characters. I took down so many notes and this will be the lesson I will probably revisit often.