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Writing

Finding an Idea

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 14:15 min

It all begins with an idea. Shonda reveals her process for finding and assessing ideas, and determining what makes a great idea for a TV series.

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Shonda Rhimes
Teaches Writing for Television
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People always ask, where do your ideas come from? Where do you get your inspiration? And, for me, that is such a crazy question. I don't know how to answer it all the time, and I think it's because my ideas come from everywhere. Your ideas should come from everywhere. They come from a conversation I have with somebody. They'll come from a fight I overhear while standing in a coffee shop. They'll come from-- I'll read some tiny, little thing in an obituary somewhere, and I'll go, oh, that's a funny little detail. It doesn't really matter where they come from. They come from everything. They come from, you're sitting in a park, and you just see the way two people interact. Something sparks something, and that always turns into something completely different. It's not like you get an exact-- you hear an exact sentence from somebody-- and you go, I'm going to write a television show about that. Somebody says something to you that then turns into something else, that then turns into something more, and then next it's bloomed into a whole idea. That happens to me all the time, and it's about which ones you're going to settle down and write, really, because ideas are great, you have a ton of them. They're not all necessarily television series. [MUSIC PLAYING] When I have ideas, a couple of things happen. I have a journal that I keep. I've always kept a journal, and, sometimes, I write them down. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night, and I write the ideas down, and I used to do that a ton. I used to do it a lot. I don't do it as much anymore, mainly because I have children now, and I value my sleep a lot more. But, also, because the things you write down in the middle of the night very rarely make sense. In the morning, you can never figure out what they meant. What I have started doing is taking notes in the little notes section of my phone, which is surprisingly effective, not just because you can dictate-- which you can-- but, also, because it's always readily available. I'm surprised at how many times I write something down. It does not necessarily have to be an idea, as much as it is a tiny line of dialogue, which is where I wrote Gladiator in a Suit. Or it's just a thought that you had, like, why is this a thing? Why blah blah blah blah? It's very interesting that that's a place where you can sort of keep a running tally of the things that you might have written on little Post-It notes all over your house. There's a place to keep it all, and I like that. [MUSIC PLAYING] When I'm looking at an idea, and I'm wondering, is this an idea for film? Is this an idea for television? Is it a movie? Is it a TV show? What you're really looking for is, what's the end of the idea? A movie idea has an ending. You can say, the bus that's been going 60 miles an hour, and hitting everything in speed comes to a...


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.



Reviews

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

It was an amazing experience listening to her talk about her work, the processes, giving professional tips, and clear instruction. I felt like I was a person on her team going through each of the lessons. I have taken a few classes here, and this one is sure to be the most memorable.

Jam packed with pertinent info. much thanks!!

This was a fantastic masterclass. I learnt so much and will be going back over all of the lessons. Thank you.

Amazing and inspirational, we're so lucky that Shonda gave us her time to share her passion!


Comments

Lucas

She mentioned that people can see what the tv studios are looking for in the coming year, but where can you find out that info?

Robert H.

My concept for a television show is (I think), pretty original. My question is if I have several main characters, how can I make them gel? I am learning a lot from Shonda.

Margaree M.

Very eye-opening! I like the fact that the writer's vision is what appears on screen.

Val B.

People asked me the same question when I was putting my website together for my book. I started doing blogs and someone asked me where did I get my topics from. My reply was the same. In my everyday routine, n conversations and quotes.

A fellow student

When it comes to knowing what the marketplace is looking for, how do you find that out if you aren't already in the business. How do you find out what Bob Iger (or Kevin Tsujihara or any other entertainment CEO) is looking for if you are trying to break into the business from the outside?

Chava G.

The crazy thing is I really want to do this, and Ms. Shonda has a generous enough Spirit to lay down the blueprint!, Wow!

Tina O.

Ok Shonda I have watched your course over and over and over! I learned sooooo much! You are a phenomenal teacher! I’ve written my pitch and my pilot ... may I send it to you?

Jayton S.

I think I'm going to switch to journals instead of phones. I have a messy mind and my notes are always scattered!

Dasun I.

Still haven't figured out how to organize my notes. They are anywhere and everywhere!

A fellow student

I agree with the originality in dialogue piece. I can tell that Shonda practices what she preaches because listening to her talk, Olivia Pope is her.