Film & TV

Finding an Idea

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 2:16 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.

Shonda Rhimes
Teaches Writing for Television
In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit 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.


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

I truly enjoyed Shonda’s class. She has inspired me to be more focused and dedicated to my writing. I have a better understanding of the process television writers go through. Get the job. When all is said and done having the education is definitely a plus, but on the job experience is an education in itself as well.

After starting this course, I stopped creating my show pilot outline, and instead, started developing my show bible - fleshing out characters and their backstories. Taking Shonda's advise, I will get to know my characters intimately before starting starting the 5 Act beat board, outline, and pilot 1st draft.

It let's me know what I am doing right and where I can use some improvement. I am so excited about what I am doing that I feel like no matter what, I am already writing a hit series. Thank you for all the tips and positive encouragement.

Amazing class. Shonda is truly an inspiration.


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.

Purity R.

My art can meet that Business...Not sure how I know. I guess in simplest terms, maybe its the law of attraction. My Ego says: I just know and the longer it takes for you to notice (feel it) is annoying lol My feedback: They tell me to just get it done. My failures: I need encouragement. I mean, I'm super insecure and NEED a pat on the back to proceed. My incentive: I will complete: I will be useful: You need me: Your incentive: Im smart and not money motivated but we can expand together I promise.

Olivia S.

There have already been several key moments that stick out to me, phrasings that made something really hit home, or sparked something that snow balled in my head. I really wish it was possible, much like on ebooks or audiobooks, to add bookmarks/highlights in the lessons for myself to refer back to later. I'm not a great note taker on the fly. If I'm in note-taking mode, that's one thing, but the notes I want to write are so sparse, that I wish I could just attach them to the parts of the lessons that sparked them in the first place. Other than that though, this instructor is giving some truly unique insights that I haven't considered or heard from other writers before, and I really feel myself internalizing them already. Definitely loving it so far.


The script I wrote that is most dear to me lived in my head for a year before I was force to write it down. That little creature sitting on my should kept nudging me. I have many ideas. The minute I want to see if I have an idea that is worth the effort of becoming a script, I see if it will fill my 1-3-5 beat sheet. If it does, I add it to my collection. Turning it into a full script is the hard part.


I like the idea of discovering subject matter through research and personal experiences. I was not planning to write a television series. I was searching YouTube, interested in the "tiny house" market. I began comparing tiny homes to tiny New York apartments and ended up completely obsessed with the life style of some of the apartment dwellers. You never know where an idea is going to come from.