From Shonda Rhimes's MasterClass

Finding an Idea

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.

Topics include: Where to Find Ideas • What Makes a Great TV Idea • Making Ideas Original •


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.

Topics include: Where to Find Ideas • What Makes a Great TV Idea • Making Ideas Original •

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.


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

This is my first sit through the class. I'm so glad that I completed it. I learned above all else the importance and power of practice, consistent and disciplined writing, on-the-job training, power-sharing, and high self-esteem. Thank you, Shonda and Masterclass for this generous gift of empowerment!

It was incredible I learned so much. I’m actually gonna go rewrite My script. Her teaching style is very understandable I’m sure with the knowledge I’ve gained my show is definitely going to be a hit.

I've learned so much about the writing process and have been inspired to develop my initial ideas. I love Shonda's teaching style - great explanations and real examples. Thank you.

I learned a lot about Structure and creating ideas


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.

ernest C.

i get inspired from all sorts of events as well. i like to think how will HUGH events be viewed in the future. i try to think of this as FUTURE IMPACT. such things from electric cars (ceo who tell what changes occur - BIG NO NO with SEC)

Graeme R.

This is brilliant! So direct, honest, and incisive. No bullshit whatsoever!

Mikaylynn W.

I learned a lot from this lesson and reading everyone's commentary. I think what I took away was "does your art meet the business?" because at the end of the day that is the truth. With that being said I think Shonda was saying its important to also know what companies are looking for when trying to pitch your show and to do research. In other words, what will make a great home for you TV show to live on, and thrive.

A fellow student

I'm thinking of doing a Grey's Anatomy kind of show but in a waiting room.

Tiffany M.

How do you find out what the Studios are looking for? I'm game for writing assignments and like Shonda, I find it easier to write within guidelines sometimes. PS So for this is my favorite lesson!

Melissa H.

What were the newspapers she said she read? I can't find that clip. I'm not even sure that it is in this lesson. Thanks for the help!