Film & TV

Writing a Script: Process

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 9:16 min

You have your premise, your characters, and your research. Now it's time to write your script. Shonda talks about her own process for preparing to write a script, including how to create beat sheets and outlines.

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


I definitely have an incubation period with everything. Not just every show idea. Every script I'm supposed to write. Every scene I'm supposed to write. I sort of knock it around in my head until I know. There aren't checklists that I go through in my head to say, am I ready to write this story? There aren't rules that I follow that-- you know, very specific rules. Writing doesn't work that way. I think that there are checklists, and there are rules of things to do to keep yourself disciplined. But those didn't have anything to do with actually writing. So for me, I like to let an idea simmer in my head until either I can't take it anymore or I've been given a deadline for something. Deadlines are wonderful for making you get your act together. And then I just start writing. And that is the way of the world. And either you'll hit a point where you can't write about it anymore, meaning it didn't work. Or you find yourself in a great space where you're just flying with it because it's working perfectly. What's funny is, I wrote the pilot script for Scandal in four days and a year, because Judy Smith and I met the year before. And then I basically thought about it for a year. And then I went away and wrote it in four days. Mainly because I didn't have any time, but also because I kept trying to figure out how I was going to approach this story. And I wasn't totally sure the best way in or who-- how or when to come into the story at all. Judy had told me all of these different aspects of her job, and they were all fascinating. And I couldn't decide how much to incorporate, how little to incorporate, what parts to be inspired by. And so I just thought about it for a year. And then, sort of a year later, I was done thinking truly. And I thought, well, I better go write this now. And I went away for four days and wrote it. [MUSIC PLAYING] To me the process of writing a drama goes like this. You have an idea. You turn that into a premise. You do a bunch of research. You've really thought about your characters. You feel sort of ready to start writing. That's the point at which, I think, you write a beat sheet. And a beat sheet is where you decide what all the beats of your story are going to be. You know, Meredith is going to be-- she's going to sleep with Derek and kick him out of her house. She's going to go to work, and she's going to discover that surgery is hard. You know, all the-- they meet Dr. Bailey, and she gives him the rules of the world. Those are your beats. You put all those down on paper as best as you know them, in one or two sentences. Maybe even one or two words. For me, sometimes I just write one word down on a page. A beat sheet really is a precursor to an outline. You write your beat sheet. That beat sheet becomes an outline. The outline becomes your pilot....

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.

Really great class. What I appreciate the most is hanging with an insider and getting the real info. Well done. No suggestions to offer now.

There's no way to describe the gratitude I have for Shonda sharing this knowledge. Surprisingly, I became emotionally overwhelmed when I finished the last lesson. I felt very blessed to have had this opportunity, and I hope that I can make her proud. Thank you!

Thank you Shonda and Masterclass! I learned an incredible amount about writing for TV and so much about what happens on set. I'm inspired. Wow!

Shonda is a brilliant and very generous teacher! Love that she is so supportive and inspirational.


Marcus M.

Another great video. I wonder how many people skip the outline step and just write things out....

Joshua Y.

There's a lot of great stuff in here but I personally 100% disagree with starting with an outline. That works for some but her opinion that not doing an outline means you don't know where you're going...that's part of writing from instinct. Tarantino just begins writing. And in his words "if a character makes a different choice than what I planned, I go with their choice and see where they take me." Sorkins does something similar if you watch his Masterclass. I feel starting with an outline and staying true to the outline can give you a great, producer nodding script but for someone like myself, does not leave room for instinct. I start off writing everything I feel about the story or the character. AFTERWARDS, I see what story I have and develop an outline from there. But it's sort of like writing your drivers test before being behind the wheel of the car for practice. I'm still getting tons of this class but just wanted to throw in my two cents and here's also a shameless

Darren Y.

Hi, i've got my pitch and detailed outline finished and i'm ready to start writing the pilot script. Can the instructors or any classmates recommend a scriptwriting program to start to put this into a proper format? Understand if it's not in the right font/layout etc. no one will read it. Any thoughts or comments would be helpful. Thanks!

Bonnie B.

I am loving this class. I just went through a massive trauma and the only thing that is making me feel better is writing a TV Show about it. I love Shonda and thank you for all of your wisdom.


Idea -> Premise -> Research -> Character Formulation -> Beat Sheet (All the events you propose may happen in the story) -> Outline -> Write the story (first draft). Good formula.


Beat sheets -> Outline -> Episodes; Good formula. I like the use of index cards as well. No matter how good the original idea sounds, you are always going to end up cutting, pasting and moving scenes around.

Toni H.

Individual process for my writing came out of a vital need to be aware of what worked and didn't work since I was always writing in-between work as a book editor and a publisher. Vacations were my marathon writing times. I don't believe in writer's block, simply becasue I couldn't afford to believe in it. I didn't have the luxury of time. But, I had to create a tool for authors who did. That 23-Day Writer's Tool was the muscle and the discipline that worked for authors of any genre. It simply came out of my own process. I loved this lesson's 'gathering in your head' until the story wants to spill out of you. Then you write. Also, I use Movie Magic Screenwriter and love it.

Raoul H.

In Germany you have to write an outline. Otherwise you never get the contract to write the screenplay.


I've never written an outline, but I agree with her previous lesson, where she says, you think it over until it drives you crazy and write it down. That is what happens to me, and BOOM!! I have an entire story. Situations I think of usually lead to a title, then a story.

Meghan F.

This video was helpful describing a suggested flow, and how to outline for writing. Each person might follow this steps a little bit differently, but the process is still being created for each individual.