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Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing For Television

via MasterClass


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.


  • Introduction
    • Welcome to Shondaland. Meet Shonda, the woman behind some of television's biggest and most talked about hits, and learn what she'll teach you about the craft of writing for television.
  • Teach Yourself TV Writing
    • Shonda discusses the importance of knowing your television history and how you can learn some of the fundamentals of storytelling on your own.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Researching Your Story
    • Effective research can make your story come to life. Using case studies from Scandal and Grey's Anatomy, Shonda discusses her techniques and method for conducting research for her stories.
  • Creating Memorable Characters: Part 1
    • Meredith Grey, Olivia Pope, Cristina Yang - Shonda has created some of the most memorable characters to grace television. In this chapter, Shonda breaks down how she approaches the character development process.
  • Creating Memorable Characters: Part 2
    • Shonda shares her techniques on how to effectively develop and evolve your characters when writing your stories, including when and how to kill off characters.
  • Pitching Your Show
    • You can't make a TV show without pitching it first. Shonda shares how she originally pitched Grey's Anatomy to network executives and her top tips for how to deliver an effective pitch.
  • Writing a Script: Structure
    • Shonda breaks down the five acts of television and what needs to be accomplished in each one to tell an effective story in a one-hour drama.
  • Writing a Script: Process
    • 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.
  • Writing a Script: Effective Habits
    • Writer's block? No time? Shonda breaks through the myths of writing and details how exactly she gets her writing done.
  • Writing a Script: The Pilot
    • When it comes to television, the pilot is everything. Shonda discusses the key ingredients to what makes a great pilot, including discussing her alternative opening scenes for the show Scandal.
  • Writing Authentic Dialogue
    • Shonda shares her tips on how to write realistic and engaging dialogue for your characters.
  • Case Study: Grey's Anatomy Pilot - Part 1
    • Shonda breaks down the Grey's Anatomy pilot act-by-act and shares why she made certain story decisions.
  • Case Study: Grey's Anatomy Pilot - Part 2
    • Shonda continues to break down the Grey's Anatomy pilot act-by-act.
  • Case Study: Scandal Pilot - Act One
    • Shonda breaks down the first act of the Scandal pilot, revealing why she structured the opening scene the way she did.
  • Case Study: Scandal Pilot - Act Two
    • Shonda discusses act two of the Scandal pilot and the introduction of Olivia's White House storyline.
  • Case Study: Scandal Pilot - Act Three
    • Shonda discusses act three of the Scandal pilot and how to balance various story lines in a single episode.
  • Case Study: Scandal Pilot - Act Four
    • Shonda discusses act four of the Scandal pilot and the importance of quickening the pace of your action.
  • Case Study: Scandal Pilot - Act Five
    • Shonda discusses the final act of the Scandal pilot and reveals how she set up the pilot for an entire season of episodes.
  • Editing Your Script
    • You've written the first draft - now comes the task of editing your script. Shonda reveals her own editing process and provides tips on the best things to cut in a script.
  • Beyond the Pilot: Writing a Series
    • Shonda has never had a TV show last for less than six seasons. In this chapter, Shonda discusses what keeps people watching a show beyond the pilot.
  • Scandal Case Study: "It's Handled"
    • In this case study, Shonda discusses how the scene between Olivia and Rowan Pope in the season three premiere of Scandal cleverly uses dialogue to reveal who the characters are, and the importance of the scene in the show's story.
  • Breaking into the Industry
    • Shonda reveals her top tips for networking, working entry-level jobs, and her thoughts on film school.
  • Working in a Writers’ Room
    • Shonda discusses what she looks for in writers when staffing her shows and how her own writers' rooms are structured.
  • Working in TV Production
    • Shonda talks about how a writer can best adapt to the fast-paced world of television production and the important lessons she has learned in over a decade of producing TV.
  • Showrunning
    • Becoming and being a showrunner is exciting, but it comes with immense responsibilities. Shonda talks through how she learned to become an effective showrunner.
  • Life of a Writer
    • Writing is not just a profession; it is a way of life. Shonda discusses the issue of "work/life balance" and the physical and mental habits to survive a writer's life.
  • Shonda's Journey
    • Learn how Shonda went from being a Dartmouth and USC graduate to the queen of Thursday night.
  • Conclusion
    • Shonda wraps up her MasterClass with a few departing thoughts and suggestions for next steps.

Taught by

Shonda Rhimes


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