One of the core truths of writing a web series: it ain’t television or movies.
Sure, they have common elements. As Mildred Lewis, co-creator of the web series Etiquette, says, “Good writing is good writing is good writing. Plot, character, setting, conflict, compelling ideas, engaging emotions all remain crucial.”
That being said, the audience experiences a web series differently. “On the web,” Lewis continues, “you’re writing for a viewer who is going to have a more intimate experience. Most people watch web content alone, often on small devices. Funny has to be funnier! You can’t ride a laugh track or laughter in the room.”
Limited Viewing Time
Writer/director Choice Skinner directed the web series The One Percent. “What writers of web series have to keep in mind,” he says, “is that people who are watching content on the web have a limited time in which to invest watching and following what’s in front of them during that moment. Many people are at work or waiting on line somewhere or looking for content to help time pass by more quickly.”
Lewis agrees. “We’re writing for more distracted viewers. People have an astounding number of choices on the Internet. They can watch legacy media or take advantage of virtually unlimited, less well-known content.
“And as we all know, the standard has become to click away quickly. So in practical terms, your writing has to be absolutely disciplined. There is no room for self-indulgence.” Lewis stresses: “Every beat has to be earned.”
For some web series developers, web content translates to perhaps eight five-minute episodes in a “season.” That’s the equivalent of one television drama episode. When Choice Skinner recently read a 30-minute pilot script for a proposed web series, his advice was to cut it up into three 10 minute episodes. He said this made more sense in regards to shooting, posting on the web, and budget.
Lewis says further, “You can’t try to cram in too much material. First, there’s no time. The web favors shorter form content. Secondly, web viewers are smart. They want original web content, not film or television programming force fed onto the Internet.”
Get to the Point
Skinner says, “Unlike a feature screenplay, web content doesn’t have the play time or visual time to establish the story. You have to get directly to the point of the story and also end off the episode leaving the audience wanting more and tuning in for the next episode to see what happens next.”
“So whatever your story is,” he says, “it has to be quick, fun, direct and interesting. Your characters should be exciting. The topic should be amusing and entertaining and the acting should be convincing.”
When Lewis shot Etiquette, she said she was very glad that she’d had experience writing for comedians. “On the performance side, it helped to have actors with improv backgrounds.”
Write your story well, keep it short, and create exciting characters. And to quote Mildred Lewis again: “Every beat has to be earned.”