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John Truby Dramatic Television Course Review

Updated on October 21, 2014

John Truby Dramatic Television Course Review

Welcome to my review of John Truby's Writing Dramatic Television audio course. As a writer that has been written by the 'writing for TV' bug, I started devouring all the books and courses I could on writing for television.

I will give a detailed review of Truby's audio course, mentioning what elements I found useful as well as ways it didn't work for me. I will also recommend books that have helped me: either by improving my writing craft or by giving insights into how the television industry works. If you also want to write for television, I'm sure you've heard along the way that it's a world with its own unique hierarchies and quirks.

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When I Got the "TV Writing" Bug

I was first attracted to writing for television during a screenwriting course at university. Several professional screenwriters came in to tell us about the world of writing for movies and television. And one thing they all seemed to agree on was this:

Don't Write for Television!

They said it was hectic, full of impossible deadlines, last minute frustrations and no sleep. I thought to myself: It's Perfect!

What better way to grow your writing skills than by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone? I was bit by the bug. Writing for TV was for me.

John Truby writing dramatic television review
John Truby writing dramatic television review

About John Truby

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Truby is one of the biggest screenwriting instructors in the country. He's been a script doctor for most of the major film studios, from Disney and Sony to HBO.

I first encountered John Truby at one of the famous "Screenwriter Summits" in 2011. These summits have four major screenwriting teachers that each teach you for half a day. Big time screenwriting teachers like Syd Field, Linda Seger and Michael Hauge were the other teachers.

I was drawn to Truby's teaching method because he focuses on the structures of stories. More specifically, he shows how different genres will have different structures and story beats, and how you can combine genres to make really original stories. Maybe it's because I'm more analytically minded that I like to see stories broken down into their 'nuts and bolts' so to speak, but I found that Truby's approach really made writing stories into something approachable.

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john truby drama television writing review
john truby drama television writing review

How to Order Truby's TV Drama Course:

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Truby sells his audio course (and software) through the Writer's Store.

When you make your purchase, you have the option of either buying a CD or buying a Digital Version (mp3 files). I went for the digital version, since I don't have a CD player anymore (I also wanted to listen to it on my phone)

After you complete your purchase, you'll get an email within 24 hours that contains the file.

The file is in .zip format, so you'll need a program to 'unpack' the zip file. If you don't have a program that can do that yet, try 7zip (it's free and open source).

Once you unzip the course, the audio files are all in mp3 format, so you can add it to your music device and listen to it anywhere.

Contents of the TV Writing Course

The audio course covers a range of topics, from what a writer's room looks like, how to pitch your story, how to write the actual script, and how to avoid the mistakes most writers make:

The TV Writer Hierarchy:

Truby goes through the various titles of writers on TV shows. If you've ever wondered how a story editor differs from a co-producer, this will help you figure out which titles means what.

The Story Beats of Each Genre:

Truby deftly summarizes the story beats of most of the major dramatic genres on TV, from crime, detective, single hero drama, and multi-character dramas. He demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of each genre, and explains why some are more effective than others.

How to Pitch Your Ideas:

When you get an opportunity to write for a show you start by pitching story ideas to the staff writers. This is the most crucial time for breaking in, and Truby explains why staff writers can be quite 'unfriendly' to freelancers at this stage of the game.

How to Write Your Script:

This is my favourite section, and I return to it time and time again. He points out that a lot of writers sequence their story by events: 'this happens, so this happens later”. Truby shows you how to sequence around your main character and using the 7 structure steps of story to sequence your script.

He also points out that you shouldn't “write to the act-outs”, meaning the five or six acts that a typical network TV drama has. Figure out the story first, then the right 'act-breaks' will become clear.

My Criticisms:

As helpful as Truby's audio course is, I do have a major criticism:

The Age of the Audio Recording: Specifically, I believe it was recorded in 1988. In one section of the course Truby uses script examples from the 5 series nominated for Emmys that year, which includes Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law. Now, this is just my opinion, but I think that those shows aren't even in the same stratosphere compared to the modern era of scripted drama. I

Incredibly complex shows like "The Wire", "Breaking Bad" and "The Sopranos" have truly raised the bar when it comes to the quality of writing of television.

What's unusual about this is that Truby has written several insightful essays on modern TV shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad on his website. When I attended his class at the screenwriting summit, he mentioned that the best writing done today is on television, and specifically mentioned HBO's "The Wire".

I understand that, even though television drama has evolved significantly, the rules of drama don't change. They haven't really changed for thousands of years (hence why Aristotle's Poetics are still relevant today). In fact, I found his "Masterpiece" audio course, where he talks about how to transcend the genre you're in, to be just as useful a guide for writing stories in today's TV landscape

Writing a TV Pilot? Try this Book:

Want to Write a TV Pilot?

Unfortunately Truby's course only delves into how to write for a series that's already established. At one point in the audio course he mentions that writing for an established series and writing a pilot are 'completely different'. Of all the books I've read on the subject, William Rabkin's "Writing the PIlot is the most useful how-to guide for building a show from scratch.

Writing the Pilot
Writing the Pilot

This is the best book (by far) that demonstrates how to write a television pilot. Rabkin uses contemporary examples of shows that didn't work (i.e. Flashforward, 2009) to demonstrate how a show's initial premise can sink a show before it starts. Highly recommended.


Have You Read any of Truby's Books or Taken His Courses? - Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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