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Is writing for TV the 'poor cousin' of feature screenwriting? Writers Academy's Coral Drouyn argues that it's not ...

There's this perception that a television audience is held captive while a cinema audience is somehow superior, and the writer has to 'win' their approval. But the opposite is probably true. Once the moviegoer has bought a ticket it will see the film through to the end in most cases, because it has invested cash. The TV audience can switch channels in the blink of an eyelid and its attention span is short. It has nothing invested and can afford to ignore you. But, when it chooses to listen, when you have the chance to change the way even one person sees things, that's magic and worth any agony you go through. Wonderful writers like Britain's Jimmy McGovern, creator of Cracker and The Lakes, have written successfully for the big screen, and yet their best work has been for the small screen.

American writers like David E Kelly, creator of Ally McBeal, Picket Fences and The Practice and Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) have changed the face of television and arguably raised it to a level of storytelling that is higher quality in all respects than comparable big screen offerings.

Why should that be? And what is it that determines a good television writer? It starts with what the audience perceives, and how its attention is held:

Do we instantly know one when we 'see/hear' good writing? Or are we so caught up being entertained that it doesn't occur to us that the writing makes the difference.

Bad writing is more easily recognised. The dialogue doesn't sound natural; it's full of exposition; it's just plain boring and unimaginative. The plot may be full of holes or clichés, or BOTH!

We're not easily misled. If we actually recognise what the writer is doing, and how we are being played, then the program will fail to totally absorb us.

When the writing is good it's reflected in our attentiveness. We don't play with the remote; we don't get up to make coffee; we don't take long bathroom trips; we're hanging out for the ad breaks to finish.

Coral Drouyn's web site