Yale Classes: Writing the Television Drama!

Coming to Yale, I didn’t imagine myself venturing too far outside of creative writing classes in the genres I was already most comfortable with — I thought I’d definitely take classes focused on poetry writing, some creative nonfiction and playwriting, and possibly, but not expected, maybe one fiction course. TV writing though? I didn’t even realize that was a subject you could teach in a college classroom! But it is! And my senior fall, that’s exactly the class I took — ENGL 461, The Craft of the Television Drama.

And after appyling with a short playwriting scene sample, I found that there were actually a lot of similarities between the two genres. In television writing, more than any other genre, the most intense focus of your work is the construction of the unit of a scene — it’s like learning how to pare down a story to its most essential, but also riveting moments, which is transferable to pretty much every other genre!

Not only did I find out that my professor and I both had a great appreciation for The X-Files, but I had a tremendous amount of fun brainstorming and beginning to execute an idea for a sci-fi series of my own!

What was class like? Lots of reading (and also watching!) TV and film scripts! Every week, we’d pour over pilots and episodes from shows like The X-Files, Queen Sugar, Euphoria, Breaking Bad, Desperate Housewives, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and unpack what we thought worked so well in which story, while also starting to drum up ideas for the course’s final project: our own original pilots and series ideas.

Pictured: me showing some of my concept notes and a rough draft of my pilot to my friend in the class who worked for Apple TV, asking for feedback.

Pictured: me cheerily beginning to write, excited with the story concept and typing away, and then getting to the part in my script where my characters really start going through it.

And if I AirDropped this to one of my classmates after we workshopped their script in class? What then?

Aside from getting to meet with the professor one-on-one throughout the course to generate story ideas, chat about ways for me to develop the plot further, binge-watching TV and movies for homework, and getting experience writing in a genre I hadn’t expected to engage with in college, I found myself regularly quoting discussions held in my TV writing course outside of it — editing my friends’ work in my poetry class, in meetings with my playwriting thesis advisor, in my Theater Studies course about ancient Greek tragedy. Each small detail and facet of advice linked with something else. While I definitely have a lot of omnivorous interests as a creative writer, including TV writing, I hadn’t considered it something that might be at the fore of them — or connect so seamlessly to all my other projects! 

And as much as I was learning about the craft and the actual mechanisms of what makes a strong script, I was also cultivating a community of strong and inquisitive thinkers — as my professor said, “this class is like being in a real writers’ room in the second half of the semester!” That’s what, I think, has been the greatest (but most welcome!) surprise of the class — the preprofessional applications that pop up simultaneously alongside new friends. While of course you might expect a course called “The Craft of the Television Drama” to help you with, well, crafting television drama, I didn’t think it’d overlap — let alone strengthen — with my poems and my plays, or put me in touch with a whole other crop of writers with the same aspirations, all making similar mistakes and triumphs in a new medium.

And in many ways, that’s the most abundant gift of upper-level Yale creative writing courses: the kinds of people and writers that the course attracts, who make up as much of the experience as the content of the course itself!