Some writers say that there isn’t a difference between writing for TV and writing for streaming services, but from my observation I believe there is.
More so for us in Africa where streaming is picking up, as writers we cannot be left behind.
Whereas TV viewers have some patience, streaming viewers don’t. They hold the remote in their hand and are ready to switch to something more engaging the moment they sense boredom.
While I was attending one of Robert Mckee’s story seminars, a participant asked a question about how to deal with the dwindling audience attention span, and Robert Mckee was quick to correct the participant by saying that the audience were not losing attention span, but interest span. This was obviously brought about by the myriad of options the audience has in this day and age.
I couldn’t agree more with Robert McKee and more so when it comes to writing for streaming services. You have to grab us from the start and hold our attention to the end. A whatsapp message coming in shouldn’t be more important than what’s on the screen. Below I share some ideas on how to ensure your show on a streaming service hits its intended mark.
- Get your audience invested in the characters and the journey they are going on right away: Gone are the days when we could do long set ups, and drag a show along. Right now, if you’re not grabbing and getting your audience connecting with your characters in the first six minutes, you’ve lost them. If as an audience I don’t care and I’m not rooting for your characters, then why am I there?
- Heighten stakes: If the stakes stay at the same level, it leads to boredom, this is where the audience leave the TV playing and go fix themselves a snack. And it’s not about car chases, or explosion, if Bridgerton, a love story manages to grab us that way, then really it’s not about the genre. Feelings are universal, if we feel something for your characters and the story, and we want them to succeed, then we stay the journey with them, because we are invested in what happens to them.
- Tension and Release: Make sure you are giving the audience the right amount of tension and release. If an audience is feeling suffocated as they watch an episode of your show, because you are not giving them any release, then that’s how they switch to the other show and say they will come back to yours, and chances are they might never. And it works the same for tension, the opposite of tension is relaxation, and we all know too much relaxation leads to boredom. So finding this delicate balance between tension and release should be one of your goals.
- Show Don’t tell: I can’t overstate this. Unlike in TV where you could get away with telling us more, in streaming you have to be intentional about showing us and not telling us. Reread your script and re-edit to make sure you are showing us more than telling us. It is not up to the director; it is up to you, the writer, to give your show the best chance of holding its rightful place in the streamers platform.
- Tell us something new: Most audiences want to learn something new so that they can go and use it in a conversation and brag about how knowledgeable they are. If a show tells them something new that they didn’t know, then they will be coming back for more.
These are just but a few of the techniques you can apply to make sure your show on a streaming service doesn’t disappear in the sea of other shows. Give your show a fighting chance by carefully working on your craft.
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