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White Space Is Your Friend: How To Avoid Writing Like a Novelist in Your TV Pilot Script

Paragraph breaks can work wonders for the pacing of your pilot script. Here are some examples with an without "white space" on the page.

Woman writing a TV pilot script

Each year, as we review the hundreds of submissions for the Moonshot Pilot Accelerator, we come across pilot scripts with large, dense paragraphs of descriptive text. Usually, the writers who submit these scripts have a background in writing novels or short stories, or they simply have a vivid picture of their world and they want to convey it properly.

The problem is that in TV writing, people are accustomed to seeing more white space on the page — meaning shorter paragraphs and more frequent paragraph breaks.

There are a couple reasons why a lot of white space makes sense for this medium. First, one page of a script typically equals one minute of time on the screen. The description and dialogue should be paced with this guideline in mind. Second, while a novel is the finished product, a TV script is not. Many other creatives — including actors, directors, production designers, costume designers, composers, etc. — will be contributing their expertise to create the episode that viewers see on screen.

As a writer, you want your vision to come across on the page. But it’s important to be selective about the details you include.

A good rule of thumb is that if an exec is reading your script while on a treadmill, she should still be able to follow your script. You want your pilot to be a page-turner, and creating white space is one of the easiest ways to make that a reality!

The screenwriting software Final Draft, one of the sponsors of the 2024 Moonshot Pilot Accelerator, can help you ensure that you’re formatting your pilot script correctly. But in addition to paying attention to industry standard formatting, you also need to develop your intuition regarding how much white space you need on the page. You can hone this instinct by reading as many scripts as you can get your hands on.

Examples of excerpts written like a novel vs. a TV script

Let's compare two different ways to write the same scene!

First, take a look at this excerpt:


As the sirens grow louder and engines growl nearby, fear fills June’s eyes. She hesitates, nervous that Luke won’t be able to catch up if she runs ahead — but there’s no time for sentiment. June pulls Hannah close, feeling the toddler’s hot breath against her neck. She runs for the woods, not looking back. Her feet pound on the pavement until she steps onto fallen pine needles.


Tall boxelders and sugar maples shade an undergrowth of spindly Balsam Pines. June runs, carrying Hannah as she weaves between the trees. At three years old, Hannah is heavy, and June’s arms are already aching, but she knows she can’t stop. She’s made it a few hundred yards into the woods when she hears three quick gunshots echo in quick succession. June stops short, breathing heavy, with a bead of sweat dripping down her forehead. She turns back and scans the woods for a long, terrible beat. There’s nothing there, and she can’t hear anything other than the sounds of the forest. Trees creaking in the wind, and leaves rustle overhead.

Then, she sees movement, but it’s not Luke. From the distance, she can see men in black uniforms running toward her. She can hear their faint shouts, but she can’t make out what they’re saying. They carry snubby automatic rifles, and June hugs Hannah closer to her chest. June is terrified — for Luke, for Hannah, and for herself. She runs for her life.

Can you tell how the above example reads more like a novel than a script, even with the slug lines? There are dense paragraphs containing far more details than are necessary to convey the plot and tone. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to get a sense of the pacing. 

Now, let’s take a look at this scene again — only this time, it’s in its original form from the pilot script of “The Handmaid’s Tale”:


The sirens grow louder. Engines GROWL nearby.

June hesitates, but just for a moment -- there’s no time for sentiment.

June pulls Hannah close and RUNS FOR THE WOODS.

She doesn’t look back.


Tall boxelders and sugar maples shade an undergrowth of spindly Balsam Pines.

June runs, carrying Hannah as she weaves between the trees.

She gone a few hundred yards when --


JUNE STOPS SHORT. She turns back and scans the woods for a long, terrible beat.

Nothing. Just the sounds of the forest. Trees creaking in the wind.

Then, she sees MOVEMENT.


Men in BLACK UNIFORMS. She can hear their faint SHOUTS.



In this example from the actual pilot, it’s much easier to picture how the scene will appear on the screen. It’s fast-paced, and we can digest it quickly and easily. This version also conveys the immediacy and high stakes, whereas the first example keeps the reader at arm’s length.

Apply to the Moonshot Pilot Accelerator

Are you applying to the Moonshot Pilot Accelerator by the final deadline of April 14, 2024, at 11:59 p.m. Pacific?

If so, you have a few days left to put the finishing touches on your script and application. Take a look at your pilot and see if there are any paragraphs that should be broken up or cut down. Then, submit via Coverfly or FilmFreeway! We can’t wait to read your work.

Our 6-8 selected fellows will each receive a Final Draft 13 license, screenwriting software that can help ensure that your formatting fits the industry standards!

Our fellows will participate in three weeks of virtual workshops, where they’ll get pitch feedback from a development exec, a showrunner, and a speech coach; experience a mock writers’ room; and meet with an agent and an entertainment lawyer.

Then, during Pitch Week, they’ll have the opportunity to pitch one-on-one to companies including HBO, Netflix, Starz, Gersh, Berlanti Productions, Broadway Video, Level Forward, Element Pictures, Irish Cowboy, BFD, and more!


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