Storylining for South African Soapies


Why aren’t you doing a course about scriptwriting or a course on how to write your novel?

This is the kind of question people have been asking me after I said I was going to teach a writing course this winter. The answer is fairly simple: there is a lack of good storyliners in the TV industry in South Africa. A lot of people don’t realise what it entails before they get involved in writing for TV. I certainly knew nothing about it when I started at Generations 15 years ago. Everyone wants to be a scriptwriter, but we actually have plenty of scriptwriters, what we need are storyliners. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a very difficult part of the sausage factory that is churning out soapie scripts. But it is also the most in-demand. Soooooo…if you want to break into TV writing, learn how to storyline.

But what is storylining exactly?

Let me explain some of the process, and this has been pretty much the same on all the dramas I have worked on.

  1. We have a big brainstorm where we throw around story ideas for the next month/quarter/year/season.

  2. Those stories then have to be put into a synopsis.

  3. The synopsis is revised until the head writer and producer(s) are happy with it.

  4. The synopsis has to be broken down into one-liners. Each one-liner represents a scene.

  5. Those one-liners are then extended into scenes.

  6. The scenes are assembled into a treatment or a breakdown which is a plan of the script.

  7. Only then are those breakdowns sent to the writers to write the actual dialogue.

Points 2-6 involve only the storyliners and the story editor. It is a CRUCIAL part of the process. It’s much easier to fix a script than it is to fix a whole storyline.

Do you understand now how important the job of a storyliner is?

What we find is that storyliners burn out especially when they work on soapies which are basically never-ending stories. That’s why we always need new storyliners.

Let me repeat myself…

If you want to break into writing for soapies, learn how to storyline.

Most people then also end up scriptwriting after that. But it is a great place to start.