Writing for TV: The Queen’s Gambit Pilot
Writing any form of script can be a hurdle for any person to accomplish with just about any screenwriter will tell you about the difficulty associated with completing a script. Whether it’s the long nights associated with making sure your final draft is perfect or struggling to find the details in between, all of it is tied to making a script.
As challenging as it is to create a full-length feature film script, many screenwriters are more interested in writing for TV. A script to any degree is a challenging effort, but it especially becomes the case with writing a TV script. Fortunately enough, there are plenty of excellent television shows for screenwriters to analyze and dissect what makes them so special.
The Queen’s Gambit was one of the most popular miniseries of 2020 and its pilot is especially critical for aspiring screenwriters to pay close attention to. For those that don’t know, the show is about prodigious introvert Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) who discovers and masters the game of chess in 1960s USA. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at what makes The Queen’s Gambit pilot so special.
Photo credit: The New Republic
The Importance of an Emotional Climax
As you can expect, emotion plays a critical role in the success of a show. Although shows vary with how good their emotional impact is to an audience, some benefit more from the emotional side than others. The Queen’s Gambit certainly falls under that category since we’re introduced to Beth when she’s 9 and orphaned because her mother dies in a car crash.
Anyone with a normal sense of emotional impact will immediately feel the tragedy that’s associated with a 9-year-old losing their mother and having to be an orphan. Right away, we feel compelled to root for Beth, no matter what obstacles might come in her way and the decisions she might end up making.
Even though we’re introduced to the main character at a younger age, it allows us to get a sense of why the character is who they are once they’re older. This is especially important because we see Beth become obsessed with chess, allowing us to get the full picture of what the film is about.
Characters Should Be Good and Bad
Even though we’re immediately compelled to root for Beth since she’s an orphan and has to deal with the awful reality of losing a mother at a young age, The Queen’s Gambit understands that characters should be good and bad. We immediately see this with the custodian Mr. Shaibel who refuses to teach Beth chess initially but does so eventually.
The good and bad also come full-circle with Beth, as she becomes addicted to tranquilizing pills that help her focus while playing chess. Although drug-use can be subjective over how bad it is depending on the individual, Beth overdoses at the end of the episode to confirm to the audience that what she’s doing has a bad effect on her.
Don’t Overuse Typical Emotions
As you can imagine with a story that has to do with an orphan, it can be very easy to overuse predictable emotions just to get a feeling from the audience. For example, the 2007 film I Am Legend starring Will Smith took a cheap emotional route by having Will Smith kill the dog in the film.
Although the scene garnished a level of emotion from it, it’s very cheaply done and it’s a part of the film that any audience could’ve seen coming. As for The Queen’s Gambit, they do a fantastic job at not over-using Beth’s mom’s death just to strike an emotional chord from the audience. Instead, the pilot moves forward with a focus on chess.
Embrace the Style
Seeing as The Queen’s Gambit doesn’t take place in the modern era, the pilot and show itself do an excellent job at embracing the style. Obviously, the show isn’t so much in the 1950s and 1960s that it feels like an old film, but it remains true to how the setting might be during that time.
Thus, there is a lesson to be learned for screenwriters who have an idea for a story that is set during an era that is unfamiliar to most audiences. It can greatly benefit a TV script, and there’s a lot to be said for how well The Queen’s Gambit pulls off the setting that it’s set in.
Have an Interesting Backstory
Part of the reason The Queen’s Gambit is such a compelling and incredible show has to do with its interesting backstory. Although the backstory is only primarily focused on during the pilot, it’s still a captivating experience for audiences to learn about.
Right away, we get a sense of who Beth is and who she is becoming, with the episode ending on her overdose. The overdose gives us an idea of what her biggest struggles will be moving forward, which is an excellent foreshadow that’s tastefully done in a pilot.