The 7 Best Acting Self Tape Tools Under $20

Reviewed by Danielle Beckman

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Here’s a radical idea: you can make a living at your art, while enjoying your work. At first this seemed impossible to Shonda Rhimes, but once she started telling the stories she felt strongly about, she started to collaborate with the right people and got her shows produced. As the creator of the television empire Shondaland and writer of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and many other prolific shows, Shonda Rhimes’ Masterclass offers incomparable insight on how to become a competitive television writer.

Shonda’s wisdom is a gift that will keep on giving, and while I found three big takeaways that I’ll share with you at the end of this article, here are a few nuggets of insight her Masterclass provides:

  • The minute the work of writing stops being about YOU and starts being about the STORIES you tell and what you can “give back” in the world–that’s when you’ll soar.


  • BE ORIGINAL in your use of dialogue and let your characters be intelligent! It’s okay to research about a character who is not in your specific field. There is so much at our fingertips to discover, and the smarter your characters, the better.


  • Become familiar with what different types of television shows look like. Study procedurals, comedies, and serialized shows. Understand how the shows work so that you can get the formula down to a science. Then and only then, if you want to go and break all the rules, you’ll know what rules you’re breaking!


  • Super practical insight: have a place to keep your ideas! Shonda keeps on on the notes section of her phone. She also uses a journal, but she since she doesn’t have that with her at all times, so she sticks to her phone. Do whatever it takes to keep your fresh ideas and inspirations at top of mind – keep a running tally instead of post-it notes all over your house if you need to!

And now for…the 3 Big Takeaways

1. Good Ideas Are Sticky – Just like a song that you can’t get out of your head, a good idea won’t go away! When a good idea begins for a show, Shonda implores us that it HAS to have a compelling main character with compelling dilemmas and ideas. People ask her a lot “How do you find an idea?” Shonda shares that inspiration should come from, well…everywhere. A conversation in the park, a fight she overhears in a coffee shop, or even reading an obituary. She shares that by merely observing humanity and the way people interact, you can spark an authentic or killer idea.

2. Dialogue and Silence – What a character says or does not say can tell you everything. So when you start writing, be careful about the words you choose. Don’t get lazy with what characters say. The moments when characters don’t say ANYTHING can be some of the most powerful. Key: watch shows and how they use dialogue, pay attention to what feels real and what feels stilted…SAYING how a character feels versus SHOWING.  Shonda likes to think of her dialogue as real conversations that people have. If you are looking to have your dialogue sound authentic, REALLY listen to the conversations of people around you. People don’t talk in complete sentences, people talk over one another and it’s interesting! No one says all the perfect things at all the perfect times. So get your listening ears on, and go get to eavesdropping…Shonda said it was fine!

3. Know what the marketplace is looking for! This ties into Shonda’s perspective on what’s happening in the real world! Ask yourself: what is going on in television and simultaneously in reality? It’s your job to know what the studios are looking for and what the studios put out…is it time travel, spy shows, etc? What are people looking for? If you are a writer who is good with prompts, knowing what the studios might need and fitting that mold might be great for you to aim for. If you don’t want to go with what the marketplace needs, and you consciously are stepping outside of that and marching to the beat of your own drum, that’s okay too.

Some of the juiciest parts of Shonda’s Masterclass are when she dives into a mock writer’s room to show the process of the pilots of her hit shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. The part that struck me most was how character-driven the pilots were. She dives into how to write an expositional episode when you’re first meeting a character. She talks about the importance of establishing who has power as a character, what their mindset is, their attitude, and how to show those things without sounding boring and expositional.

I highly recommend Shonda’s Masterclass, and if you dive in head first, we would love to know about your writing journey. Tell us how it goes in the comments below!

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