Now it’s time to write Act I. This is the fun part, because now you get to put in the dialogue and the jokes. But first, a few things to keep in mind …
When writing, it’s crucial to work in proper sitcom-pilot format, so it’s very important that you have a professional formatting program, such as Final Draft, free shareware like Celltex, or Movie Magic Screenwriter. Take the tutorials and do a little practice working in the format. This will help you understand how much fits on a page and, in turn, how long your sitcom can be. Generally speaking, in proper format, a sitcom should be between 30 and 35 pages.
Now, the next thing you’re going to do is review your outline. Because you’ve already identified your act breaks and the locations within Act I, you can transfer that information into your formatting program and begin to work on any of the scenes you like, filling in the dialogue, jokes, and action. I find this simple process keeps me on course and helps me to become prolific fast.
Now, Act I is often referred to as “the setup.” The setup is the beginning of the story—introducing the characters, location, situation—but a common mistake writers make in Act I is trying to cram in too much material. Using Cheers as our example, Act I concerns Diane’s arrival at the bar with her boyfriend, and at the end of Act I he leaves to go see his wife. That’s it! Don’t try to write anything more than that!
You may find at first, as I did, that writing a sitcom can feel incredibly restrictive. After all, I’m a novelist and a feature writer. How can anything meaningful be crammed into so few pages? After a while, however, I think you’ll find that the short form can be truly magnificent.
Now, get to work, and see what happens. Oh, one last thing. Make sure that your Act I ends in a cliffhanger. It’ll get your viewers coming back after the commercials!