If you’ve survived your tenure as a television staff writer with only minimal injuries to your ego and self-esteem, the next level is the honor and prestige of becoming a story editor. In actuality, it’s a minor step up, but does include a couple of notable perks.
It may be difficult to comprehend, but story editors on a television series may do very little editing. Rather, their primary mission is to write scripts. The showrunner and executive producer, depending on their willingness to delegate creative responsibility, may hold much of the story editing tightly. Instead of mostly contributing to the work of others in the writers’ room, story editors are expected to pen complete episodes to be pitched for production. When a preliminary script is selected, the efforts of the entire writing staff go toward refining it, but ultimately the author of the original material gets the “written by” credit for the episode. The day-to-day routine will not vary greatly from that of a staff writer, but story editors have the added expectation placed upon them to turn out 22 or 45 pages per week.
Skills & Education
Writing credits are badges that indicate your time in service to a series; to pin on the story editor badge, you will first have to pay your dues as a staff writer—experience counts. A college degree in English, creative writing, or film and television production with a concentration on scriptwriting is valuable education that places you ahead of the curve; in terms of industry knowledge, you will have a leg up on others who have taken the do-it-yourself approach. Comedy writers often get a start by taking classes at hallowed improvisational training grounds the Second City, Upright Citizens Brigade, or the Groundlings, and even experienced writing staffers sometimes remain involved with these groups. As a story editor, you are also expected to have improved your talent as a writer and internalized the voice of your series and its characters. Even if you jump from one show to the next, your scripts should illustrate growth of skill and the techniques you have picked up along the way.
What to Expect
Advancement to the role of story editor is like graduating from staff writers’ training camp; with experience, it is now up to you and your agent to haggle for each additional bump in rank (executive story editor, showrunner, writer-producer) and every increase in pay. As promised, advancement to the role of story editor affords you two substantial benefits: Story editors receive on-screen credit for their work, and they are paid for credited episodes in addition to their negotiated salary. This translates into a significant raise in pay and greater recognition for your work. These guidelines are dictated by a minimum basic agreement between the Writers Guild of America and productions that enter into a collective bargaining agreement as signatories of the WGA. In addition to a minimum salary, story editors are compensated a designated sum each time a script they have authored is produced for the series. In most cases, however, this agreement does not apply to writers and story editors on reality series, as the networks and production companies have been resistant to union negotiations with the WGA to cover these employees.