Friday, August 14, 2009

Crafty Screenwriting on pitching

Alex Epstein's book 'Crafty Screenwriting' also has a lot to say about pitching that I think it relevant to the process of creating a story. As I mentioned earlier, he fiercely advocates NOT writing down your story for as long as possible, and instead actually telling it to people.

Why wouldn't you write down your story? Alex suggests that writing it down 'freezes' your story, making you reluctant to make big / necessary changes to it. He uses the example of 'While You Were Sleeping', whose writers pitched the film for 5 years before realising how much it would be improved by having the GUY be the one in the coma. It was easy to change the story because nothing was written down.

Alex also says that writing down your story can make it easy to overlook its flaws. I can related to this - my eyes have certainly skimmed over sections of my outlines before, as I 'know' what it's trying to convey and don't need to pay attention to it. As a result, whole sections have wound up needing to be deleted or re-arranged in finished scripts.

The best way to find out if your hook or story works is to tell it to people. Tell it out loud, over and over again, to whoever will listen.(*) Telling it allows you to see what people respond to. And because you're not writing it down, it allows you to figure out what bits of it are memorable or not.

(*) Candidates for telling your story to include co-workers, friends, your mum, kids, strangers on the bus, muggers, priests in confessional boothes.

Basically, the process of telling your story will give you an opportunity to naturally flesh it out, elaborate on it, and deepen it.

Alex also suggests three questions to think about while you're telling your story:

  1. Is your listener interested in your hook at all? If not, then (a) rephrase it and try again, or (b) come up with a better idea.
  2. What does it remind them of? Check these other, similar stories out.
  3. What do they tell you? They may have ideas and criticisms. Listen to them. Even if they're off-base, you'll find out what sort of things they expected to hear or see when you told them your pitch.
Telling allows you to reinvent your story easily and on the fly.

Telling lets you immediately see the reaction to your story.

Telling mean you can hear when YOU get bored or confused.

Telling forces you to create a story that's so simple, clear and logical that you can remember it. It forces you to remember what comes next.

But what if the idea of telling someone your story completely freaks you out? Well, there are some alternatives:
  • Tell it to yourself
  • Write down the basic beats of the story on cards, mix the cards up, and try to put them back together in the right order
  • (... and my favourite) Write your story down. Hide those pages. Rewrite it again from memory. Hide those pages. Repeat.
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