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Thread: What It Takes To Sell Your Pitch, Part 2

  1. LeeNordling Guest

    The paradigm is pretty simple, if hard to utilize.

    The first half of the sentence sets up the twist, making us think it's about one thing, then the twist in the second half of the sentence reveals what the story is REALLY about.

    No twist, and it's boring.

    Your revision: "This is the story of a big city cop who is reassigned to a quiet little town, only to discover that the quiet little town is really just an artificial facade propped up by conspiracy and murder."

    How does the back end of that sentence specifically spin on the first half? It doesn't, so there's no connection, and it flounders.

    You're just putting too many layers in it, not finding the heart of the ironic twist.

    This is a story about a cop who runs away from big city crime, only for him to discover that small town crime is more horrible than anything he could imagine.

    Nope, I don't know if that's quite right, but the irony is there, and should continue to be there when it actually reflects the story.

    Naw, he doesn't have to run away (if he doesn't in the movie), but it's more interesting to see a character driven away from something to have to face an even worse incarnation.

    This is no easy exercise.

    I've known ONE person to ever get it out of the gate.

    But then again, how many people do you know who have mastered poetry, prose, playwriting, or screenwriting first time out of the gate.

    Make no mistake, this is a new form of writing to you, and if was easy then everybody would be doing it, just like they'd be all selling screenplays, and out-Shakespearing Shakespeare.

    --Lee

    PS. I reread your line this morning, and I was wrong; there IS a twist in your line. The town is supposed to be quiet, but it's really an "an artificial facade propped up by conspiracy and murder." So, something is quiet, but it's really not is the best twist this story has? I doubt it.

    Another weakness in this pitch, which is revealed by the light of day, is that it twists on the town, not the cop. Apparently he doesn't change at all as a result of this story. If he does, as I prompted, try putting HIM at the center of the twist; I promise it'll be more compelling.



  2. drgerb Guest

    Good point, Calvin. The good news is, I've never seen Hot Fuzz, and seeing your slowly evolving pitch for it is actually making me wanna go see it. Hah. That's cool, and that's the whole point to pitching right there.

    While the first pitch gave me the feeling that it has the potential to be an interesting movie, it did seem kinda... Like after reading the pitch, going about and writing the movie, the final movie could have taken so many different turns. Like reading the pitches says it could be a mystery movie, an action movie, a comedy, a drama, what have you.. And while it's kinda cool to leave that open, I think it'd drive a potential editor / publisher crazy, HAD that original one (and even the following ones) been for one of your own stories. That vagueness and ambiguity that doesn't really get down to the nitty gritty of what the movie IS, I think... But yeah. Maybe it's just the movie. This process is slowly showing me that pitching is damn hard. And this is for movies. Pitching your own project, where as Lee mentioned in the article, you don't wanna leave anything out.

    But that one analogy with the diamonds in the room was a great metaphor and I think I'm slowly learning about that. Take Star Wars and zoom in on the biggest issue. The originals; Boy wants to save the world, but the enemy turns out to be his father. All of a sudden the floodgates are let loose. If George Lucas threw in references to Boba Fet, and the pit in the desert, to Jabba the Hutt, and ALL those awesome secondary aspects, that really played a MAJOR role in his movie, he mighta been laughed outta the office building. Hell maybe he was laughed out of a few. But somewhere, the right pitch meeting up with the right movie maker person led to the biggest movie event in the last 30 years. Probably more.

    Anyone ever hear about Sly Stallone, and the story behind Rocky? SO many people turned him down, saying the movie was too cliche, they knew what was gonna happen, it just didn't work. So many people turned him down as the actor, saying he looks funny, he isn't hot, not famous actor material.. And even the producer who DID end up producing it; They offered him $250,000 for the script if they could hire their own lead. He wouldn't budge and finally he accepted $30,000, along with the leading role. The movie ended up making millions and made Stallone into a star.

    I think comics has that same element, albeit in much a smaller scale. Editors are keeping their eyes peeled for that next big thing with that much potential. If they can edit it, and have their name on it, then if it IS that great and does get big, there'll be SO MANY more aspiring creators willing to pay them. Every colorist is keeping his eye open for a job, and he may accept on because the inker has crisp lines, and he may deny another cause the story is garbage. He'd get paid through both stories, but maybe he'd take one cause the potential is there. And if it's the next Watchmen, boom, everyone knows his name as a colorist and it's that much easy to find the next job.

    And even on a company / creator standpoint. The companies / professionals want us aspiring creators to succeed, with the hopes of us having that next best idea, and us signing to them / their brand. We hit it big, we break out, and they do too in a small way. If the creator succeeds and breaks out, every other creator, every other publisher has their eye on him. If the creator fails, the publisher cans him and it's back to square one. But it's a mutual party here, like a relationship. The better OUR story is, the happier the publisher / editor is. And the more they'll do THEIR job to help us make the best story, to help us promote our work, all that. Cause the more they help us (even in the form of online columns), the more potential we have, and the better the chance that we, collectively, can further the horizons and potentials of the comic book medium. Wow, tangent.

    And pitching is almost the basis of it all. Like another metaphor Lee used, fishing. Baiting the hook. One bite and you know you're in the right place, just waiting for that big ass fish. Fishing is a whole hell of a lot of sitting, waiting, and beer drinking. But that one small nibble gets you in the zone, in the game, ready for the beast to come in. And comics is the same exact way.

    A great pitch is that nibble. Maybe the finished story becomes that great beast, maybe it fails and is canceled. But even a failed project is better than never even pitching to begin with. Anyway... Guess that's my two cents. So thanks for reposting these pitching articles, Lee. One can really learn alot.



  3. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    The paradigm is pretty simple, if hard to utilize.

    The first half of the sentence sets up the twist, making us think it's about one thing, then the twist in the second half of the sentence reveals what the story is REALLY about.

    No twist, and it's boring.
    This is one place where I have trouble with the paradigm.

    The paradigm has to be about the big twist in the story. It's basically a bait & switch. That much makes sense.

    The trouble is that a given story (to my mind at least) may not always be all about the big twist. And the twist (if there even is one) isn't necessarily what makes a story special. And if the twist isn't what the story is about, what makes the story special, then the hook isn't really about the story. And if the hook isn't really about the story, then it's selling a different story than the one it should be. So it seems like a bait & switch hook only makes sense for a bait & switch story.

    Of course some stories are all about the twist, so I can understand how it works there. Like Sixth Sense - that movie is all about the twist, and everything in the story is there to support the twist. But not all stories are like that. Some don't really have a twist to speak of, and some stories have so many twists they'd tie a one sentence hook in knots. So how do you deal with stories that aren't about the one big twist?

    Now it does occur to me that I'm interpreting the twist in the hook as a plot twist in the story - which may not be the right way to think about it. I'm not sure where that thought is leading me, yet, but it seems like something worth pondering some more.

    Your revision: "This is the story of a big city cop who is reassigned to a quiet little town, only to discover that the quiet little town is really just an artificial facade propped up by conspiracy and murder."

    How does the back end of that sentence specifically spin on the first half?
    The first half of the sentence sets up the quiet little town. The second half shows that the quiet little town is something else entirely. Of course I suppose that could just be flipping the back on the middle, because the town wasn't the first thing mentioned.

    I could go farther back for the flip (to the character and his disappointment at being reassigned, and flip that)...
    This is the story of a big city cop who is disappointed to find himself reassigned to a quiet little town, only to discover that, when he's finally given the chance to go back to the city, he's found a home in the little town and doesn't want to leave.

    That almost works as a decent description of what the story is about, though it doesn't really do it justice. It also doesn't address that the story isn't just about the big city cop. Unfortunately it always seems like it breaks down whenever I try to address more than one protagonist with it (unless their motivations and goals are nearly identical). Maybe that just means multiple protagonists need multiple hooks?

    Naw, he doesn't have to run away (if he doesn't in the movie), but it's more interesting to see a character driven away from something to have to face an even worse incarnation.
    In this case, he's driven to something that ends up being better than what he had before. But that's just swapping a positive message for a negative one, so I don't see it as a less compelling premise for a story.

    This is no easy exercise.

    I've known ONE person to ever get it out of the gate.

    But then again, how many people do you know who have mastered poetry, prose, playwriting, or screenwriting first time out of the gate.

    Make no mistake, this is a new form of writing to you, and if was easy then everybody would be doing it, just like they'd be all selling screenplays, and out-Shakespearing Shakespeare.

    --Lee
    Then with the way I have to struggle and fight to learn new things (at least the ones that don't make sense right off the bat), it's going to be a long, hard road. But I'll keep beating my head against it. Something's got to give eventually. Hopefully it won't be my head.



  4. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by drgerb View Post
    Good point, Calvin. The good news is, I've never seen Hot Fuzz, and seeing your slowly evolving pitch for it is actually making me wanna go see it. Hah. That's cool, and that's the whole point to pitching right there.
    You should check it out, if you get the chance. It's one my all-time favorite movies.

    It's a great comedic send-up of the buddy cop genre. It's also (surprisingly enough, given what most parodies are like) a really good buddy cop movie in its own right, with a lot more depth than you'd think at first glance. So, if you happen like both of those things, it's a major win-win.



  5. LeeNordling Guest

    "I could go farther back for the flip (to the character and his disappointment at being reassigned, and flip that)...
    This is the story of a big city cop who is disappointed to find himself reassigned to a quiet little town, only to discover that, when he's finally given the chance to go back to the city, he's found a home in the little town and doesn't want to leave.

    "That almost works as a decent description of what the story is about, though it doesn't really do it justice. It also doesn't address that the story isn't just about the big city cop. Unfortunately it always seems like it breaks down whenever I try to address more than one protagonist with it (unless their motivations and goals are nearly identical). Maybe that just means multiple protagonists need multiple hooks?"

    Calvin, these two paragraphs pinpoint the sum of your disconnect with what we're trying to do. Your final suggestion is to question whether we need to add more story, which is exactly what we don't want to do with a hook, per everything I've written about it.

    But, you also identify the REASON for the disconnect, even though you didn't realize it when you wrote it. You wrote: "That almost works as a decent description of what the story is about, though it doesn't really do it justice."

    "...though it doesn't really do it justice."

    You are wanting the hook to tell the whole damn story, exactly what it is NOT supposed to do. It's supposed to HOOK the reader into wanting to actually READ the story.

    Do you believe my hook for Citizen Kane does that film justice? Of course not. All it does is identify a core aspect that drives the story, as do all the other successful hooks.

    THIS revamp you wrote is almost there: "This is the story of a big city cop who is disappointed to find himself reassigned to a quiet little town, only to discover that, when he's finally given the chance to go back to the city, he's found a home in the little town and doesn't want to leave."

    Let's clean this up: This is the story of a big-city cop who gets a crummy small-town assignment, only for him to discover that when he has a chance to return home a hero, he'd rather stay.

    See? You DID find the heart of this story, and it works better than before.

    --Lee



  6. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    But, you also identify the REASON for the disconnect, even though you didn't realize it when you wrote it. You wrote: "That almost works as a decent description of what the story is about, though it doesn't really do it justice."

    "...though it doesn't really do it justice."

    You are wanting the hook to tell the whole damn story, exactly what it is NOT supposed to do. It's supposed to HOOK the reader into wanting to actually READ the story.
    Mmmm... I'll think on that, but I'm not sold on that being the problem.

    I think where I'm stuck is that I want the hook to wow me like the movie did. And I'm not sure there's any way it can (where we've gotten it to so far certainly doesn't). So I've been asking myself what good it does it to have the hook be technically correct, if it doesn't grab you by the collar and shake you, screaming, "This is the best freaking movie ever!"

    But that's probably just expecting too much of the hook. I guess all the hook is really supposed to do is get you to read the next sentence in the pitch, and then it's the pitch's job to do the grabbing and shaking and screaming.

    Your final suggestion is to question whether we need to add more story, which is exactly what we don't want to do with a hook, per everything I've written about it.
    When I asked if multiple hooks makes sense for multiple protagonists, it's not because I want to cram more story into the hook, it's because I don't know how to address (in the hook) that it's really more than one guy's story.

    I can't just plug two guys into the hook we've got. It doesn't work, because their stories aren't the same.

    "This is the story of a big-city cop who gets a crummy small-town assignment, only for him to discover that when he has a chance to return home a hero, he'd rather stay."

    That's Angel's story (more or less). Danny's story, even though it's completely intertwined with Angel's, travels through the same plot, and ends up in the same place, is a whole different journey heading in the opposite direction. They're both growth stories, but the growth is from opposite ends toward the common middle.

    Danny's hook might be something like...
    "This is the story of a small town cop who dreams of being a hero, only for him to discover that he already is one."

    They're both major players, both pivotal to the story(ies), and deserve equal billing. The movie is about the two of them, so it seems like the hook should be about the two of them. But I don't have a clue how to fit them both in the same hook (without going back to something like I had in the first place).

    And speaking of what I had in the first place, I also can't help but thinking I'm artificially changing the story (or at least what aspects of the story I'm focusing on) as we go along, in an attempt to make the hook fit a template. And that just doesn't feel right.

    I know I'm probably over thinking the heck out of this (as I have a tendency to do), but I'm hoping that thinking "out loud" like this might help me sort it out. I've got to run out right now, but I'm going to give the two-character hook another shot, later.



  7. LeeNordling Guest

    For a well-conceived concept, there's always a way of dealing with teams or groups, as long as you step back from them as individuals.

    48-Hours: this is the story of a cop and a crook who have to work together to solve a murder, only for them to discover that the hardest part of working together is not killing each other. (THIS was the good part for this story, so it just needed to be stated well-enough to imply the crime/comedy mix.)

    The West Wing: This is the story about a group of White House professionals who work to do the right thing, only for them to discover the "right thing" usually involves compromise.

    I've never seen the movie you're working with, Calvin, but believe me when I say that you're trying to do too much...and, in so trying, are watering down what's potentially compelling.

    Your hook needs to get somebody to want to really know what the story's about, not to read the next line (though that's a start).

    To be able to do this, with other work and eventually your own, you need to be analytical about stories, and especially be able to figure out what made them tick.

    Look to my Memento example; I left out a lot...but still cut to the heart of our protagonist's quest.

    Twists, or surprises, can be large or small, but if there's NOTHING in a story that surprises somebody then it is not a story worth reading or watching.

    Since there's USUALLY something to engender interest, the trick here is to find it, cut out practically everything else, then set up a sentence/hook with a one-two punch.

    --Lee



  8. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    For a well-conceived concept, there's always a way of dealing with teams or groups, as long as you step back from them as individuals.
    It looks like it's pretty easy to step back too far.

    Your 48-Hours hook... that doesn't describe 48-Hours. What you've laid out there is the common premise for an entire sub-genre of movies (and books, and tv shows). All it says is, "this is one of those variants on the buddy cop movie, where one of the partners is a lovable crook instead of a cop." It describes any number of different movies, each with its own unique story that the hook doesn't even touch on.

    That's kind of where I am with Hot Fuzz. It seems like, if I step back far enough for a single sentence to cover both character's stories, then it's so vague it could apply to almost anything. Heck, even with one character it's so vague it could apply to almost anything.

    Maybe that's not a problem. Maybe it doesn't need to suggest what it applies to, just that it might apply to something interesting. I don't know.

    I do agree that I need to work on looking at stories more analytically, and try to zero in on what makes them tick.

    However...
    Twists, or surprises, can be large or small, but if there's NOTHING in a story that surprises somebody then it is not a story worth reading or watching.
    I'm sorry, but I can't agree with that. Not unless you're using a ridiculously broad definition for "surprise" (like making it synonymous with intrigued, entertained, informed, disturbed, or any of the other things a story can do besides surprise). I certainly don't read books or watch movies for the surprises. If I did, I wouldn't keep going back to them, and enjoying them over and over.

    It's usually the stories that rely too much on the surprise that I find shallow and lacking in value. For instance, I have no desire to ever watch Sixth Sense again, because I already know the surprise, and it was entirely about the surprise, so there's nothing there for me to bother going back to.

    So I'm with you when you say to look for something that "engenders interest" and then set up the "one-two punch" based on that, but you lose me when you insist that only a surprise can do the job of engendering interest.

    Still, having said all that, I guess I can't argue with the idea that a surprise twist probably has more commercial appeal to a publisher. And the hook/pitch is about marketing, not about what makes the best story, so...



  9. drgerb Guest

    This is a really interesting conversation going that originated from the idea of pitching. That's cool.

    While I agree with Lee, in that the surprises are what *get* me, I do understand Calvin's point... And look at Forrest Gump. Was there one big shocker? Not really. I guess that he's a dad. Gah. Okay, bad example. Another Tom Hanks movie, Castaway. Dude crashes in a plane, stranded on a tropical island, and eventually finds his way back home. There was no real plot twist (unless you count the plane crash, but the title itself already would give away the twist, in that case).. Dude's stranded, talks to a beach ball, and eventually gets rescued. What else is there?

    You could probably list off a few minor surprises / twists (IE talking to a beach ball like it's a person maybe?) but I don't think there's a real twist anywhere. What would the pitch for Castaway be?

    But yeah. While I understand Calvin's point, and there probably are a lot of examples out there of great stories that have no major plot twist... I find myself striving for them in my own stories. I'm always trying to wonder what'd make the reader go, 'No shit!' way more often than just casually turning the page.

    Yeah, after typing this, I really don't even know what to think anymore. I understand the purpose of pitching is to bait your reader / editor, get him excited about it, but there are some good comics out there without a real huge plot twist.. Bleh, I dunno.


    Okay, so I just reread Lee's quote, and now I gotta say I fully agree with him.

    Twists, or surprises, can be large or small, but if there's NOTHING in a story that surprises somebody then it is not a story worth reading or watching.
    He said large or small. If you think small enough, you can find a surprise or twist in any story you look. I already mentioned one in Castaway. I think you're putting too much emphasis on the plot twist element, Calvin. He didn't say every story needs a Sixth Sense'esque style twist. Just that there needs to be some surprises, some things to keep you guessing, a few smaller twists along the way. If there aren't ANY of those, then what's the point in continuing to watch the movie? Anyone would get bored if they could see everything coming from a mile away. And with no surprises, that's basically where we'd be.

    And it's not about how many times you rewatch a movie (I understand your Sixth Sense bit, about not rewatching it), but it's about whether you finish the movie, or not. I'm a forgiving person and I pretty much finish everything I start. But every now and then there are those movies that I go out of my way to turn off before finishing. Was that because there weren't ANY surprises at all, I can't tell. I don't remember. But no surprises at all = boredom, and boring your reader is the biggest travesty of injustice (just wanted to use that term) of all.

    Can something *OTHER* than a surprise / twist be there to hold your reader's interest? Are there other terms / words that we could substitute for 'surprise' that'd keep a story interesting? Maybe style / mood? If a movie doesn't have one surprise, maybe the mood, or two combinations of genres nobody's thought of before would be enough to hold a reader? I dunno. Just trying for the sake of discussion. After rereading Lee's bit, I totally DO agree with it. I think you do need surprises. Maybe not major ones, maybe not even big ones, but you do need some. Even not "surprises" but just things happening out of the ordinary, unexpected events. Anyway..



  10. LeeNordling Guest

    48 Hours was one of the early examples of the buddy sub-genre, so yep, it was built on many times, but at the time it was released, that hook WOULD have gotten (and did get) somebody to pay attention.

    And yep, Forest Gump has surprises, as noted. At the end we discover he's a dad AND his lifelong love has AIDS AND he's going to be raising his kid. These are surprises that can be utilized for a hook. Waiting for the bus to go see her is why he's been sitting at the bus stop the whole movie, and, if I remember correctly, it turns out it's short walk to her apartment. I also think him going from cripple to long-distance and fast runner is something to play with. Forest has so many twists and turns in it it would be hard to find the right way to approach it, but I suspect it would need to be something about an ordinary man who's clueless about the extraordinary events of the time in which he participated, and somehow, perhaps only implying the ordinary part, it was to do with an innocent in an age of lost innocence. Anyway, you can see, as I ramble, how I'm turning the story around to find my way into it.

    I don't want to get caught up in whether you disagree with me, Calvin; it's fair if you don't. I simply want to make sure I've been clear in my points.

    If you don't believe that stories need to surprise at some important level, that's fine.

    Just to be clear, as Roberts points out, I am not saying every story needs a Rod Serling, Sixth Sense- or Memento-like shocking story twist. I don't want to digress from the broader point, though.

    Go back to my first example from Marv Wolfman in article one: This is the story about a man who falls in love with a woman who's doomed to die.

    And then we all said, "Ooooooooooo." In the actual pitch, I think the man found out the woman was going to die halfway through the story, so the twist of the hook doesn't need to be a twist at the end of the story; it simply needs to be the important aspect on which the story hangs.

    I'd like to put our eye back on the ball here; the point of the hook paradigm is to get you, the writer, to find a "before and after" aspect that sums up what's important about your story.

    I understand this paradigm is tough; it's real work. I promised it would cost blood, and for those who want to learn it, that's a likely payment.

    I can say that when you crack the code, it gets simple-easy. Complex stories like Forest Gump are the tough ones, and even then they can be cracked by simply looking at the beginning and the end, then asking how, conceptually, they connect.

    For those who want to consider Forest Gump a love story, perhaps "this is the story about a boy who falls in love with a girl who's doomed to die" is all we need to hook the reader.

    Whatever you do, though, it needs to feel fresh.

    I'll help by offering further examples and criticisms.

    --Lee



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