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

  1. CalvinCamp Guest

    To be clear, I'm not saying that I don't like plot twists. And I'm not saying a few twists and surprises won't make a story better. What I'm trying to get at is this...

    The hook is supposed to be about the most important aspect of the story, right? Well, to me, the twist is seldom the most important aspect of the story (the exceptions being with things like Sixth Sense). And while any story may have some nuggets that could be construed as surprises, how often is it really the most important aspect of the story? And if it's not the most important aspect of the story, what is it doing in the hook?

    To me, a good story is about the journey taken, the character's growth, the lesson learned, the feelings evoked... not the plot twist. That's probably why I've been having trouble with the idea that the hook has to be about the twist.

    But this...
    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.
    ... is reassuring. If the "twist" in the paradigm isn't really a twist (in the plot twist sense), if it's just the important transition or change that takes place over the course of the story, then that opens things up so it makes more sense to me. And it should make the paradigm a lot more flexible.

    I'll have to think on that awhile, but it sounds promising.

  2. LeeNordling Guest

    Yep, Calvin, that's what the "twist" means, in the context of creating the second half of the sentence that's the hook.

    We're not talking about O. Henry plots as the end all...and if I hadn't been previously clear about this before, then I really flunked the "writing with intention" measure.

    To be as clear as spring water, the second half of the sentence in the paradigm needs to twist on the first half of the sentence...and the use of the word "twist" is only intended to refer to the contrast that the writer has to craft.

    So, here's one that doesn't twist:

    This is the story about two cops who go after a killer, and kill him.

    Here's one that does:

    This is the story about two cops who go after a killer, only for them to discover that they've killed an innocent man.


  3. CalvinCamp Guest

    So, if I'm finally getting this right... the hook is really a reflection of the beginning, middle, & end segments of the story itself. The beginning sets up the status quo, and the end shows us what has changed. Which means, to find the "twist" (or middle), I just need to look for what caused the change. Does that sound about right?

    And I wouldn't say you've flunked the writing with intention measure. I'm just a really, really tough student. I always have been.

    To see if I've got this, let's try a variant of your non-twist example ("This is the story about two cops who go after a killer, and kill him."), to try and show a change in the status quo without an actual plot twist.

    This is a story about a cop who kills a murderer, only for the cop to discover that he has to deal with the fact that he's the murderer now.

    Or to streamline it... A cop kills a murderer, and then has to deal with being a murderer himself.

    To me that seems like something that could be a good story (a journey, a lesson learned, feelings evoked) that doesn't rely on a "surprise" plot twist. But is it a paradigm hook?

  4. drgerb Guest

    I'm just a really, really tough student. I always have been.
    Just as Steven.

    The only thing I can quickly say about the cop pitch you mentioned lastly, Calvin, is that while it does sound good, it's a bit unbelievable. In that being a cop to begin with, one knows going into the job that the possibility of being the murderer is always there. And understanding it's there shouldn't end up resulting in the biggest twist / reaction to the idea of being a murderer as the main point to the story. Cops kill, and villains kill. Like cowboys and indians kill.

    While I said the premise seems good, I think it'd be that much more impactful if we put somebody else into the role of murderer, struggling to cope with the fact that he's now a murderer. Somebody who doesn't go into his life / work with the idea constantly in the background that one day there's a very good chance he'll end up a murderer. I dunno. Just my two cents. Gotta run to work. Yay.

  5. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by drgerb View Post
    Just as Steven.
    Yes. I'm sure Steven would be happy to attest to the pain in the butt I can be when I'm having trouble trying to get my head wrapped around something.

    But this isn't Lee's first time at this either. I owe both of them a lot, for what I've learned and for what they've put up with to help me learn it. And they just keep letting me run the tab higher. They're good people, and I'm lucky to know them.

    The only thing I can quickly say about the cop pitch you mentioned lastly, Calvin, is that while it does sound good, it's a bit unbelievable. In that being a cop to begin with, one knows going into the job that the possibility of being the murderer is always there.
    On this, I beg to differ. Being a murderer is not "a possibility that's always there" when you're a cop. There's a substantial difference between killing and murdering.

    A cop may be forced to kill in the line of duty, but that is not murder. That's something he does when there is no other choice. But that the cop is a murderer... that means he chose to kill even when there was another choice. That's why the cop would have to deal with being a murderer, not just with having been forced to take a life. Of course it would clarify the hook if it were changed to...A cop chooses to kill a murderer, and then has to deal with being a murderer himself.

    But, even with all that said, I'd still argue that just following a cop as he deals with the aftermath of being forced to kill, with the resulting IA investigation and the feelings about what he's done and about being under the microscope for it, and the impact of all that on his life, could make a pretty good story all by itself. Just because it's a possibility he's tried to prepare himself for, doesn't mean it wouldn't still be a harrowing experience to deal with.

  6. LeeNordling Guest

    Hey, Calvin, to quote Professor 'enry 'iggins, I believe you've got it.

    The cop becoming a killer versions do the job well, and here's why I don't find it unbelievable: I think somebody would wonder why a cop killing a killer would feel like a murderer...and THAT would make somebody want to read how that can be...and THAT is a hook.

    You might want to play with the word "murderer" in there, somewhere to replace "killer," but this is all tweaking; the key is that the second half twists on the first, and it resonates.

    Roberts' questions are about story believability, not the nature of whether or not the hook is let's leave that for another day.

    This said, there are hundreds of stories about cops murdering killers they couldn't bring in, so I don't find that at all unbelievable as story fodder, and, as always, the trick is to make it believable.


  7. StevenForbes Guest

    I'm here. I'm watching. I'm learning. I'm thinking.

    I just don't have that much to say (yet).

    Is Calvin's learning style a pain in the ass? You betcha! Does it come from a pure place of wanting to learn and getting better? Most assuredly. It's really a two-way street. Simply put, if he wasn't honestly willing to learn, people wouldn't put up with him. It doesn't get any easier than that.

    What do we get out of it? ('We' being the 'teachers'.) We get to look at ourselves and see if we can bring light to a particular form of darkness, allowing the person to see. It allows us to look at our own processes and see if we can refine them even more, so that we can say things with crystal-pure clarity.

    Anyway, back to the LNP (Lee Nordling Paradigm).

    One of the 'weaknesses' of the LNP is that, as a writer, you MUST know your story. If you've reached a stage in your career where you're not going to write without knowing you have a publishing deal in place, you'll write up the pitch and send it, hoping it resonates with the editor and thus, get the job.

    If you're not yet in that place, at that stage in your career, then more than likely, you'll have to write the script first (or at least a damned detailed outline) in order to know the story you want to tell, and then write the pitch to match.

    The problem is, as writers, we don't know what our stories are about. (I wrote about this in the Pitching week of B&N.) We OFTEN don't know what our stories are about until after we write them, and that is the main 'weakness' of the LNP.

    How many of you sit down and truly think about your story? And I don't mean as a laundry list of actions, either. I mean, sit down, and think about what it is you're trying to say in your story? Because every story says something, whether you believe it or not. (And don't fall into the trap of trying to say something 'new.' More often than not, 'new' doesn't sell. There's a reason there are an infinite number of the same story being told time and again.)

    I have a story idea about spirits. I was watching a movie (Dragonwyck, starring Vincent Price), and in it, the female lead ate something with alcohol in it, but didn't know what it was. Her extremely religious father tasted it, and said it had spirits in it. I cocked my head to the side and said, "That's right! Alcohol is also called spirits! Interesting..."

    That's just the idea of the story. I know I'm going to wrap some sort of story in the idea of alcohol, using the word spirits. Plotting it out is the easy part, though.

    The hard part is, what am I trying to SAY with the story?

    Most of the time, when we get an idea, we can only think about how to move the story from point A to point D, and hope we have interesting points B & C to go along with it. But all of that is easy compared to knowing what the story is about, and then trying to put it into something like the LNP in order to get the story sold.

    And to do that without writing the script first? The bulk of us cannot do that yet. We're still too caught up with the idea of the story to think too much about what we're saying in the story--what the story is about.

    And then we blame the LNP, saying that it doesn't work. (Basically because the damned thing is difficult to master.) We're often WAY too close to the story to effectively write a pitch for it, because wee know all the cool things we want to tell about the story. It's like Superman Blue, when he had electricity powers: he had to learn how to emulate his usual power set. The junior scientist in all of us thinks of all the cool things that can be done, and we want to share that information right now! C'mon! It's cool!

    But we're missing the forest for the trees.

    The LNP is there to show us the forest. The rest of the pitch is to show us the dimly lit path. It's only in actually writing (and publishing) the story that we get to walk that path in the sunlight, touching the trees, seeing how the sunlight filters through the leaves, smell the air, hear the birds and the bugs, and lead the reader through the story the way we want.

    Once I realized this about myself and the stories I want to tell, I write out the idea of the story, and I may even start writing out the plot, but once I get over the initial excitement of having found yet another story to tell, I sit back and ask myself what my story is really about--what I'm trying to say with it.

    (This touches on 'themes', and I know that Lee's going to get there eventually [probably soon], but pitching isn't just about the theme, although it IS a part of it. It's about encompassing the entire story, and boiling it down to its most important components, and talking about THEM in an interesting manner in order to sell your story. All the pitch does is sell your story, which we come to in Part 3. Once you've done that, let your training take over, young padawans.)

    Whew! And I thought I didn't have much to say!

  8. drgerb Guest

    Woo! Three cheers for Forbes! Hah.

    I honestly dunno what to say in response to Steven's post. Other than I agree with it. Hah, takin' the easy way out. I liked the whole forest / trees analogy. And looking at myself as a creator, I guess I'd like to do some pitches / synopsis, and see if any one idea does get the chance. And if anything does get greenlit, in a way that'd "set me free" as a writer / artist, but like a newborn baby bird, I almost think I'd be destined to jump out of the nest and fall flat on my face. Like now that I can try using my wings, and I've got ALL this air and sky to fly around in, I wouldn't know where to go or where to start. And I'd fall. But it's not about falling, it's about getting back up. Anyway...

    I also have that problem with regards to my stories. I never know what I want to TELL in them, or if I do know that, or the moral, or the point, I never really know how to get there. I write in bits and pieces; A particular scene, conversation, speech or internal monologue will jump out at me, so I think I should focus or elaborate on that.. But focusing on such a tiny piece to the puzzle I don't see as being the right way to go about things either. Who knows, though? You'll never know what works FOR YOU until you start trying a few different routes. Anyway.

    And yeah, my bad about the pitch Calvin. At first I didn't realize he'd see himself as a murderer. I imagined him just sitting at the dinner table with his wife and kids, saying, 'Oh yeah. At work today I killed somebody. He had a gun and was firing at us, there was a shootout, and he got hit by the cross fire.' or something totally arbitrary... Now that I think about it it does have merit. Just the idea of anyone struggling over killing someone, or losing someone is interesting, and with the right twist, could be awesome.

    I think on route might be to also focus on the guy the cop kills. I understand it'll be a story about the cop, but maybe show the murderer he murders before the death.. Maybe elaborate on him as a person. I read The Texas Seven quite a while back (true story about 7 guys who broke out of a maximum security Texan prison), and was constantly rooting for "the bad guys." It was probably written like that. But the second it mentioned in the book that during their escape, they killed a cop who had a wife and two kids, then I started disliking the guys. I know they're probably in prison for a reason and are probably really bad guys, but the idea, and the adrenaline gets pumping imagining yourself in their shoes, breaking out of prison. But the second you realize they kill a man who has a wife, has some kids, is a husband, is a father, a son, a brother... It really puts you into a place where you can't tell if you should be cheering the main characters or despising them. Anyway.

    I like those sort of stories. The Killing Joke was awesome cause the villain, the Joker was the main character, and he was almost *the good guy.* When you bridge the gap between hero and villain, I think it gets awesome. I could be totally off, and maybe it's just my cup of tea.. Maybe other readers want to be able to KNOW who they're supposed to be rooting for / cheering on. But that's what sports is for. If you wanna wonder who's really good and who's really bad, then you read something. Bleh. At least in my opinion. I just love getting the reader to think one thing of a character, then flip that misconception on it's head. Some people might feel jipped, or cheated that I went out of my way to GIVE them that misconception in the first place, and to then totally flip their perceptions around... But if done well, I think those kinds of stories have some nice potential. Blah, rambling again.

  9. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    Hey, Calvin, to quote Professor 'enry 'iggins, I believe you've got it.
    *dances a little jig around his chair*

    Now let me ask another question, Lee, just to confirm some other thoughts:
    If I've got a complex story, with multiple plots weaving around each other, multiple protagonists with differing agendas, whatever... that actually doesn't matter for the hook does it?

    When the hook says, "This is a story about THIS", it doesn't matter if the story is really about THIS, that and three other things... as long as it is, at some major level, about THIS, and THIS is compelling. Am I right?

    To phrase it another way, it doesn't matter if Hot Fuzz is about Angel and Danny, and the hook is about Angel, as long as the hook makes you interested in seeing what Hot Fuzz is all about?

    Okay, two questions:
    Does it matter if the hook could as easily apply to a different story? I complained that your 48-Hours hook was too vague because it could apply to any number of stories. But that probably doesn't really matter either, does it? Because the hook tells me this is a cop/crook buddy movie and I'll know if those appeal to me. If they do, then I'll be interested and I'll read the rest of the pitch, so the hook has done its job. Would you agree?

  10. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by StevenForbes View Post
    Is Calvin's learning style a pain in the ass? You betcha! Does it come from a pure place of wanting to learn and getting better? Most assuredly. It's really a two-way street. Simply put, if he wasn't honestly willing to learn, people wouldn't put up with him.
    It's so nice to be understood.

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