C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Writers: Craft your pitch carefully.

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Image by Nitin Parmar via Flickr

It’s very difficult to summarize your novel. When we pitch a story, we talk about broad strokes and the rest is about theme. The reason is that when we summarize in depth, the story often sounds dumb.

Let’s try it with a popular movie and you’ll see what I mean:

In the mostly great and totally watchable  A Few Good Men, a Gitmo soldier is killed and two Marines are charged with his killing. So far, so good.

The base commander goes to great lengths (all behind the scenes) to cover up his part in the crime. The rest is about how a young lawyer who has never stepped inside a courtroom goes against the military establishment to get the commanding officer to admit in court that it was he who ordered the Marines to attack the soldier as a training exercise. The commanding officer will admit his guilt proudly and then be surprised he’s under arrest. The two Marines don’t go to prison but do get discharged dishonorably. The young lawyer feels good about himself in the end. And no, he doesn’t get to sleep with Demi Moore.

Were you to pitch it like that (and if you aren’t actually Aaron Sorkin) it’s very hit-and-miss…uh, no, actually it’s all miss. The context and detail is necessarily missing in a summary. The person you’re pitching won’t know about the nuance that the young lawyer will try to live up to his father’s courtroom legend. The clever sarcasm won’t be much on display to sell the idea of the script.

You would pitch about visiting the base and the sinister base commander. However, the subplot about the deputy-commander who can disappear because he’s former Special Ops (and turns suicidal) stretches credibility. It’s a spot where you could easily lose your audience. The pitch won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the interplay among the defense team. Kevin Pollak is the glue, but his role’s power would be difficult to flesh out in a short meeting and could derail you. 

When you pitch a movie, play or book, the odds are stacked against you in a huge way. It is statistically very unlikely someone will invest in your art. Put a lot of time perfecting your query letter (or your pitch) so you cram in your art and style.

The inherent difficulties of the pitch reduce your work so you want to look for ways to show your competence and still stay within the parameters of the pitch (e.g. format, brevity and economy of communication must be balanced by characters whose motivations are compelling and narrative arcs that make people want to hear more.)

If you don’t pitch it well, they won’t get it. If you have no track record, the only evidence that they have that you can articulate and execute an idea is confined within the straitjacket of a pitch meeting or query letter.

That’s why so many unknown writers, directors and artists of all sorts stay unknown.*

*Or, as we’ve frequently discussed, you could reject the premise of The Man’s hierarchical paradigm and find a way to DIY. (See yesterday’s post for further thoughts on that.)

UPDATE: Here’s a great survey on the things that drive agents away from you.

Filed under: authors, DIY, Editors, manuscript evaluation, movies, queries, writing tips, , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses

  1. myne Whitman says:

    The pitch is just too important to miss!

  2. Frank Strong says:

    Best line: “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.” Great movie, great post. Thanks for including a link to Sword and the Script. Curious: Did you pick that up through search are are you using a tool like Zemanta?

  3. Chazz says:

    Thanks! Worst line: “There’s an officer on deck!” (Slow embarrassing salute follows.) Overall though, love that movie. When I happen on it, I can’t not watch it. Kevin Pollak isn’t in enough movies and it’s Jack’s best role besides About Schmidt.
    To your question: Pleased to have run across your link with Zemanta (love that tool.)

  4. Frank Strong says:

    You are right about that (worst ever) line. And Zemanta. Interesting. Thanks!

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