I was going to start this off with a Prince quote, but since this is Tuesday and he wrote Manic Monday, it wouldn’t have really fit, you know?
So, welcome back to another edition of Bolts & Nuts! We’ve talked about a lot of stuff so far, and have yet to really scratch the surface of what you need to do to both write and create comics. So far, we’ve gone over story, plotting, and characters. We haven’t even gotten to scripting yet, which I know you’re all just shivering with antici………pation for. [Name that movie reference!] We still have a way to go before we get there, though. Right now, we still have to go over what you need to do in order to prepare for scripting. With that in mind, let’s talk about Writing The Pitch.
A great editor and all around nice guy by the name of Lee Nordling has written three articles on the art of pitching. They can be found here, here, and here. Great reading, and really informative. For a great example of what he’s talking about, go here. This example puts it all together for you, which is something that Lee either forgot to do, couldn’t get permission to do from one of his writers, or thought that there were enough places on the web to find them. If you ever run across Lee posting on someone’s script, take his word as gospel. He’s forgotten more about editing than editing knowledge I have in my whole body.
(Okay, Steven, I get that he’s a nice guy. I understand that I should listen to him. But why should I write my pitch before I write my script? I have a Great Idea, and it’s just itching to get out. You’re already playing with my emotions in making me wait to script. Why do I have to take this seemingly unnecessary step before instead of after?)
Well, first, it’s not unnecessary, and script permitting, you’ll be doing it at least twice.
First, let’s talk about what a pitch is and isn’t. Lee went into this somewhat, but I want to expand on it, because lots of people think they know what it is, and then Lee comes along and sets them straight. [Some people have to be told more than once.]
A pitch is a document, generally no more than two pages in length, that you write to sell your story idea. It is NOT a stringent “it can be no more than two lines” thing, because what does that really tell anyone about your opus? The two lines thing is more of a movie-like log line, or something you find as a movie description when you turn to your “what’s on now” channel at your local cable station. Die Hard meets Leprechaun doesn’t tell me anything. There are moving parts in both of those movies, and the parts you’re talking about have to be addressed. Is it the skyscraper? Is it the pot of gold? Is it the horror of having to live through another Leprechaun movie in a skyscraper taken over by German thieves posing as terrorists? What?
A good pitch will tell exactly what the story is about in broad strokes. It’s not a book report. It’s a longer blurb on the back of a book. Just leave out the questions as plot points. You’re trying to sell the story to an editor. The editor is not your audience. They have to know what’s going on in the story in order to make a determination about the story. Will Jane be able to save Tarzan from Ungowa, the Lion God? Don’t do that. Sure, the editor may want to know what happens, but if they want the story based on that, and then don’t get a satisfying answer to the question once they have it, time has been wasted, and you probably won’t be getting work from that editor for a good long while.
A good pitch is a promise, and the reason you want to write it before you start scripting is because it’ll help you hone the Great Idea into something you can write about. It tells you [and therefore, the editor] what the story is about, and while you’re scripting, it’ll help to keep you on track. It will help you to keep your promise in the script.
(Steven, I know exactly what my story’s about. It’s about this guy who finds this thing, and then there are people after him who want the thing, so they send this girl to go get it. So the girl gets the thing from the guy, but finds out she’s in love with him. She’s torn about giving the thing to the guys, or going back and giving it to the man she loves before he discovers it’s gone. Then they do the nasty, and the guy sucks in bed, so she decides to give the thing to the other guys. Come to find out, the thing the guy finds is a computer chip to God, and the guys after it are alien angels from Xarthenon, and the girl is the guy’s long lost sister.)
Okay. So what’s the story about? And don’t tell me that you just told me, because you didn’t.
And this is the mistake that lots of writers make. They don’t know what their story is about, and just begin writing instead of knowing their story first. And yes, you can take “knowing” to mean the Biblical sense. It’s your story, so there’s no shame in it.
Remember when I was talking about Story? I said to work the story backwards before you put pen to paper. That still applies, but with the pitch, you’re going to be removing the extraneous fluff and cutting to the heart of the story.
Less is more. [That’s a Lee quote, almost akin to a James Brown lyric. Another movie reference! I’ll even give you a hint–it’s a stand-up comedy movie.]
When you get bogged down by the minutia of details, you’re no longer telling what the story is about, you’re telling the story. However, in reality, that’s not what you’re doing at all. What you’re really doing is boring the editor, and you want to avoid that at all costs.
You’ve written the pitch, and it’s coming in at four pages. You can’t think of any more to take out. It’s all important, dammit! No, it’s not. You’ve got to cut out at least two more pages. You’ve got to boil the story down to the essence. Remove the backstory. (How are they going to know what’s going on?!) Don’t worry about that. It’s not important. As a matter of fact, I doubt the backstory is going to make it into the script. If it’s not going to make it to the script, why put it in the pitch? Take it out. It’s not important right now. What you want to write is about the story arc, character movement, and how the story ends. [Just don’t forget to give away the good part first!]
You want to paint the story with a broad brush, but the trick is to make it compelling enough that you want to read more. When you’re the one writing the story, that can be difficult. Just know that it can be done. I have faith.
Earlier, I said that, script permitting, you may need to write the pitch again? Well, guess what. We’re going to skip over the scripting process and get to the end, when you’re done writing. Now you want to revisit your pitch again. Does the story you wrote match the promise you made? If so, then congratulations, you don’t have any more work to do [script revisions notwithstanding].
If it doesn’t, then there’s a problem, and a choice has to be made. Sometimes, that choice will be made for you. If you have already sent the pitch to an editor and they want the story, then you have re-writing to do. [Remember that writing really is re-writing.] This decision is not yours to make. You’ve already sold the story, made the promise, and you now have to keep it.
However, if you haven’t already sold the story on the pitch, then your choice is to either rewrite the pitch or to rewrite the script. (Steven, you said that the pitch tells what the story is about, and that I should write the story to meet the pitch. That’s what you said, and I can prove it! Are you going back on it?) Nope. Not at all. I’m leaving you leeway for the dictates of creative freedom.
Sometimes during the course of writing, the story you start out with is not the story you end up with, no matter how hard you try. Or, which can be even better, the story you end up with is superior to the story you started out with, and on the rare occasions when that happens, you’d want to change the pitch to match it. And that’s what I mean by, script depending, you may have to write the pitch twice.
Do you now know everything about pitchwriting? Not at all. What I suggest you do is to read and print out the articles that Lee wrote, and then read the very good example at Digital Webbing. I suggest printing that, as well. I understand that it’s chic to be as paperless as possible in today’s time, but there are some things that are just better on paper and readily at hand. This is all just a suggestion.
And now I guess it’s time for homework. Got any graphic novels or trade paperbacks hanging around? Good. Do this. Write a pitch for it. No more than two pages, and make sure it’s not a book report. No, I didn’t say to read it again. I said to write a pitch for it. After you’ve done that, post it here for all to see. It’ll be fun! If you wish, read the story again after you’re finished writing the pitch [and are satisfied with what you wrote. No reading it beforehand]. See if your broad-strokes pitch follows the overall gist of the story you’ve read. Remember that the pitch has to be broad strokes and interesting. You’re trying to SELL the story, not write a book report.
Okay, there’s the bell. Orderly, orderly. No shoving. Next week, we start talking about scripting. See? We’re getting closer! Until then, be safe.
Category: Bolts & Nuts