Even though those are great tips, I have a confession to make. I do something else too. When I’m shifting gears—which can happen multiple times a day—I need a way to reset my brain. Clean slate. Blank canvas.
It helps me quickly shake off one subject before moving on to the next. Now, some could say this is simply procrastination. They may be correct.
But I realized (OK, rationalized) something the other day. These 2-minute teasers actually help train my brain. They, surreptitiously, make me mindful of the power of scene, tension and action—elements that I need to consider when crafting a story, but even more relevantly, when I’m sketching out a pitch.
A pitch is, essentially, a feature trailer. In just a few words, a writer needs to convey not only the significance of the piece, but the narrative that will make it resonate with readers. Without images, the language has to be visual, painting a storyboard of what the reader can expect.
Watch enough trailers and it’s easy to see how difficult it is to strike the right balance of piquing interest without diminishing the story.
For example, while it may encourage movie-goers, no editor would buy a story pitch resembling the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trailer. It is an endless string of short action shots set to a cover of Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song. It’s pulsing and vibrant, but the story remains a complete mystery.
On the other end of the spectrum, are the “in a world” trailers (à la voiceover actor Don Fontaine). “Mad Max lives in a world without gas. And there’s no place left to run. All that’s left is one last chance.” The story is clear, but this approach runs the risk of being, um, formulaic.
Last year, Wired magazine named Alien the best movie trailer ever. It’s a pretty good example of what a pitch should include too. It sets a dark, otherworldly scene and the tension builds as the viewer gets a taste of the action happening on board the spaceship. It ends with shot of the ship floating off in space and this line appears “In space no one can hear you scream”.
As Wired noted: “It says so much with so little.”
Admittedly, a typical science feature is, only rarely, going to come with all the elements of a blockbuster movie, but those elements that make a compelling story remain the same.
One last thing to avoid—a pitch that is better than the final story. (See Star Wars: Phantom Menace)
Image credit: Patrick DB via flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0