You’ve heard the advice: Pitch a story, not a topic. It’s a simple rule that’s hard to master, and easy to forget.
But never fear. We at The Science Writers’ Handbook are here to serve, and in that spirit—ahem—we’ve thoroughly tested a new method of honing your narrative mastery. The rules of our game are below; adapt them as you wish and your condition demands.
Equipment: Two or more writers and their respective lifetimes of pop-cultural knowledge. Drinks recommended but extremely optional.
Setup: Um, none.
Game Play: First player names a favorite book or movie. Anything goes, as long as it’s reasonably familiar to the group. Other players then attempt to describe:
1. The topic of the book or movie, without using a verb. The duller the description, the better.
2. The primary external story of the book or movie, using a simple subject-verb-object sentence.
3. The beginning, middle, and end of the primary external story, using three simple subject-verb-object sentences. (Tip: begin with the main character’s problem. Stories start when a character encounters a problem.)
4. The primary internal story, in a subject-verb-object sentence.
5. The beginning, middle, and end of the primary internal story, using three simple subject-verb-object sentences. (The tip above holds, except that the problem is usually emotional.)
Got it? Players must drink when they use a verb in describing a topic, use a compound sentence in describing a story, or propose any description that, by majority vote, is bested by another player’s. (In other words, keep drinking.)
Players take turns naming books and movies. Play continues until shared cultural references are exhausted or someone suggests that the main character in Fargo is the woodchipper.
Example: Star Wars IV
1. Topic: Interplanetary relations.
2. External Story: Luke and his companions destroy the Death Star.
3. External Beginning, Middle, and End: Luke becomes responsible for the Death Star plans; Luke and companions battle evil; Luke destroys the Death Star.
4. Internal Story: Luke begins to discover his identity.
5. Internal Beginning, Middle, and End: Luke doesn’t know who he is; Luke learns about his Jedi heritage; Luke matures as a Jedi warrior.
Example: The Cat in the Hat
1. Topic: Household management.
2. External Story: The Cat in the Hat entertains Sally and her brother.
3. External Beginning, Middle, and End: The Cat in the Hat shows up to play games; the Cat in the Hat makes a mess; the Cat in the Hat cleans up.
4. Internal Story: The Cat in the Hat learns responsibility.
5. Internal Beginning, Middle and End: The Cat in the Hat wants to show off his tricks; the Cat in the Hat sees he has scared Sally and her brother; the Cat in the Hat realizes he must pick up all the things that are down.
Play on, Jedi. May the Force be with your pitches.
Top image: “Stormy Weather” by Flickr user JD Hancock. Creative Commons.