I’ve been seeing A LOT of Red Planet Prize Pitch Docs and Pilot Packages. A lot. One thing that is missing from many is just one thing, though it is admittedly a pretty massive part. And what it is may surprise you.
It’s not that the characters don’t seem cool or that the central premise isn’t interesting – let’s have Granny lapdancers! (actually I just made that up). It’s not that the ten pages are rubbish or dialogue does my head in or the pitch doc doesn’t seem *even a little bit* intriguing.
Instead, what’s missing is the story itself.
“How is this possible???” I hear you cry. Well it’s very simple. I can tell you this having read a huge plethora of pitch docs, synopses, treatments and even entire screenplays with the same problem, not just for RPP, but on a daily basis:
The reader doesn’t know WHY it’s a story; they don’t know HOW to works, WHY we should care or WHAT the character is supposed to be doing – and for WHAT reason.
When you train as a journo, the first thing they drum into you is this:
WHO? WHAT? WHERE? WHEN? WHY?
It’s the basis of investigative reporting. But you can apply it to creative writing too, especially if you’re a script reader and apply it retrospectively: very often the scripts I read nail WHO is (character names, backgrounds); they might even pin down WHERE (arena) and WHEN (arena again). Yet WHAT and WHY is lacking.
But what is the WHAT of a story? Well, that’s the premise, sure – but it’s also the plot, the structure, how it draws us in, which is what leads us into WHY.
So what is the WHY of a story? Well that’s character motivation, the arc they travel, their journey, how they learn, why we should care about them and not another character or their journey instead.
REMEMBER: Story Is King – Or Queen, Prince/Princess, He-Man, She-Ra, Overlord Ruler, Space Creature of the Universe, etc.
With a proper, specific, well-thought-out story that a writer is PASSIONATE about, it IS POSSIBLE to get away with all sorts of ills – even the kind that make readers want to poke their eyes out with forks.
But without story you have nothing.