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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

WHO - WHAT - WHERE - WHEN - WHY?

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.

2 comments:

Wyndham said...

A great post. Stories are what it's all about! And I agree, in my own script reading I will forgive a lot if the story grips me. But it;s amazing how many people forget to add one.

Elinor said...

A timely reminder as we all hurtle towards the deadline.