During my screenwriting workshop days, we spent a lot of time writing down a one-sentence story pitch on the board. Then our mentor, Nestor U. Torre, would comment if the pitch will sustain a film story or not.
A pitch (a.k.a. as logline or hook) is usually 25 words long that captures the essence of the novel, film, or any story. It’s the heart of the story. It is the writer’s description that will sell the idea before writing it down and getting paid.
The need to whittle down a story to one sentence gives a writer the head start to work on summaries in the future. It is what you build around when creating longer pitches and developing the plot. It is used when interacting with agents, entering contests, meeting with producers, or anyone with whom you want to engage. If they ask you, “What’s your story all about?”, you answer them with your pitch. Its main purpose is to get someone interested with your story.
So if a pitch is 25 words long, what are the things you need to put in? Here are the main elements of a pitch:
- One or two characters (the protagonist and the antagonist, perhaps)
- Their goal, conflict, or the choice they made
- What is at stake? (this may be implied)
- What are the obstacles in reaching their goal? Or what they should do to reach the goal.
- Setting (if it is important)
The pitch may be written in different ways and here are two examples:
- When CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER(s), they have to overcome OBSTACLE to reach the GOAL.
- CHARACTER(s) need to overcome OBSTACLE/reach GOAL before WHAT’S AT STAKE happens only to be prevented by CONFLICT.
Make sure that you’re describing an event and not the story’s theme. This is not the time to be vague or too general. You need not be too specific as well; no need to name the characters.
The pitch should just be enough for the audience to see the beginning, the middle, and the possible end. Also, your pitch should be able to make a lasting impression so that you stand out from the crowd and have better chance of being given the assignment or project.
Creating a pitch takes time and effort. It’s hard to boil down your story to a one sentence summary. It may take you several attempts, so don’t beat yourself up if you find it difficult at first. Sooner or later, you’ll know or feel that you have stumbled upon a perfect pitch. Start giving it a try and you’ll understand your story better.