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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Yeah, Don't Do That

So, a funny thing about the holidays is how quickly the slightest thing can obliterate your best laid plans.

On the bright side: Fun time with family... so... yay!

Okay, let's get back to it. On Friday I mentioned that I might try to write a blog post about 'Don't make my mistakes' when it comes to writing a pitch bible. If this turns out okay I might even consider adding it to the Newbie's Guide over there on the side (w00t! An excuse to update the guide).

Some of the notes that I received for my bible were actually things that I probably should've noticed but, thanks to being so entirely involved with the project... well, I never even noticed that something was off.

First thing, to start this post off on a positive note (as in 'do something that I actually did right'), 'Always make sure your "finished" project is read by an unbiased 3rd party -- someone who'll have no bones about looking you in the eye and say 'what is this?' or 'why is this?'. You might not always like what they have to say, but they will save your ass (and, quite possibly, your fledgling reputation with it).

As far as things to 'Do Not Do What I Did'?

Well, first thing I should point out is that many of these mistakes are completely natural and, despite your best efforts, they will find ways to creep in as you get more and more involved with your project. If you are aware of them then there's a chance that you can catch yourself in the process of making these mistakes rather than completing your project and realizing you've got a lot of weeding to do.

Mistake #1: Forgetting About The Importance Of Your Pilot.

When you're thinking about your show as a 'series' one of the most common things is to start thinking of all the things that can happen, all the stories that you can tell. Sometimes it's quite easy to get enamored with the concept or a character or even a single detail before you have an utterly compelling 'Pilot' episode. Don't do this! One of the warning signs to keep an eye out for is when you start saying (to yourself, or others) "and in the end of the season!" or "midway through the season" or (*facepalm*)"in Season Two!"

NOTE: Not that you can't work ahead, not that you can't go off and world-build to your heart's content -- just remember: NONE of what you have in your head will ever come about if you don't have an absolutely fucking mind-blowing Pilot on lock.

For a Pitch Bible you don't really need to have a whole pilot written (though it helps) but you should have an intriguing/exciting/funny synopsis that will show people what they're buying into; that will excite them for all the other things you have planned.

My mistake? Of the sample episodes that I put forth for my show, the Pilot was, by far, the weakest. Yeah, Don't Do That.

Mistake #2: Getting Lost In The Past

Yes, the other extreme to point #1. Sometimes when you're building your world and your characters you need to start giving reasons for why things are the way they are or how people know one another. Or why the sky is purple. Or why Frogs speak in Technicolor.

What can sometimes happen is this sort of feedback loop where you start explaining and justifying and explaining and justifying and creating cool ideas and events and actions... that already happened. Stuff that's already long done, stuff that holds no Drama at all because, why? It's entirely in the past.

As great as it is to have a fully living, breathing world -- one with history and depth and lots of 'fertile ground' to draw stories from -- you can't forget that this Pitch Bible is to explain 'what's happening NOW'. Where do we start from? How do these characters interact NOW?

If your most exciting stories are in your past then you've got to stop and either a) re-assess where in the timeline that you want your show to start or b) put some serious focus time into the 'Present'.

One way around this is to start extrapolating forward from past events, start using that 'fertile ground' before you get started to make some seriously strong stories and that matter NOW. (I know, sounds like 'no duh!' but... yeah you'd be surprised).

My mistake? In my earlier draft I made WAY too much back story so to counter it in my 'final' draft I cut out and re-wrote large swaths of it -- only hinting at things that I had explicitly stated earlier. It ended up backfiring as well because those who read it were like 'I don't get what happened here'. So, yes, also be aware of that little quirk as well: Cut but also be aware to leave in the essential, exciting parts too. Especially if they help to make your Character more interesting.

So.. uh... Mistake #2.5: Don't over-edit.

Finally, Mistake #3: Everyone Except Your Lead Is Interesting

This one was a huge curve-ball for me. In my head, I know my lead character, I know them cold. I know what they had for lunch that day. I know what their favorite color is and even where they like to be tickled (if they do).

And yet, somehow, what was on the page was just not ringing true, was not doing the job of SELLING them or their view-port into my world. On paper, to me, it was clear as day, made perfect sense who they were. But to my reader the response was: "Huh?"

Even if your show's a Comedy and your main character is the straight-man, they've still gotta be Interesting (yes, capital 'I' there). You've gotta sell it like no tomorrow, gotta sell that there's a real reason for this person to be THE PERSON to lead this show.

One thing I've learned to help deal with this problem is to constantly re-check your lead against every character you create. Even if they'd never meet, how would they react to each other? By playing through these scenarios you're doing more than just 'building character' you're building a vocabulary that helps you explain your character to others.

I know, that might sound weird, but I've found it rather helpful.

You know, the funny thing is that even though these mistakes seem like biggies (because I've gone and hung a lantern on them) the overall feedback about my Pitch Bible was incredibly positive. They're not Huge (well the Pilot one was a speedbump, but an easily mitigated one) but they're important to keep in mind (and have fixed) because this Pitch Bible is going to get you a MEETING with someone who will, invariably, point out these flaws (even if they don't directly realize it) by asking you questions about your world and your show.

Questions that you damn-well be ready to answer.

So, if you can, keep your head about you, avoid these kinds of mistakes and keep on banging on that keyboard (preferably not with your face).


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