It’s very important to make sure that what you’re promising in your pitch is actually true of your story. A good pitch can mean the difference between somebody flat-out hating your story, merely liking your story, or becoming its next big fan.
You see, your pitch gives us cues about what kind of story you’re telling. The events you pull out to focus on, the storylines you say are important, and the characters you tell us about, all of these contribute to our expectations. And when your audience has expectations, you’d better believe that you want to meet them.
Of course, you can take it further and own their expectations. You can purposely create expectations that match your story’s content. That’s why novelists have back cover copy and filmmakers make trailers: to manage expectations.
This was brought home to me by a movie I recently saw for the second time. Let me show you how a pitch gave me expectations that changed my perception of a story.
Once upon a time, probably a year or two ago at this point, I was told I should see a film called The Dish. The movie was pitched to me something like this: “A little village in Australia has a satellite dish that NASA employs to relay the communications for the Apollo 11 moon landing. Partway through the mission, they lose the spacecraft and have to figure out how to find it. It’s pretty funny.”
Given that pitch, my mind did the following calculations: “Okay, comedy about a small Australian town that loses the Apollo 11 mission and has to figure out how to get it back. It’s probably something like Apollo 13, only funny.”
Was I ever wrong.
The event that the movie was pitched to me on was only a tiny piece of the story. It takes up maybe twenty minutes of screen time, and then the movie goes on to the next humorous mishap. But because I’d gone into the film with preconceived ideas, I ended up feeling like it wasn’t very well paced. I called it a movie that was trying to juggle too many storylines. While I enjoyed the film, it wasn’t enough for me to recommend it to others.
The other night, I saw The Dish again. And now, with revised expectations, my enjoyment skyrocketed. In fact, I went from thinking the movie had lopsided pacing to admiring how well the pacing works.
What changed in my expectations? I had created my own pitch that reflected what the move was really about. Something like this: “When NASA chooses a small Australian town’s satellite dish to relay communications for Apollo 11, the citizens are thrilled to be a part of something big, but things get crazy when everything that can go wrong does.”
Now you get a different idea of this movie. It’s a comedy involving a large cast of citizens who probably have quirky personalities. There will be humorous mistakes involving the moon mission, but everything will get patched up in the end.
Without my preconceived ideas about when certain events should happen in the story, I was no longer disappointed by the pacing. In fact, I decided the movie was masterfully paced. I almost immediately told some friends about the movie, proclaiming that it was well worth seeing.
What a difference an accurate pitch makes.
Apply that to your own story. What expectations are you setting with your pitch? Are they accurate?
(And if you don’t have a pitch and need help building a good one, I just so happen to have a book that can help with that.)