Peggy Bechko: Hooked From The Beginning

No, not hooked on a feeling. Hooking the audience. Dammit!
No, not hooked on a feeling. Hooking the audience. Dammit!

by Peggy Bechko

AKA The How to Do It Syndrome

Okay writers, listen up.

How many times have you been told you can write a screenplay (or novel or whatever) if you just find the formula and follow the directions? How many times have you read articles and even books on the subject?

Is it true? Is there a magic formula?


And yes.

Things vary from discipline to discipline and genre to genre, but the basics are really pretty common sense. A lot depends on marketing, how you present your work (presuming its good work to begin with).

So, what are a few ways of nurturing that formula? What are the methods that can help produce success?

Whether it’s your first or your one hundredth of anything, success is more easily in reach if you consider the market. That doesn’t mean you have to write what everyone else is writing – heck, that train has already left the station anyway. But it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the ball in the sense that you think about what the movers and shakers will buy. You want something that’s unique and will appeal to a broad audience.

Scripts, novels, it applies to both.

Yes, you can write something that’s appealing to a small audience, and it could well sell and if it’s your heart’s desire, go for it. But if you nail the marketability and (in the case of scripts) think in terms of what bankable stars might be interested in playing the big parts, the A-list folks, and so create characters to that end, success in a sale will be that much more attainable. But you say a smaller movie is less expensive to make. Yes, true, but think about the movie-goers. They tend to go to movies because they like a start, which is why those stars get the big bucks. If those are the kind who want to play the characters you create you have a giant leg up.

There are no actors attached to books, but the idea applies, just to the reader instead of the watcher. In the case of the reader when you create a magnificent character, the reader identifies, gets drawn in, sees him or her self in the role of that character. So the editor who’s reading it for possible publication approval looks for that identification.

You need to create a great beginning. The reader of the book needs to be hooked thoroughly within the first few pages. The script reader, ditto. Make a fantastic impression on your first page. Really. That’s the place. After that comes a variety of scene structures to keep the story unpredictable. You want the reader to read on. You’re a professional, BE one. Oh, and keep your descriptions tight, brief, and concise. Novel or script. These days it doesn’t really matter. You want a great story told clearly and tightly.

Now for the marketing part. Once what you’ve written is as complete and polished as you can possibly make it, you’ve nailed the concept, make your characters outstandingly appealing and told an amazing story, you have to switch gears and become a marketer. I know, I know, there are many who view that as a dirty word, but the reality is you need to sell what you’ve written unless it’s just a hobby with you and you stick it in a drawer for your old Aunt Edna to read.

Finally, in the great course of things, you have to be prepared to work with others, to cooperate. You have to be willing to accept ‘notes’ be they from a producer or from an editor. You must develop the skills to evaluate those notes, to work with them to make your writing better…and better.

So here’s the thing about marketing. You want to build anticipation and curiosity. Your story is amazing. It’s High Concept so let’s not let all the cats out of the bag at once. You want to hook that producer or editor. You want them to demand your script or book, be willing to bid for them in fact. So when you’re putting together a query letter remember selling is different than telling. You want to dole out small bits that are captivating, engaging and make they pant for more, you don’t want to do a dry telling of that great story you’ve written.

Once you accomplish that do your research. Find out who in Hollywood (for scripts) or amongst the publishers (for books) would be interested in your story. Don’t approach someone who specializes in comedy with horror or someone who loves producing science fiction with a detective drama. You’ll do nothing but waste everyone’s valuable time.

And always remember, you’re building a career, not selling one project. If this one doesn’t sell, create another, and another, and another.

Everybody has unsold projects, It’s the sold ones that count!

Now go out there and write and sell.

Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.