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Distill My Beating Heart

By far the greatest challenge for writers is to describe a larger work such as a novel or feature-length screenplay in a synopsis. As anyone in the publishing world or film industry will tell you, it is an art form unto itself and takes almost as much work as the thing it is describing.  I have just uploaded my screenplay for Fatted Calf Blues on the Inktip web site where, for $60 (USD), it will sit for six months in hopes of attracting a producer or agent or manager.

But before I could upload the script, I had to come up with a log line, one or two sentences that encapsulate the story in such a way as to make the prospective producer want to read the - Outline!  That has to be no more than a page and must tell the story in more detail, but not so much as to confuse them, because the outline will become the essence of their "pitch" to backers.

First off, I have to give props to my new pal, Patti Larsen, first for steering me toward Inktip and for giving me some valuable help on my log line. The cool thing about Inktip is that I can check in and see how many people have read my log line and outline.  Every six months I have the chance to rework my log line so as to attract more readers.

As for my outline, well, it looked good to me. My wife also thought it was good (and I value her opinion). Inktip (and other film insiders) suggest showing it to as many people as possible, just to see if it is a coherent story. Distilling a 100 page screenplay into a single page, as much of a pain in the ass as it is, can be quite beneficial to a writer, as you get to see the essence of what you have written. If you are lucky enough to get a meeting with a producer, you will have to "pitch" your story in no more than ten minutes. That's about one page worth of story with a minute or two to spare.  It's good practice.

And I get to do it all again with my novel.  At this past Seawords workshop, Toronto literary agent Jackie Kaiser critiqued query letters that we submitted before the workshop.  A query letter, either to a publisher or agent, must have an introduction, a synopsis of a few paragraphs and a bio.  The letter can be no more than one page, although two is acceptable.  The introduction and bio are easy (for me anyway). It's the synopsis that is killer.  My novel is 370 pages long and I get a measly three or four paragraphs to wow the prospective publisher.  During my personal writing time I revised (and revised and revised) my query letter, and was very lucky to have Jackie look at it. She sent me a marked-up copy and now I will be working on that.

A 370 page novel in a few paragraphs. Distill my beating heart?  Maybe I should have titled this post "Abridged Too Far."


Because of my status in the Scriptapalooza competition, I’m also exploring other avenues of getting my Fatted Calf Blues screenplay read. One of these is Inktip, a website where you can upload a screenplay to be read by producers. I am still investigating how to make this website work for me, so I’ll post more as I learn about it.