Ask the Expert — Character Description

Question: “How much importance should be placed on describing the character in a pitch?”

Answer:Stories are all about characters, so let the potential buyer know yours are fascinating and compelling, caught up in emotional turmoil, action challenges, moral dilemmas … whatever the dramatic conflict in your story.

SDS: Sympathy, Danger, Salvation. Let them know enough about your protagonist that they can Sympathize with her and her situation. Clearly state the nature of the Danger so the dramatic conflict is obvious. At least hint at, if not give full disclosure on, how your character will achieve Salvation for the day, the romance, the planet, the team, the show, the cat.

Sympathy. Recognition creates relationship, so give us something familiar. Archetypes work because most humans fall into universal patterns. Use a few generic terms to narrow down the possibilities, then get more specific.

To start the exec casting roles in their imagination, give the gender, age range, ethnicity (if vital to the story), and any story-linked physical characteristics such as unusual size, beauty or ugliness, a defect or wound, etc.

Danger. The antagonist to your protagonist, be it loneliness, society, a ghost, a rival, a plague, or a Death Star. Give a sense of your characters’ emotional and philosophical makeup so we have an idea how they’ll deal with the story’s danger. Are they shy, bold, cocky, lonely, confused, dissatisfied, reluctant, crusading, devoted, etc. Once they’re engaged with the Danger, how do they change emotionally?

Salvation is the end goal for the protagonist. What character attribute does she use to defeat the Danger and solve the dilemma of the story? Is it physical strength, moral courage, cunning, persuasion, seduction, leadership? How will she be at the end of your story? In a satisfying relationship, heroine of the planet, star of the team, back at peace with her world?

Your descriptions of your characters in the pitch should be a brief map of their emotional, physical, and philosophical journey through the story.

Examples:

M is a snazzy dame with beauty and brains who wants to quit her job with the Havana underworld and get a normal life / Control-freak law enforcer Haig loathes the rogue racers / R is a teenage tomboy who loves horses, adores D, and would love for him and her mom to marry / S is torn between a career in PR and his love for theater /

from Cuban Circuit – McMillan & Smith, Racer – Logan & Smith, Copperhead Mesa, Mozart & Me – Grant

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