For a long time I was completely allergic to road-testing my concepts. Naturally, when you tell people you’re writing something, they want to know what you’re writing. Sounds reasonable enough.
But that would be the point where white-hot fear would hit me and I would point into space and say “oh my god, look at that!” or pretend to faint, or just run from the room, screaming. Anything to get out of having to tell them what I was writing. Why? In case I told them the story I was writing and they gave me ‘the look’.
I was stung by ‘the look’ early on, when a friend asked what I was working on and I told him. His reaction (although he did his best to hide it) was like I’d dropped one of the worst farts known to mankind. His face set in a fixed grimace, his head nodding – none of it screamed ‘what a great idea!’. It was enough to put me off for life. I quickly lost confidence and abandoned the project.
Most writers, especially screenwriters, have a flash of panic when asked to pitch on the spot. I was once half-drunk (OK, three quarters) in a bar for someone’s birthday party when two other guests announced themselves as producers and asked me to pitch my thriller to them. I blathered around the idea in a strangulated, sozzled voice like Withnail when he’s been pulled over for speeding. Their fixed smiles haunt me to this day, setting off my cringe alarm whenever I think of them.
When you’re doing pitching to non-writers without a vested interest, then it’s much worse. So it took me a long time to realise that rather than avoiding pitching your ideas at an early stage, it’s exactly what you need to do. And you need to do it a lot. Because only then do you get to know if you story works.
Road-testing your concept is probably the most valuable, time-saving thing you can do when you start working on a story. Otherwise, you risk the horror of writing a script or novel and then realising that it doesn’t work on a foundational level. Then you have to go back and unpick it till you get to the starting point and do it all over again.
I found the advice from Bang2Write on this to be really valuable. If you do a lot of the work at a conceptual level, then it saves a huge amount of time when it comes to drafting. It also means you can test out lots of ideas and half-ideas at the same time.
I was once asked to send a pitch document of ideas to a producer – so I sent 15 half-formed ideas. I was amazed at the ones that struck a chord, and I’ve gone on to develop several of the ones I would have otherwise discarded.
Likewise with trying to encapsulate your idea in a logline – useful for films, TV and novels – then testing the logline on complete strangers. The best resource for this IMO is www.logline.it – an anonymous way to get feedback on your finest 25 words. You also get a chance to redraft and retry your logline multiple times.
So don’t be shy. Tell people your ideas (they’ve unlikely to nick them, no matter what you think). What you learn from them will save you hours of wasted effort later on.
Pic: © Robert Mellor