Friday, March 6, 2015

The Ramsay Pitch Doc

I will be teaching a course on how to grip the reader by the time you read this. The answer is not 'by the neck'. The course is in picturesque Gretna, right at the border and was very convenient for runaway couples coming north to marry under Scots law at a time when English law prevented it. That is worthy of a blog of its own.

                                                  Graham Smith, a fine writer in his own....write!

The venue is magnificent, the chap who runs it all is a crime writer and some old pals are teaching alongside me. And book six is safely put to bed.

Life is good.

While revising and choosing my course material, I always start with the pitch document. No matter what the course is about. I think I stole it, or its ancestor from the screen writer Adrian Mead.
It’s a version of what he uses when he is pitching for a new film or a tv series. But it really helps to concentrate the mind.
So here it is the pitch document, Ramsay style.

Log Line:

One sentence. Two at most if you can’t tell yourself what your story is in one or two sentences, you’re already running into trouble. Even in Moby Dick, it comes down to Captain Ahab chases a whale and doesn’t get it. – Gerald Petievich, in The Writers Digest Handbook of Novel Writing (1992.)
I tell the class to imagine they have just bumped into a (sober ) agent at the bar at a crime writers festival. ‘I’ve written a book.’
‘Tell me about it,’ says the agent….
This is the moment for the log line.
It is sometimes confused with the tag line. When teaching it, it’s often good to work from tag line back to log line. The tag line can be called, a bullet point of culture, a meme.
So what film was; Romeo and Juliet on a sinking ship.
In space no one can hear you scream.


What we do in life echoes in eternity.
And here are some log lines for films in a concise 25 word version.
After moving into a suburban home, a couple becomes increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence. Paranormal activity (that could be a few films really!!)
A vengeful Australian policeman sets out to avenge his partner, his wife and his son whom were murdered by a motorcycle gang in retaliation for the death of their leader. (Mad Max??)
Three film students go missing after traveling into the woods of Maryland to make a documentary about the local Blair Witch legend leaving only their footage behind. (The Blair Witch Project)


A listless and alienated teenager decides to help his new friend win the class presidency in their small western high school, while he must deal with his bizarre family life back home. (Napoleon Dynamite).
Luke Skywalker, a spirited farm boy, joins rebel forces to save Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader, and the galaxy from the Empire’s planet-destroying Death Star. (I have no idea what film that is but I think they should have made it. It could have some potential for merchandising, sequels, prequels and maybe invent a new religion.)

                                                     A good title!

‘The Ancient mariner’ would not have taken so well if it had been called ‘The old Sailor’. – Samuel Butler (1935-1902), attrib.
I am not in a good place to talk about this – or maybe I am as I seem to be getting better at it. The Night Hunter was the first novel that I came up with, and was not changed by the publisher. But for much of its time in my head and my computer, it was called simply Bob.

‘The first thing I ask myself is, what shelf of the DVD store will it sit on?’  Attrib Spielberg
“If your honest answer is that you don’t read the genre or don’t admire it, then it is fair to warn you that you will find it very hard to write.  Unfortunately, people are tempted to believe that because a book is easy to read it must have been easy to write.”
 I know where we all are here, but again, some folk write serious crime fiction,  only to have the detective slip back in time to solve the murder. A murder they could have prevented from happening if they had tried a little harder. Or would that disrupt the space time continuum. And the fact I have just typed that, means it is a science fiction novel.
And on a different shelf. The shelf surrounded by single men. In anoraks. Drinking hot chocolate.

                                                             Our Hero

‘I can never remember if Moby Dick is the man or the whale?’ – James Thurber
Should always be flawed and not squeaky clean. At this point I start talking about Jaws a lot and how much Martin Brodie has on his plate.


Should also be flawed and have some good qualities. Is the shark the baddie in Jaws? Or is it the locals who are keen to keep the cash coming in?

                                                        Where he wanted to be...

And where he ended up! The viewer has known all the way 
through the film that he
 hates water and can't swim.

Not where your hero wants to be, but where he has to be. These two are never the same place. 
To find the murderer, or hunt the shark or find the child. The hero has got to do what a man, woman Jedi, has got to do.

Obstacles; ‘Get your Hero, stick him up a tree and do all you can to stop him getting down.’ Bruce Robinson
I think this is why all crime writers are evil at heart, don’t we just love watching the hero nearly sort it out, and then squish him back up the tree. In Jaws there are about 80 instances where Brodie tries to do the right thing, and is blocked by the mayor, Quint or the shark. Yet it is seamless on screen, a tribute to the quality of the writing.

Theme; ‘I discovered I had a great urge to communicate. I also discovered I had nothing to say,’ Bruce Joel Rubin.
As I’m sure you know there are very few themes. (7?), but here we are deep in the ‘ quest’ theme,

Setting Time and Place
P.D. James, Sir John Soane’s house, Devices and Desires (1989)/ 

                                          The Cobb

John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), the sea from the Cobb at Lyme Regis.”
I think all the MIE writers excel in a sense of place. Hence the nature of the blog I suppose.
                                          The Rest And Be Thankful

And by the end?
‘Agatha Christie has given more pleasure in bed than any other woman.’ Nancy Banks-Smith
It might not be happy, but the end should always satisfy. Caro
Indeed, it does not need to be tied up nicely, and Italian Job endings are allowed….. like in this blog…

Caro Ramsay 06/10/2015


  1. Now, hold on just a dag-nabbed minute... *I* read science fiction, and *I* am not single, and *I* don't drink hot chocolate. And I don't even know what an anorak IS.


    And the title of the column SHOULD have been "Pitching a Home Run."

    So there.

    (Congrats on getting #6 into bed! So to speak.)

  2. Not being much of a writer, but feeling the Theme (see above) I think you have just enhanced my ability to put a paragraph or two together. Thanks for the education! The date after your name confuses me though, or did you do that on purpose? Well done on 6!

  3. Great advice, Caro~

    To this day, I cannot see stills from JAWS without thinking "We're going to need a bigger boat..."

  4. Where were you while I was laboring over the syllabus for that Mystery Course I taught last year?I could have just cribbed your notes and and looked like a star...with a Pittsburgh accent.

    By the way, I was staying on Martha's Vineyard when they were filming the original Jaws and it seemed all so hokey because when you drove by the inland pond where they did much of the shooting you could see they had several partial mechanical sharks that only looked real for the camera angles. It was common thinking that this Spielberg fella couldn't know what he was doing.

    The same folks undoubtedly never expected a company named after a fruit to make a go of it against Microsoft.

  5. You are always a star Jeff, (despite your Pittsburgh accent). Glad that you are better.
    The recent workshop went very well, ( thank you for your kind comments) we acted out the reversals from Jaws with hilarious results, and that was with a sober audience. Or so they told me.