Exercise: Tell the story in five minutes.

This is one of the first exercises I like to run people through when they hire me as a coach:

“Imagine you’re at a bar and your film making hero comes in. For me, its Tarantino or Scorcese, yours may vary. You mention your project, and he says, alright, what’s the story. You have five minutes.”

I then set a clock and write down everything they’re saying in a shared Google document while they pitch.

If you can’t tell a story in 200 words, you probably can’t tell the story. If you can’t tell the story in five minutes, you definitely can’t tell the story.

Most beginners tend to write “combover scripts,” all first act, no second act. This is exposed with this exercise, because they end up spending the entire five minutes without even getting to midpoint. Other common problems:blurting (treating an interesting thing as just one more thing to get through) and vagueness (one thing leads to another, and finally they’re at the castle).

This works best if you have someone type for you, because we tend to be better at communicating when we’re talking to someone. If you don’t, record yourself with your phone or dictaphone and transcribe it later. Resist the temptation to fix it, just record the exercise.

Then do it again. And again. You should be sharper on your third iteration than you are on your first. Imagine if you did this three times a day for a week. Try that.

That’s the five minute exercise.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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