Lisa and I are working on a pitch document for an hour drama we hope to shop to networks up here in Canuckistan. (Networks in the States want to see a completed pilot script, so you may never have to write a pitch bible at all.) We have to keep reminding ourselves to stay away from backstory. The point of character descriptions isn't to fill in backstory. It's to describe the characters as they are now, and more importantly, set them in motion. So I would say the priorities of a character description in a pitch are:
- What do they want? Why can't they get it? How do they go about trying to get it?
- What are they like?
- And only then, if necessary, the minimum backstory necessary to explain what they're doing in the story of the series.
You can actually get away without any backstory in your character descriptions. But you absolutely must fill in what each character wants (his drive) and how he approaches trying to get it. That's what sets him in motion -- and defines his direction -- in the stories.
The "how" is not just the explicit things the character does, but the manner in which he does them, and the point of view that the manner comes out of. It should all be there in the "how."
Thanks for the post - good simple advice, as usual. BTW - enjoyed your book 'Crafty TV Writing' btw.
I agree. It's cooler to use an episode to find out particularly juicy parts of a character's backstory. Such as whether they're a robot, or not. That sort of thing.
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