Tappers and Listeners
I got a little break this Christmas to read some books not necessarily associated with screenwriting.
And yet pretty much everything sends me back to the study of story!
One such example comes from a great book I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend called Made to Stick by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.
The basic premise of the book is: Why do some ideas “stick” and others don’t? Why, for instance, do urban legends — such as the friend that goes into a strange bar and wakes up in a bathtub with his kidney missing — continue to get passed around virallly, while other stories and ideas are DOA.
What grabs us and why is a science that is forever fascinating.
A favorite example from the book — and one that has stuck with me — is a social experiment the authors refer to called “Tappers and Listeners.” This is one where two people are assigned the task of trying to communicate a simple tune using only tapping to do so. One person, the Tapper, has a song in his head such as “The Star Spangled Banner” but is only allowed to tap the beats of the song to a Listener who must guess the song the poor Tapper is trying to communicate.
The success rate is surprisingly low.
And the funny part is how upset the Tappers get when the experiment fails. “It’s the ‘Star Spangled Banner,'” they yell. “Aren’t you hearing it?”
As screenwriters we are very often the “Tappers.” We see our stories! We get it! We understand why our scripts are great! And we get frustrated when others don’t.
Because our movie is playing so clearly in our heads, we can practically taste the popcorn as we sit in the theater and watch our flick unfold.
Why can’t everyone else?
To me, this is the essence of what the Save the Cat! method helps overcome. Whether it’s pitching your idea to strangers at Starbucks, putting up your structure on a virtual board for all to see, or working in one of our many Cat! writing groups around the world, we get you out of your isolation and force you to tell us why your movie is great.
But it’s all about the simple dilemma of you having a tune in your head and needing to communicate it in a way we understand.
Just for fun try the “Tappers and Listeners” experiment and see for yourself.
And pick up Made to Stick, a really nice thought-starter as we head into your best year ever!
2008 is the year you will dazzle us! It’s the year you become what you were always meant to be.
It’s the year we will hear you loud and clear!
Ok. I tried this with 10 people. Everyone in my office at work and several family members. I used The Star Spangled Banner and the Happy Birthday song. Not a single person was able to guess.
My sisters and I used to play this game in the car all the time. We got pretty good at it, too!
It’s a wonderful metaphor for the writing process – how to you get your thoughts to translate from little electrical signals in your head into some external form that resonates with other people? Key word there being “resonate”. Other people need to not only understand what you’re saying, but be intrigued by it, as well. I’ve experienced the shock of pitching what I thought was a good idea only to have the pitchee look at me like the RCA Victor dog (one ear cocked up in a “huh???” pose, for you young’uns). In fact, I experienced it in a not-too-comfortable way at the Expo last October. I was taking Victoria Wisdom’s pitch class and I volunteered my pitch for “Illegally Blind”, a script I was going to pitch at the Pitch Fest the following day. About 5 words into the pitch, I felt the air being sucked out of the room. I tanked. Not because the concept was bad, I just didn’t present it well – at all. She verbally spanked me – hard – and I learned a very important lesson. I took her notes and my writing partner and I retooled the pitch – and the result was that of the 24 companies we pitched, about 18 said they wanted to read the script – and the others said it sounded good, it just wasn’t their genre. The public spanking was worth it.
Thanks for another gem, Blake.
Susan from one procrastinator to another thanks for the recommendation. I’m going to be reading it soon!
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A book I read this holiday season and recommend for procrastinators, like me, is: Write Is a Verb: Sit Down, Start Writing, No Excuses by Bill O’Hanlon.