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The Five Finger Pitch: an explanation

In this animation, Michael Lengsfield describes how to use his five finger pitch technique for summarising stories
So, let’s make a Five Finger pitch. We’ll start with an outline of a hand, approximately life-size, your hand, like this, and you’re going to write story points inside of the fingers. It’s a natural way to force you to be concise, as there’s little room to cheat this way. Begin with the pinky finger and in there we’ll write the story genre. It could be a teen drama, a gentle rom-com, or maybe a character comedy.
We’ll include any other pertinent information, for example, if this is an adaptation, you’d need to include the name of the original book and its author and we’ve been assuming that we’re working with feature film but if that’s not clear you might say this is a one hour television drama, a mini-series feature film, whatever. Now we’ll go on to the ring finger, which will give us the somebody of our story. Names aren’t much help here, so give us a really quick character context. You know, a sixteen year old runaway, a middle-aged widower, a single, twenty-something ad-exec, something like that. Now, here on the middle finger, that’ll give us the “wants something”, or goal.
Could be to find an estranged dad, to start dating again, to land a huge account and get a promotion. Something like that. Now, the index finger will describe the obstacles or the “has trouble getting it” of our story. This often adds a massive “but”. It might be that we lack the crucial information, haven’t dated in thirty years, or maybe have to compete with the boss’s future son-in-law. Now the thumb covers the most important part of this - the reasons why you love the story and the reasons why it’s different from all the other stories in the same genre. It’s very important to give us some reasons to be
excited about this, or reasons, or ways in which we can make this particular story specific and interesting. You know, it could be that it’s a street-smart story that gives voice to kids that no one seems to care about, or that it tackles the embarrassment and the fears and rewards that come from trying to date again after being married for so long. Or it might be that it draws on your particular knowledge of the advertising business to produce, you know, otherwise normal characters who would do absolutely anything to secure an Ad account. Now, once we have these, we’ll put them all together like this.
Essentially, you know, zipping the story into its most concise form: teen drama - sixteen year old runaway hitchhikes across country, doesn’t know its full name - throw-away kids. Now you have these five little slices of material that will be all you need to remember your story. If you get lost, all you need to do is find the right finger to continue. Now to re-inflate the story, we merely wrap enough material, enough language around each story point to form a clear sentence.
The goal is to make it conversational, for example, this is a teen drama about a sixteen year old runaway, who flees her group home in Brighton to hitchhike to Aberdeen, on a mission to find the father she’s never met. She’s convinced that she’ll find him but all she has to go on is an old picture. She doesn’t even know his name. And I love this story because it gives voice to kids that no one else seems to care about. After all the years of group homes and fostering, she just wants to find someone, somewhere, anyone who might ground her and give her a home for the very first time. Okay. That’s all there is to it!
This is more than enough to start the conversation as it’s a complete set-up for the story. Then you can fill out the rest of the story for yourself, or for your audience, because you already have this story shape - this general outline. If you just start with bare
plot - this happens, then this happens, then this happens, you’ll find that everyone’s eyes glaze over very quickly. And more important, we lose this sense of what the story is really about. So we want to save the plotting - the point-by-point plotting for our outline and that will come at the end of the process. Let’s see if you can do it.
Michael Lengsfield describes his Five Finger Pitch technique and suggests it as one way to quickly summarise your story.

The aim is to find a story shape you can confidently use as a starting point for your writing.

In the next step you will have the opportunity to create and share your own Five Finger Pitch.

Here are the hand illustrations used in the animation for you to download and use for future reference: Five Finger Pitch Pictures. Enjoy!

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An Introduction to Screenwriting

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