Notes from a Screenreader: Unpackable Hooks

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Photo via Go Into the Story.

Writer and director Timothy Cooper, an enthusiastically pragmatic teacher of professional screenwriting and past WIFTI Summit panelist, talks about the value of unpackable story concepts, which he defines as “rife with potential to anyone who hears it.”

Perfect example: Inception. A team illegally breaks into a sleeper’s dreams to change his mind for unscrupulous corporate clients. The possibilities are endlessly intriguing and dramatic. What could happen in there? Anything. You hear it and your own story engine starts unpacking it for you.

Does your concept unpack?

  • Is it too straightforward? Is your logline so circumscribed as to rule out unforeseen developments?
  • Is it too tired? Stories that are very much like other stories, with familiar characters in familiar situations, do not fire the imagination with new possibilities.
  • Is the protagonist at risk? Unpackable hooks promise a credible threat that the protagonist will fail in a spectacular, life-altering way.

“[If] there’s nothing to unpack,” says Cooper, “you need to rethink your story.”

ANNIE LABARBA 

Annie is a screenwriter, story consultant, and reader for major screenplay competitions.

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