by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
Last year, I discussed eight verbs that would make your pitch or logline more commanding. That post ended up being one of the most popular articles I’ve written.
For review, the verbs used in your pitch should be both external and visual. Many writers begin with an internal process or journey as the core of their story. While countless narratives originate with feelings, philosophical beliefs, and experiences in life where we have learned something, eventually those concepts must be externalized if they are to become visual stories on the screen. ‘Power verbs’ assure the execution of a character’s internal journey. They provide insights into what we will see the protagonist actually do on screen. They also stir interest in the mind of the listener hearing the pitch and invite their curiosity. Here are eight more ‘power verbs’ to bolster your logline from being weak and toothless to enchanting and captivating.
Bringing an object, a person, or information to people that need it requires the delivery of those things, usually against great odds and conflict. In The Post, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks deliver government secrets to the public in the name of holding powerful individuals accountable for questionable actions. The delivering of the secrets represents the entire external goal of our protagonists.
Extracting something or someone from a difficult environment or circumstances can be a richer way of saying a protagonist is rescuing something or someone. In The Shape of Water, Sally Hawkins extracts the amphibian man from the lab of his captors. Extraction suggests the necessity of the time it takes to rescue someone. Where a rescue may be quick and sloppy, extraction requires precision and accuracy.
Simply beginning a process lacks the urgency that the word launch suggests. Frances McDormand launches a campaign that becomes a personal revolution in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Launching something indicates a sense of speed and motion. It can be powerful when associated with a character’s actions.
Assembling a team or a plan can be a tedious process. However, when a protagonist mobilizes a group or series of ideas, we imagine military-like actions on the part of the character. Hugh Jackman mobilizes a team of people who have been made to feel lesser in their society to create something powerful in The Greatest Showman.
Stories where the protagonist is a victim of circumstances or constantly faced with challenges that happen to them can be difficult and sometimes disengaging for audiences. We connect with characters who have agency. Jessica Chastain navigates the legal system, while keeping the gambling underworld at bay in Molly’s Game. Navigation suggests a sense of complication as a character moves through the narrative, efficiently communicating action and opening up the imagination.
Some of the oldest tales involve a character winning a battle of some sort. When a character does win a skirmish, using the verb defeat does two things. First, it suggests a more powerful victory rather than just inching out a win. Second, it invites a mention of who was defeated – the antagonistic force. Chadwick Boseman defeats a savvy legal prosecutor and the unjust system he represents in Marshall.
Persuasion can be tricky in a narrative, as it’s a process that takes place in someone’s mind. However, persuading someone can also be an external action that requires active participation on the part of the protagonist. Jacob Tremblay persuades children to see him for who he really is in Wonder. Persuading often involves the use of dialogue. However, writers should be cautious not to rely too heavily on words when actions can communicate more effectively.
Rescuing someone or something can be a powerful action in a story. The word rescue indicates a sense of action, which may be wonderful if that fits the story you are telling. However, if the rescue requires patient calculations and waiting, the verb procure may be more accurate and fitting. Michelle Williams procures her son from kidnappers in All the Money in the World. Using language that most efficiently and mightily communicates the visual storytelling in your narrative will hook the eyes of those that read and the ears of those that hear your pitch.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S. Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.