You Have a Script, But Do You Have a Story?

Written by Scott Foster on March 31st, 2023

Scott Foster is a co-founder and Creative Director of ScriptHop. Prior to joining the company, he was the director of the Story Department for United Talent Agency (UTA). Scott has an MFA in Screenwriting from Columbia University.

You know that series bible or pitch deck you've been on the fence about creating because you think your script is brilliant enough on its own to get Hollywood biting? Countless writers are now discovering that if you build it, it won't just ride shotgun as a marketing booster of your project's business life. It provides a major fringe benefit. Whether you've made an artifact in the form of a minimalist pdf-pamphlet or a more in-depth or interactive deck, the act of doing so performs a litmus test on your script itself. It determines whether your script is supported by the skeletal structure of an actual story or whether you've merely been spray-tanning dialogue and random events in a hundred page sprawl.

In fact, series bibles and pitch decks can be illuminating in ways that an outline can't be. The process of summarizing your story for your deck after you've written your script becomes a kind of objective script-analysis, an assessment of what your screenplay or pilot has wound up becoming as opposed to what you hoped it would be. You gain refreshing distance from your own work when you distill it. The bible/deck elements you create not only help you communicate and sell your vision to other people, but help you finally see for yourself whether you've stayed on track of your initial mission or gone off the rails.

The ability to gain some distance from your screenplay is an under-appreciated skill that even film schools fail to effectively nurture. The best of students who painstakingly structure and outline their script can still get lost regarding the overall landscape of their piece because they eventually get obsessively tied up in certain scenes or stretches of dialogue. Schools and screenwriting gurus tend to focus all their energy on imparting craft. They push the belief that simply receiving feedback on your expression of that craft from other people can get you out of the weeds. Such a scene-centric or structure-centric focus on your art and the ensuing notes readers provide are a crucial part of the process. But they can still fail to help a writer see their forest for the trees. Notes also come with biases and are often delivered in ways that can further confuse you. You can remain stuck inside your story, unable to see outside of the matrix-bubble of a world you've created.

The good news is that we're offering you a way to gain some perspective on your own. You can gain the ability to see within your script and without, to see where your story's vital organs lie within the hulking form even after it's accrued so much baggage from overwriting. It may seem like an overstatement to claim that creating a series bible or pitch deck leads to some form of clarity bordering on screenwriting Zen, but we believe it will get you closer.

Dipping your toe into what sounds like a deep pool is a lot easier when you start with something so commonplace as a logline. It would be difficult to find a working writer who would argue that the simple act of boiling your script down to that elemental one sentence logline — the nucleus of your story — doesn't bring with it some form of enlightenment. The act of reducing your narrative down to a logline's bone broth either helps to reify the entire point of your story or it informs you if something is fundamentally missing.

Assuming you have a logline, describing your story in a short synopsis of a paragraph or two generally amounts to the next step in self-analysis of your story. Doing this will often reveal elements of story brushed to the wayside — strong-armed, for example, by your script's central focus on dialogue. (Dialogue is literally the most central part of a script's format, it's the thrust of Final Draft's auto-tabbing software and it dominates our pages — is it any wonder we lose sight of story due to the very format of the script?). The good news is we're more accustomed to the short synopsis' form of storytelling than all other forms of pitch materials. This is thanks to encapsulated summaries coming to us daily in the form of Wiki's, TV guides, and word-of-mouth blurbs — those blurbs that are written and those that are verbally relayed to us by friends when we ask, "What's it about?" (It's a question that writers forget to ask themselves along the way as they disappear into the fog of script dialogue). The short synopsis has become ubiquitous enough that it's almost like the modern form of the campfire story. Since we've all been practically raised on this form, seeing and hearing your own work through the same filter can give you sobering clarity about what the hell you've been mired in for so long.

Going further and writing a full synopsis is often the most revelatory step of all. It can lead to a major epiphany, such as: there aren't enough actual events in your story for you to generate a full synopsis! Through the process of writing one, you can discover there aren't enough events because there's no conflict. And you can further deduce that there's no conflict because you don't have an antagonist. It's a revelatory process, even if it's one that makes you hit yourself in the head and go, "duhhhh."

Similarly, other sections of the classic pitch deck can wake you up from the word-coma of a dream state induced by screenwriting. Delving into your character descriptions and discovering that your main character lacks an inner conflict worth mentioning in your series bible is another eureka moment. While you're creating your character descriptions and adding headshots — pre-packaging your film with an actor wish list — designing the sales-tool artifact that is your pitch deck, these elements give you new eyes. You're enlightened not only because of the perspective-shifting nature of story distillation, but because you're seeing through the filter of commerce how your story will appear as a product.

There are numerous other sections you'll want to consider adding to your deck (that we go into in detail on our website), but we'll lastly mention "the hook" here. The hook is your script's existential statement — a statement about the reason your script, which seems on its face like the umpteenth vampire movie, offers something worth bringing into existence. It's a chance for you to argue in your story's favor, and in arguing, prove the case to yourself (if not your readers).

By creating these summaries and pitch materials, you gain the ability to do your own forensics on your project. You get to become the lead CSI investigator on your own script (so you hopefully don't have to do a postmortem later). Series bible and pitch deck creation provides you with a more high level view of your story's narrative health than incessant re-reads of your script ever can (the more you do the latter, the more the process tends to distort your sense of your own work).

While you're distilling and getting a handle on how to summarize your story in a pitch deck, you get to put on the hat of a marketing rep and sell your story's wares and consider its visual nature. Your pitch materials become a portfolio that can include art (photos and graphics). The combination of written material and aesthetics/art helps you see your work from another eye-opening perch. Imagining your story as a product by producing actual art for it is an invaluable exercise.

There's absolutely zero substitute for learning the craft. There's also no substitute for getting notes from trusted readers about your script. But the greatest trick nobody's told you about creating a pitch deck is that it empowers you to do your own retrospective assessment of your script — it's a way to relieve yourself of your own bias (without bringing in anyone else's) and see the facts and virtues of your story in a more objective light.

We provide much more detailed guidance on these forms of summary and other aspects of pitch deck creation on our website via our free book, or via our platform for The Packet at