PITCH: Dance Till You're Dead

Hi there! The following is my pitch for Dance Till You’re Dead, a story that started with the ONC competition but has unraveled into a much longer story. I’ve only done this once before, so I hope I did it correctly!

Summary: Eight years after moving to California to chase his dream of becoming a famous EDM artist, twenty-six-year-old Mathias Mendoza is forced to move back in with his parents in the small farm town he grew up in. As he is severely hard of hearing, Mathias blames his failure on his disability rather than his own mistakes, and his self-confidence is low.

Once home, Mathias heads into town to search for jobs and runs into his childhood best friend and old crush, Patricia Gray. Mathias asks if she’d like to grab dinner with him later that weekend, and she informs him she’s getting married in a few days.

That next afternoon, Mathias is cleaning out his parent’s garage when Patricia calls and asks to meet. When they do, Patricia explains that she’s in need of a replacement deejay since hers quit last minute. Mathias agrees to step in.

During the wedding reception, Mathias deejays without his hearing aids on. A stranger makes a toast that takes a dark turn when he raises the spirits of the dead. The ghosts begin to dance to the music, which hypnotizes the wedding guests, making them mirror the dance moves.

Mathias doesn’t hear the music, so he’s able to escape. He runs into the groom, Todd, and they drive away together. Mathias struggles to communicate with Todd since he has to rely on his lip-reading abilities. Todd admits that the stranger is someone he knows but not well. They decide to break into the stranger’s flower shop in town and discover that the stranger is actually a peer from high school whom Todd embarrassed during their town’s annual talent show. Raising the dead was an act of revenge.

Ghosts arrive and the two escape back to Mathias’s home but are followed. Todd is kidnapped, and Mathias is saved when his phone connects with the speakers he left on in the garage. They play his EDM music, and the vibrations of the music cause the ghosts to vanish.

Mathias drives back into town with his EDM music blaring, hoping to disrupt the ghosts all at once but learns there are now too many of them and is run off the road. He is saved by a city worker, Max, who helps him escape back out of town.

Together, they realize they need more than music to destroy the ghosts. They break into a local nursing home and enlist some brave elderly folk with poor hearing and sight abilities. They return to the reception with a plan that Mathias will freestyle his EDM music while the elderly dance in between the guests to de-hypnotize them. Before Mathias sneaks back into the reception, he panics and reveals to Max that his failure in California started after he performed badly during a show. He admits he doesn’t believe in himself anymore and fears he will fail again without the ability to hear.

Max helps Mathias to realize he doesn’t need to hear the music in order to be a good musician. With renewed courage, Mathias freestyles his EDM music while the elderly dance and the ghosts are all destroyed.

Genre: Paranormal Fantasy/Horror, Comedy

Length: 40-50K

Audience: New Adult most likely

Arcs: The story is primarily plot based with Mathias saving the wedding guests from the dancing dead, but I also wanted to give Mathias a character arc where he’s forced to face his fears of one day being deaf as he’s been diagnosed with progressive hearing loss. He’s also forced to realize that he can still ‘be somebody’ regardless of whether or not he can hear.

Unique Tidbits: While not highlighted in the summary, Mathias will also have a small arc with his parents. In the beginning, he believes his parents have been unsupportive in his career choice while realistically his parents have only been fearful of his rash decisions to move away without much thought towards his future. By the end of the story, they’ve come to an understanding that Mathias will continue to pursue his dreams but in a much smarter, more realistic way.

And as always, thank you for taking the time to review :slight_smile:

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I’m not quite sure how these threads work but I absolutely love this and could see it being adapted into a movie!
My one concern is the strangers toast. Wedding DJs have a program that they follow and are notified of everyone who is going to make a toast or say something beforehand, so that that person can be properly introduced. The DJ would never hand off the mic to someone without permission of the bride or groom.

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Well thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the pitch :slight_smile:

I’ll definitely think about that as far as the toast is concerned. Any suggestions on how to get around that?

I could have the stranger trick Mathias, making him believe that the groom is okay with the stranger giving a toast. At first, Mathias could be hesitant about allowing him to take the mic since he’s not on the list, but then after he’s tricked, he adds him in as requested. I’m open for other suggestions though!

Well I’ve seen this format before at a sweet 16 and on wedding shows. Just a general open mic. Have a mic set up and anyone can walk up and say anything. A line forms and it’s dreadful, takes forever, but it could work in your situation.

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Thank you! I love that suggestion :slight_smile:

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This is an interesting concept (or technically two interesting concepts) that falls into one of the common issues I see here around set-up and pay-off and which promises you’re making.

Mainly, the initial promise is a hearing-impaired DJ returns home after a failed career and blames his disability, rather than being self-reflective and is thus depressed about his disability. At the end is a quick line about him panicking to perform and someone saying get over it and he does.

The problem is that in between an entirely different conflict is stuffed in. This means that the original promise, while technically delivered, isn’t earned. There aren’t really steps along the way that show the character growing to this pay-off. It feels like it’s just added to the end because it was technically the initial promise.

Either focus in on one of these two conflicts or, what I think you want to do more, is merge the two together so that they each affect each other. I understand the ridiculousness of the situation is part of the absurdist comedy. However, the events that occur don’t necessarily contribute to the character journey within that set-up. For comedy, you need to ensure the characters react inappropriately to the surroundings (they treat the mundane as tragedy, they treat tragedy with indifference) and they still need to have their problems.

For example:

Mathias is struggling with his confidence and disability. He runs into his old crush and tries to ask her out, only to fail (which should probably additionally crush his confidence). When asked to then be a DJ, he agrees and does it. This is in conflict with the character set-up that just happened. He should be reluctant to do it, or he should chicken out himself and bring in a sub himself. Or he should be depressed the entire time, not paying attention to anything happening (he also doesn’t feel confident he can do music without his hearing aids even though he was playing music at the start without his hearing aids?). To give an example of merging the two together:

Mathias, hard of hearing and failed EDM DJ, returns to his small town after eight years in California chasing dreams. He blames his disability for his failings, ignoring that he always ignored the demands of his audience and tried to invent new, crazy beats (that nobody liked).

Upon returning home, he bumps into his old crush. He goes to ask her out but finds she has an engagement ring and is shot down. Further dejected, he gets a job at a hardware store because he won’t be bothered by the loud noises. He abandons his hearing aids since he can’t do music anyways, what’s the point in hearing?

However, he gets a text from Patricia asking him to DJ. He agrees, absent-minded, but right after starts to get depressed and realizes he can’t do it. Not wanting to make a further fool of himself, he finds a local teen and has them put on a mask to pretend to be him. He then attends the wedding in disguise so he can mingle later and pull off the swap.

In the middle of the set, a man gives a toast, only to raise the dead. The music changes to lo-fi chillhop, a viral genre that hypnotizes the attendees. Without his hearing aids, Mathias can barely hear the mellow sounds and is unaffected. Patricia, the music muffled by her gaudy veil, runs into him and the pair escape.

Mathias, still disguised, tries his best not to blow his cover and tries to help Patricia. She explains she recognizes the guy, he runs a rec centre course on amateur necromancy nobody takes seriously, and she shot him down last week when he tried to ask her out. Her mom must’ve invited him.

The pair hide out in their car for the night. The next day, the hypnosis is spreading through the town as ghosts dance in the street. They get to the library and get books on musical necromancy, finding that it takes a particularly boneshaking counter-beat to disrupt the spell. Patricia laments that Mathias isn’t there, as he could help them with the music. She admits she was always very inspired by how he left to pursue music regardless of his disability. She also concedes he wasn’t very good at taking audience feedback. A ghost shows up and scares them, and her veil is knocked off. Mathias runs away, leaving her hypnotized.

Mathias messages his old mentor from California, who he rejected since they wouldn’t understand what it was like to be hard of hearing. The mentor tells him again that he was bad at picking up on what people wanted. It’s not about hearing them speak, it’s about listening to their body. Good EDM, they say, can be felt more than heard, deep in your chest. Hearing shouldn’t be an issue.

Mathias then heads back to the wedding to reclaim his DJ equipment. He attempts to play, but find nothing happens. He recognized he can’t feel it in his chest, and so he remixes the track until a heart-pounding beat drops throughout the neighborhood. Disturbed by such outrageous music that shakes their ectoplasm, the ghosts leave, dragging the necromancer with them. Mathias decides to actually listen, rather than be deafened by his disability.

With this example version, the intention was to make it so that the main conflict still had a relationship with the ghost conflict, where the ghosts need to be stopped via powerful music you can feel, something Mathias hasn’t learned and so on. Max is gone because in the current pitch, Patricia shows up in act 1 then disappears and Max doesn’t appear until Act 2 (no throughline). You don’t have to particularly use the version I went with, but you just have to make sure the conflicts align.

Suddenly there’s ghosts! is certainly funny or off the rails, but that very quickly fades when the story behind it derails. You can feel it as a reader. The character suddenly learning their lesson without having been shown they need to learn it or talking to anyone who would inspire them (except a literal random guy who says “you’re great!”).

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Thank you @nick ! This is AWESOME feedback, and I completely agree with what you’re saying. It’s actually ironic too about the pay off of promises since I was just reading the Wattys book/chapter that talked about it.

I’m going to play around with the summary and think hard on my plot and how I can intertwine the two conflicts (as that’s definitely what I’m going for). I’ll be back once I’ve updated everything.

Thank you for reading! :blush:

Yes I am the person who wrote that part after all so it’s always on my mind

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