Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pitch Writing

Recently I had to delve into pitch writing, and I figured I'd blog about some of the things I learned. I've had half a brain this last week or so, which is why I've been avoiding blogging (even though I've had half a million different ideas for posts.) So if this post makes no sense, please feel free to pelt me with tomatoes.

Pitch Writing (And why it's not as scary as it sounds.)

For those of you who are unfamiliar with one-two sentence pitches, they're what are known sometimes as elevator pitches. Something quick to sum up your novel so that you won't bore the person you're talking to with too many details.

Ever been in a situation where a friend, family member or coworker (Or random stalker) turns to you and says, "So what's your book about?"

If you're like me, you'll stand and stare blankly for a few minutes while going, "Uhm, well, uh... it's really complicated." If you're REALLY like me, when that question comes up you'd rather shove your manuscript in their face than actually try to explain it.

So this is where our pitch skills come in. I highly recommend writing one, because, let's face it, as a writer you're going to have to summarize your work for your friends and family, but if you want to be published and be in the biz, you're going to have to learn to summarize your work. For everybody.

To start, I think I have to reference Nathan Bransford’s pitch writing blog post. For me, this was a great place to start. I used his method to write pitches, but they just didn't have the right flavor. They were too bland. So I moved on from that and this is kind of what I got.

In a one sentence pitch, you do not have to name your main character, or the character's age. Most often this space is better for describing your character, because in a one-two sentence pitch, every word counts. So instead of using my character name "Adam Fenn" I could use "A dictator's son." That gives you a little bit of a different image of him than just a name you're likely to forget. However, if your pitch is already complicated, make it simpler by using a character's name instead. The most important thing about a short pitch is that it's concise, makes sense, and leaves the other person hanging. You want them to go "Oooh." after you've finished and leave them wanting more.

This brings me to my first part. What makes up a pitch?

I'm going to side with Nathan on this one and say:
--> Initial incident
--> Obstacle (Or further complications, or stakes, or whatever you can to raise the conflict.)
--> Quest (Or what your character wants.)

This can look pretty daunting. The first step towards writing your pitch is: identify these aspects in your novel. If your novel doesn't have an initial incident, then it's not the pitch's fault it sucks, it's your novel.

I'm going to write a pitch for my new WIP Crash, just to show you how this works.

Initial Incident: MC's brother-in-law is killed.
Obstacle: Hey look, the apocalypse is looming.
Quest: Saving his sister.

Once you've identified the parts of your novel, put them into a sentence. Don't try to make it pretty. Just shove all the parts together. If you worry about structure or making it a run-on, you'll never get your pitch on paper. Even if it's ugly, just make sure all the parts are there.

The death of Arthur's brother in law haunts him, and following the trail leads him to an angel and demon pair that inform him the apocalypse is looming. Not only is Arthur stuck saving the world, but he'll have to save his sister from the very thing that murdered his brother-in-law.

Not pretty, is it? Doesn't matter. All the parts are there. Once you have them down, arrange them into something that doesn't really look so bad. So this is what I come out with:

In the year 2223, Arthur Fenn goes looking for answers after the mysterious death of his brother-in-law, only to be ensnared in a centuries-old bet between Heaven and Hell. With the apocalypse looming, Arthur must get Heaven, Hell and Earth off their crash course, or risk losing his sister to the very monster that killed his brother-in-law.

It's not as pretty as it could be, but there it is. Let's break it down.

In the year 2223(Setting here, which is one of the things I think is important, especially if you're writing in an abnormal place.), Arthur Fenn goes looking for answers after the mysterious death of his brother-in-law(Initial incident), only to be ensnared in a centuries-old bet between Heaven and Hell(Obstacle).

(I could leave it there for a one sentence pitch, but to add in the quest, we bump it up to a two sentence pitch. They're easier in my opinion.)

With the apocalypse looming(Further complications, and flavor), Arthur must get Heaven, Hell and Earth off their crash course(Quest, or what he must do.) or risk losing his sister to the very monster that killed his brother-in-law. (Stakes, as well as showing WHY Arthur cares about all of this nonsense.)

So there you have it. Once you have all the parts, you can arrange it into a one-sentence pitch or two sentence. You can spend a long time polishing (I obviously didn't.) or not. I used Arthur’s name here instead of a descriptor, because I felt there was a lot going on, and I didn’t want anyone to get lost in what I was saying.

A few other tips. A pitch is about what happens. You don't want to be general. You want to show the events of your novel, not the theme, or the atmosphere, or whatever.

Be specific. Show what makes your novel special. What makes you different from all the other aspiring authors out there? What makes your book interesting?

Your pitch should reflect your novel. If you're writing something light and humorous, add some humor to your pitch. If your novel is dark, reflect that. Adding little bits like hints at setting, or otherwise, can help separate your novel from all the others out there in novel-land.

Well, I think that's all I have to say on the subject. Honestly, pitch writing can seem hard but it's a hell of a lot easier than writing queries.



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