Writing Tips & Tools

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lesson 35: Pitch ...con't

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section THREE: The Pitch.

Okay, let's finish up our look at 'The Pitch'.

We left off yesterday looking at the pertinent parts of a query letter. The next part to include is...What is the main problem? Some query writers find a reduction of the central conflict too frightening. They prefer to start with the inciting incident, the moment when the problem begins, and let the story blossom from there.

(Believe me on this one, as I'm pointing one finger out there, four are pointing back at me!)

Once your cruising down the highway of plot summary it is tempting to stay on it. Exit immediately! The details that make the story different are usually lacking. there are no new stories...just new ways of telling old ones!

Here ya go...The best query letters put across the essence of the story in one hundred words or less! Donald Maass says he has seen it done in forty words and fewer!

Use the following exercise to hone down the essentials of your story, then trust your premise to excite the agents and editors whom you have targeted. After all, your story is original isn't it? The world in which it is set is rife with conflict, right? You have invested your story with power and gut emotional appeal? Right, then. You have it all.

Step 1: Write down your novel's title, catagory, setting, protagonist, and central problem.

Step 2: Write down one colorful detail that makes any one of the above elements different.

Step 3: Identify a way in which your story has any one of the following:

Credibility (This could happen to any of us)
Inherent Conflict (This is a world of conflicting forces)
Originality (A reversal of the expected, a new angle on an old subject, or familiar story elements combined in unfamiliar ways)
Gut Emotional Appeal (I would hate if this happened to me!)

Step 4: Write down these five words: love, heart, dream, journey, fortune, destiny.

Step 5: Set a timer for five minutes. ONLY five minutes In that time, write a one-paragraph pitch for your novel, incorporating the material you wrote down in the steps one to three. In your last sentence, use one of the words you wrote doen in step four.

Note: Consider: We summarize movies, TV shows, and books all the time, and rarely take more than thirty seconds to do so. Actually, all it takes to interest someone in a story is its beginning: the setting, the protagonist, and the problem. That's it. Fixing the problem and no more leaves your listener wondering what will happen next!

Follow-up: Put away your pitch for a week or more, then re-read it. Shorten it to one hundred words. Put it away for another week. Now shorten it to fifty words.

Conclusion: In pitching, less is more. It is fear that makes us blather on and on. Say less than you want to. Interest in your novel will be that much greater for your restraint!


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