one of the faculty said to me at the recent Big Sur on Cape Cod Writer’s Workshop. I was pleased because I’d worked hard on it. A little less pleased when I realized it probably would no longer work for the story given the revisions I have in mind after the workshop!
But that’s okay. Your “elevator pitch” or “logline” – basically, a one-sentence summary of your project – is not just important when you’re talking with editors and agents. It’s also an incredibly useful tool to help define your project from the beginning, and keep you focused as you write. Every time you have to make a decision about a character or an action, thinking about how it fits the logline (or doesn’t) can help you stay on track. One writer at the workshop told me she writes hers on a big piece of paper and sticks it to the wall above her desk, where she can clearly see it and keep it in mind. Once you’re done with the book and ready to query, your logline can be fleshed out to use in your query letter.
But how do you create a one-sentence pitch? If you ask most writers what their story is about, they fumble around for a bit, and start to tell you everything about it – every character, and setting, and what happens, and then what complicates that… if you’ve tried this, and noticed your audience’s eyes glazing over, you know what I mean. At the end, they have no better idea than when you started.
You need a precise, neat way of hooking people in and getting them excited to hear the details. To do this, you need three ingredients:
1. Who is the protagonist? Don’t bother giving a name, or an age. The main question here is: Who propels the action in your story?
2. Desire: What does the protagonist want?
3. Stakes: What is at stake if s/he doesn’t achieve his/her goal?
Examples: A man whose wife has disappeared needs to solve her murder before he goes to jail for it. (Gone Girl)
A girl spirited away to a magical land must steal a wicked witch’s broomstick before she will be allowed to return home. (The Wizard of Oz)
A child soldier caught in a civil war must learn to trust people and reclaim his humanity before he loses his life to drugs or violence. (A Long Way Gone)
These are only a few, and they are rough examples, but you can see what I mean: protagonist, what they need, and how their lives will be affected if they don’t get it.
And although I’ve been pitching for a while, and teaching pitching and querying, I’ve not found a better book on the subject of the logline than Sell Your Story in a Single Sentence, by Lane Shefter Bishop. Get the book and you’ll see dozens of examples, in every genre, with lots of opportunities to practice.
Even if you don’t go to conferences or workshops, you can still pitch via Twitter. More and more agents and editors can be found there, with “pitch parties” specifically devoted to pitching. Check out #pitchmad, #DVpit, #PitchWars, #WFpitch etc. There’s a little more to crafting your perfect Twitter pitch, which we’ll go into next time. But creating your logline is a great start.
So now try it yourself! Take a project you’re working on, or a book you’re reading, or a movie you’ve seen, and work on making a dynamic pitch for it. The more you practice, the easier it gets.
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