Pitching my novel and how movie loglines help

Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk
Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Everyone talks about how important it is for writer’s to have a single sentence pitch for their novel. Apparently, anytime you’re stuck in an elevator, you spew forth this sentence, hoping an agent or editor is trapped with you in that itsy-bitsy space.

Of course, your captive audience will love your idea and produce a business card. “Send me the full manuscript right away,” the amazed agent/editor says.

In every writer’s dream. I’m 99 percent certain it has never happened that way in reality. Okay, maybe once out of a million encounters.

The idea of just pitching my story to every stranger unlucky enough to get stuck with me in an elevator sounds insane. Granted, to be a professional writer is the number one indicator of insanity, but let’s not dive off the deep end here. You might not want to practice your pitch on every stranger you meet at a writer’s conference, but you should practice your pitch.

Bottom line: it’s essential you know the heart of your story well enough to sum it up in a minute or less. Since I have an appointment with an agent at the Willamette Writer’s Conference, I’ve begun devising the pitch for my novel. Once I perfect it, I will repeat it over and over until I can deliver it smoothly in a single breath.

Boiling a 60,000 word novel down into one sentence is not an easy task. Obviously. If the story could be told in a single sentence, why bother writing over 300 pages? (It could be that insanity thing again.)

Elements of the Pitch

Last summer, my Writing Jedi Master, Kristen Lamb, offered up a simple formula for a pitch. This information was included with a fantastic online class she offers about antagonists. I highly recommend the class; it helped me get into the mind of my bag guy and understand the true problem in my story.

Master Lamb calls this brilliant sentence a story log line. This sentence describes the conflict at the heart of your story, as well as the hero and antagonist.

Here’s the formula: Name the protagonist of your novel (Blake Snyder suggests you use an appositive to describe this character) as well as the antagonist. Now state what the hero must do and what the antagonist hopes to do, including the timeframe for the stakes if possible.

Here’s a basic sample for my Gates of Astrya trilogy (and I’m not saying it is incredible):

Jacinth Krick, orphan and awaited Daughter of Water, must collect three amulets, disenchant statues of her family and face three dragon trials before Chaermeny, the Dark One and enslaver of human souls, returns from exile on the Ides of October.

What do you think? Do you understand the premise for my series?

Movie log lines

The awesome Jedi Master suggests studying log lines from your favorite movies to perfect your ability to summarize your own story in this way.

Here are a few log lines from movies you have surely watched. Can you name that movie from this simple sentence descriptor?

  1. During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.
  2. When a woman’s long-time friend says he’s engaged, she realizes she loves him herself… and sets out to get him, with only days before the wedding.
  3. When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
  4. Five high school students, all different stereotypes, meet in detention, where they pour their hearts out to each other, and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought.
  5. Los Angeles police officer Brian O’Connor must decide where his loyalties really lie when he becomes enamored with the street racing world he has been sent undercover to destroy.

Hopefully you can see how each of these follows the formula Master Lamb gave to her apprentice writers during her class. In each case, the reader understands the central conflict in the story and the opposing forces.

Why don’t you give it a try for a book you’ve read recently? Practice makes perfect. And log lines make the perfect pitch for your novel.

What other advice do you have for pitching a novel?

(Movies: 1. Jurassic Park; 2. My Best Friend’s Wedding; 3. Jaws; 4. The Breakfast Club; 5. The Fast and the Furious)