Writers, those of us who are trying to be seen and read, almost always struggle with how to form a pitch. In fact, I’m pretty sure the term “tortured writer” was born out of this very struggle.
So, for all the tortured writers out there, struggling with what a pitch should be, here you go. I hope it helps.
Excerpt from Anatomy of a Pitch by David Corey:
WHAT IS A PITCH?
A pitch–often referred to as an elevator pitch–is one of the most important skills you can develop as a writer. It is the ability to sensibly and quickly explain a narrative or idea in a way that is easily digestible to a listening audience. The term “elevator pitch” comes from the idea that you’re in an elevator with an editor, agent, or film producer, and you only have the time it takes for them to get to their designated floor in order to sell them your story. And while it is highly unlikely that you’ll ever find yourself in an elevator under such circumstances, the value of the high-stakes, time-sensitive exercise is a vital one. The concept here is discovering the ability to describe your work in the time it takes to get from one floor to another. In most cases–whether you’re writing a query or speaking to an agent on the phone (or having a conversation at a party)–that is all the time you have. A friend once described a query letter (to be covered in detail in Module Three) as the first date in the publishing process. If a query letter is a first date, then the pitch is what gets you the first date. Think of your craft as a writer split into TWO roles. The first role, and the one that everyone understands, is the role of writing your creative work. The second role, which is less understood but fundamentally important to a writer’s success, is the role of writing about your creative work. And this is the essence of the elevator pitch, which then informs your query letter, your book proposal, your book copy, and on and on. The key is to start SMALL, and by small I mean one sentence. Can you describe a book in a single tight sentence? It takes a LOT of practice, but once mastered it can be the difference between a rejection and a request to read your manuscript. The key to mastering this process is twofold. First, you must understand story structure. Every story, whether a gently nuanced character piece or a nail-biting thriller, has a symbiotic relationship at its core between conflict and response, or action and reaction. It is these actions and reactions that move a story forward in small ways and large ways. Characters are motivated to think and do things based on the world around them. These responses can be internal or they can be external. And it is through these conflicts and responses that we grow to care about characters, whether they are in fiction or in a screenplay, or in descriptions of the self through memoir, or in reaction to the world in poetry. The largest model of story structure is often referred to as narrative arc. Narrative arc is the general movement of the story (and its characters) throughout its entirety. And THIS is what must be captured in an elevator pitch. Narrative arc is NOT a book’s theme. It is NOT about intangible ideas like love, acceptance, or meaning. It is about story. It is about what characters do, why they do it, what happens to them, what they want, and the ultimate result of those things combined. Sometimes it helps by applying the situation/reaction model to what you’re trying to tell.
I found that information very helpful when I first read it. Another thing that helped me immensely when forming my own logline (because I’m working on screenplays), was this very basic skeleton structure of a logline that I found on youngscreenwriters.com, compliments of successful screenwriter and NYU professor, John Warren. He said that your logline needs your “protagonist, antagonist, conflict, objective, and obstacles.”
He offers this to help in a skeleton logline:
PROTAGONIST, a person with a flaw, wants OBJECTIVE more than anything in the world. But when SOMETHING HAPPENS, they must deal with ANTAGONIST.
Basically, you inject your character/story information into those slots and then you should have the very basic logline with all the information you need. You can rearrange the information and tweak it with some vivid verbs.
Name Protagonist, name flaw, what they want most. Then something happens, then they must face the the antagonist to get it.
There you have it, Writers. A simple formula, formed by experts, to get you started on what might be the hardest part of writing your book (or screenplay).