Monday, November 24, 2014

Fever Pitch: 1-step first aid for sick stories


Is your story sick?  Something not quite right?

Your spelling and punctuation may be perfect, but if something just seems off… if it’s under the weather, but you’re not sure how to fix it…

… just pitch it.

No, I don’t mean throw it away.  I mean create a sales pitch and start selling your book.  Not (yet) on Amazon, or Kobo, or Smashwords, or anywhere else.  No, to make it great, you have to sell the story to your most important customer – yourself.

You’ll do that with a “pitch.”  Known by a few different names, it’s basically a 1-2 sentence “elevator speech” for the book.  This pitch has to be great.  It must hook the reader – and before it’s ready for readers, it has to hook YOU.

Too many writers write and even polish their book without knowing what it’s really about.  Figuring out your pitch fixes that.  It helps you point your magnifying glass at EXACTLY what your book is about:  the tiny germ of an idea that will pull your whole story together.

Focusing on what the book is about, and distilling it into one or two sentences (or three) is a really valuable exercise before writing or rewriting.  Kind of like developing a mission statement for the book.

Here's a question to help you hone this pitch sentence to make it even tighter - what's stopping your main character from getting what she wants? 

(If you don’t know what your character wants, take a break and come back when you do.)

A hero with no "opponent" is a dull hero indeed.  In every great story, something has to get in his/her way to make the story satisfying to the reader. 

image Think about the book Where the Wild Things Are:

"When Max decides he wants to be a Wild Thing, he gets his wish... but discovers he misses his family and his warm supper.  Will Max be able to give up being wild and return to the comforts of home?"  [Yes, we know he DOES do this, in the end.]

image Or Harold and the Purple Crayon.

"Harold's Purple Crayon is the ticket to endless fantastic adventures... until Harold gets lost and can't find his way home.  Can Harold harness his imagination (and his crayon) to help him return safely?"  [Yes, he DOES do this!]

image Or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

"Four children discover a beautiful, fantastic land of magic... but it is under a spell, and shrouded in perpetual winter.  Will the children be able to rally the Narnians and defeat the White Witch?" [Yup, again!]

What do all of these story pitches have in common?  That "but" in the middle that says "things will not be so simple."  All three of these books are classics, but if anything, there’s MORE pressure on new books, which aren’t yet classics, to sum themselves up in one or two sentences. 

A great pitch makes the promise that your character will battle this opponent in an interesting way.  It’s up to you to fulfill this promise, but knowing what it is can really help create a very sharp, focused story line. 

A well-defined pitch can tighten a sick story, giving it focus and clarity that you and your readers will notice immediately (even if they never see or hear the pitch directly!).

Think about a story you’ve written, or are writing.  Try to imagine what the “but” is going to be (or what it already is!) in that story.  Now craft one or two sentences around it that a) introduce your character(s) and b) hint that serious trouble (and thus great reading) lie ahead in your book.

Working on your story’s pitch will help you tighten the story and make it a lot stronger.  Read some of your own favourite kids' books to find out how those writers did it.  Then, it’s time to get off your butt and get working on your “but.”

Extra-credit reading that might help:


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