My Writing Strategy, Part I: The Pitch

I used to be a “seat of the pants” type of writer.  I’d get an idea, promptly sit down and start writing, and keep going until I ran out of steam and didn’t know what happened next.  Often I ended up jumping from story to story, not finishing anything.

I still write like that sometimes, when an interesting scene hits me, because I enjoy that creative process.  It can help me clear my head from whatever full-time project I’m writing at the time.

However, if I want to get serious about an idea, there are a few things I try to pin down before launching myself headlong into writing the book:

  • the main characters
  • the basic plot
  • the “pitch”

For those who might not have heard the term before, the “pitch” (sometimes called a blurb or hook) is a concise description of the book, like you would read on the back cover in a store.  It encapsulates the story in a tantalizing way that piques readers’ interest to turn to the first page.  If I can’t finagle an interesting pitch out of the idea I have, I know it’s not going to be a strong story.  Maybe it isn’t a good concept, or maybe it just needs to simmer longer on the back burner.

Over the past few years I’ve discovered several methods to organize my creative madness.  I know not every writer likes using these kinds of “forms”, but personally I’ve found them very helpful to jumpstart my plot-planning.  I tend to be strong in the character and world-building parts of writing, and weaker on the plot, and the methods I’m going to share in this series have helped with that tremendously.

How I Write a Pitch

As soon as I get going on a promising book idea, I always whip out Nathan Bransford’s “query mad lib”.  The posting I linked to is for a whole query letter, such as you would send to an editor or literary agent, but for my pitch I just use the hook part:

 [protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist’s quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist’s goal].

Obviously, it is only meant to help you form a rough draft, and you’ll need to reshape and embellish the pitch afterward to fit your book’s needs.  But this method is helpful to me every time!  Not being plot-oriented by nature, I often go into it lacking several of the main elements.  Maybe I know what the quest is, but I haven’t figured out the villain, or maybe I have a clear idea of the bad guy but I’m not sure what the protagonist’s ultimate goals are.  Simply filling out the boxes helps me understand some of those things and piece together an idea of the story in my mind.  (And again, if I can’t fill in all those boxes, it shows me that the story would be weak, and probably needs to simmer longer before it could ever be written.)

As an example, here is the “rough draft” of my pitch for The Queen in the Wooden Box, using this method:

[Honoria] is a [princess] living in [the kingdom of Dallivon].  But when [she and her brother accidentally set free a horde of dangerous creatures], [Honoria] must [find the queen of the pesky imps] and [stop] [an evil traitor] in order to [prevent a terrible war].

It’s mildly intriguing, perhaps, but more confusing than anything else.  I just plugged in all my story’s elements, and the results are vague and not exactly enthralling.

But here it is after edits!

Princess Honoria and her brother, Prince Bern, have always lived a peaceful life with their parents in the royal castle of Dallivon.  But one day while the King and Queen are away on a journey, the children accidentally set free a horde of wild creatures that attack the country next-door.  In order to prevent a horrible war from destroying the nation, Honoria and Bern must find and catch the queen of the pesky imps, and stop the evil traitor who is grasping for their father’s throne.

Much better!

The most common setup for a pitch is actually two paragraphs: one introduces the setting and gives the reader a feel for the atmosphere in the story’s world, and the other describes the basic plot, as seen in my example above.  If you Google “how to write a query” probably most of the examples you’ll see will be like that.  I don’t typically put in the setting paragraph, myself.  I prefer to focus on the thrust of the plot, especially in these early planning stages when my goal is to further my brainstorming, and not to impress a publisher.

Again, this method was invented by genius Nathan Bransford, so I don’t lay any claim to it.  I hope this posting was helpful to anyone stopping by!

Next week: the plot outline.

Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. Greytawnyowl

     /  December 22, 2011

    “Seat of the pants” writer seems to describe me right now…I’m still figuring out how exactly I write best. I know that outlining does NOT work, but I haven’t figured out exactly what does work though. I’m enjoying seeing how you write, though! 🙂

    Reply
    • I’ve heard it said that some writers plan beforehand (with outlines) and then sit down to write, and others just sit down to write and then do massive revisions afterward. I do both. 😀 Most of the time my outlines only consist of a rough list of the book’s major events in order, because sometimes I get to the end of a chapter and can’t figure out what’s next or how to get there; the list helps me with that. But doing it that way can kill enthusiasm, because sometimes it makes me feel like I’m just ticking off items on a to-do list, and not really “living” the story. That’s why I sometimes do it the other way, on side projects that I’m doing for fun. 🙂

      Reply
      • Greytawnyowl

         /  December 23, 2011

        Most of the time, if I outline at all, by the time I actually do a bit of writing I go too far off the outline for it to work terribly well, or I’ll change the plot around as I write. So I’ve stopped outlining. Right now, I’m just writing scenes as they occur to me. It’s nice, because I can do a scene that I know exactly how it will happen that falls at the end of the book instead of waiting until I get there and maybe forgetting how it goes. However, I know that I’ll be in for some massive rewriting later, as it’s not terribly cohesive…So I actually only have two and a half chapters, but 60 + pages as I section off into scenes that fall throughout the book. 🙂

        Don’t you have a Christmas tradition of rewriting ” ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” ? I seem to remember one where he knocks down the television dish. 🙂

        Reply
  2. I like the pitch, Bethany! It has a distinctly fairy tale feel that I would have noticed even if you hadn’t mentioned the tie to Pandora’s Box. For me, the pitch and the synopsis can be more challenging than writing the actual story, but they’re absolutely vital and worth taking the time to do well.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Sarah! I’m glad you like it. I’ll start posting the story serially soon. 🙂

      I always found pitches difficult, too, but since I found the query mad lib I don’t have as much trouble with them anymore. But I have no kind of trick for synopsis writing, sadly! It’s not a problem for me now, as I just make lists of my book’s events, but down the road when I attempt to publish, Lord willing, I won’t be able to take that shortcut anymore!

      Reply

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