Some time ago on this blog, I hosted what we lovingly dubbed the First Annual Pitch Party. ‘Annual’ turned out to be a bit of a lie, since we’ve had like four since then and it’s been less than a year. I guess we’re just impatient.
The most recent Pitch Party happened last week, hosted over at The Write Hobby under the careful hostessing of the ever-lovely Melanie Francisco (@blacklily_f). (Seriously, you should go check it out to read some awesome pitches and critiques.) Like its previous incarnations, participants were allotted a hundred words or less to pitch their manuscript, and then the whole pack descended like wolves to tear each other’s tender pitches to shreds. The best pitch critiques I have ever received always come from these advisory free-for-alls.
In the midst of all these glorious Pitch Parties, I find certain elements usually worm their way into the pitches. Those that don’t have all these elements don’t usually win. (Spoiler alert: I never win. *sad trombone*) What are these elements, you ask? Let me tell you.
Protagonist Who’s eyes are we seeing through? Who are we rooting for? Who are we piggy-backing on this wild adventure?
Situation What’s going on with the protagonist at the beginning of the story? What’s his/her cozy little situation that we’re about to blow up? (Not that he/she should necessarily be happy in this situation- just that it is. We’ll be sure to make it better by the end of the story, after dragging the protagonist through all the horrible garbage in between.)
Disaster What changes the initial situation? What awful thing forces our hero to leave the cozy situation and ply the deeper waters?
Motivation What is the hero’s objective? What is he/she willing to take up arms for?
Antagonist Who (or what) stands in the way of the hero achieving his/her goals? Who is going to make life miserable?
Conflict What happens as the hero opposes the antagonist in pursuit of his/her goals?
That may seem like a pretty long list for a pretty short pitch, but all of these elements are vital to a full-bodied pitch, and really don’t take up all that much space. Here’s my hundred word pitch as an example:
Dying is a terrible way to start an adventure. Not that Timmy (protagonist) had much choice. One moment, he was enjoying a quiet life of avoiding responsibility, and the next, he’d been assigned a Haunting- whatever that meant (situation). But Timmy’s plan to ignore the assignment derails when he discovers a disease of undying (disaster), with his duplicitous family at its core (antagonist). Harassed by a wise-cracking opportunist, an angelic caseworker, Death himself, and, worst of all, his conscience, Timmy takes action for the first time in his unlife. But saving the world (motivation) is tricky business, especially when victory could cost his very existence (conflict).
See? Not so bad, eh? Okay, maybe the pitch is, but cramming all that stuff in there wasn’t so difficult. I bet you could do an even better job. All these elements, taken together with a solid hook and some snazzy linguistic wizardry, just might help you stitch together a handsome little pitch. And that pitch just might snag the eye of an agent/editor/reader.
UPDATE: Oh my goodness, I actually won the thing this time around! Woo-hoo! Now if I could just snag some internet good enough to allow me to post my comments on the other pitches, we’d really be onto something…