Here's a single log line from Wes. Some of you may remember Wes's powerful and evocative opening paragraph from previous exercises. He's definitely got a way with words.
A young man from Missouri must survive the alien ways of New Mexico in 1821 to become a Santa Fe trader and marry his love, a provocative Mexican woman.
This is clean and tight and I don't get lost in any confusing phrases or unclear terms. So right away, I'm inclined to like this sentence. Remember, when you pitch, I have to process the information with my ears. If I have to pause to untangle a strange phrasing, I might lose the next few words from your pitch. Neither of us wants that.
So insofar as this is lucid and linear, it's a good opening sentence. And it's got a few other things going for it, too -- clearly delineated time and place, a hint of a story arc, a suggestion of world-building.
That said, it could be improved with a few tweaks here and there. I'd like something more evocative than "a young man," which is a bit generic. Well, maybe it hints that this is a coming of age story, but even so, we could do with a more vivid character tag. Untried idealist? Scrappy runaway? Either could be true at this point because we don't really know anything about this character other than that he is young, male, moves from one place to another, and eventually creates an adult life.
Also, I'd like a stronger sense of obstacles or conflict. Must survive the alien ways isn't all bad, especially with strongly dramatic words like survive and alien. But it's not concrete, is it? Maybe this is just me, but one of my first thoughts was that in 1821, Missouri and New Mexico were both more or less frontier areas. New Mexico had a bit more Spanish and native influence, right? So is that what makes it alien? That it's got different cultural influences?
I don't know. What does everyone think? Should he replace must survive the alien ways with something like must learn a new language and a new culture? It's more concrete, but these things feel more like tasks than obstacles.
Wes, what are the obstacles? What is it in the beginning that keeps the young man from becoming a trader and marrying the Mexican woman?
One other point. I assume this is a coming-of-age tale because this log line sets up that notion. In fact, this is one of the purposes of using a broad summary statement like this to open your pitch -- it gives us a frame through which we can view the details presented in the rest of the pitch. Between this line and what I remember of the opening paragraph we saw, er, last summer or so, I'm already thinking in terms of a more genfic version of a Cormac McCarthy story. Fewer literary fillips, more straightforward storytelling, with strong and clean language. Is that accurate?
The reason I ask -- and this may be obvious, but sometimes the most obvious points could use an airing, too -- is that everything you say to me during a pitch softens the soil for your later submission. If you pitch a "Cormac lite" coming-of-age tale, and submit a High Noon-style sheriffs-and-posses story, it's going to shade the way I view your viability as a career writer. I may love the book you submit. I may even buy it. But I'm going to wonder if you understand your own writing well enough to deliver a second publishable manuscript. (Not you specifically, Wes. Though I do specifically want you to tell me if this is a bildungsroman, and what form the obstacles take.)
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