Sunday, April 5, 2009

How to Put It Together Into One Neat Tweet

In our last post, we gave you homework. You all did your homework, right? Of course you did. You are all prodigies and wouldn't slack on such a thing. (Secret message to Laura: This means you. *ggg*)

I'm going to pretend I'm pitching something and will craft a fake list for us to use as an example.

The protagonist:
Heroine: Laidback earth-mother
Hero: meticulous craftsman

The goal/reward:
To convert the heroine's garage into mother-in-law quarters.

The obstacle(s):
She needs $10,000 as a down payment.

The antagonist:
Crappy economy and frozen credit.

Consequence of failure:
Mother-in-law will be in spare bedroom, and heroine will lose her workspace for her art.

Heroine promised dead husband she would always care for m-i-l.

Challenge to self-image:
Until this all happened, my character used to think he was: family-oriented and generous.

Inciting Event:
Nursing home kicks m-i-l out because she keeps stealing the other patients' candy. She's a handful, that one.

Ticking Clock:
Nursing home is paid up for six weeks. After that, m-i-l is out.

Important steps taken:
Heroine hires hero to do the rush build.
Heroine tries/fails to get financing.
Heroine tries/fails to get dead husband's family to help.
Heroine tries/fails to get hero to cut corners on plans.

Final reversal :
Hero pulls out of job because he can't work like this and because he secretly thinks heroine should extricate herself from dead husband's family affairs.

She finally finds closure on her marriage, free to love the hero, sends m-i-l off to live with other family, and converts garage into art studio. Meticulously crafted by hero, of course.
He learns that he can't control every detail, no matter how hard he tries, and that sometimes a man has to give a little to get a little. *wink*

Now, here's what you do. Pick any two or three items on the list, and mash them together into a single sentence. Then pick a different two or three items, and mash those. Lather. Rinse. Repeat until you hit on a combo that sizzles.

And there's your log line. Lead off a pitch with a sizzling, story-specific log line, and whoever is listening will have a "hook" to hang the rest of the pitch on. (I don't mean hook in the secret baby/amnesia/billionaire way, but in the sense that this is the piece which will prop up all the other pieces.)

Added bonus: You can use the rest of the worksheet to draft the rest of your pitch. Why not? You've basically just created a handy little structural road map for your story. Might as well use it to get where you want to go.

Let's try a few, shall we?

When a laidback earth mother gets a six-week eviction notice from her mother-in-law's nursing home, she has to choose between finally letting go of her dead husband and honoring her deathbed promise to him to always take care of his mother.

Eh. OK. But where's the hero? If you use a line like this for a romance pitch, bring the hero in quickly after it.

When a laidback earth mother must take her dead husband's mother into her home, she hires a meticulous craftsman to build a garage apartment, and instead they end up building a new life together.

A little hokey, but it definitely conveys the premise.

When a laidback earth mother hires a meticulous craftsman to construct a garage apartment, the two of them battle over everything from appliances and color choices to their growing attraction to each other.

When her dead husband's family refuses to care for their ailing matriarch, a laidback earth mother must come to terms with her widowhood and find a way to love again.

As you see, once you start playing with piece, you might find yourself riffing in ways that leap off the worksheet you filled out. That's okay. The worksheet is meant to inspire, not to limit.

Now it's your turn. Mash away! Keep going until you find an opening sentence that really speaks to you.



Ian said...

I've got two. I'm leaning toward the second one. Thoughts?

1. Three young mercenaries have to retrieve 1 of 3 collectible bottles and destroy the other 2 or else be enslaved by the collector forever.

2. Three young mercenaries trapped in dead-end lives get a job opportunity, but it will take them all around the world against wealthy and powerful enemies, in their quest for a single fragile collectible.

Wes said...

Now I get it!! I thought you were advising putting all the elements in a log line. I kept thinking that's going to be one heck of a run-on sentence.

Julie Harrington said...

This was hard, but fun.

As prominent and powerful figures in the world of magic – both human and non, good and evil – are assassinated, a chaos witch finds herself caught in the crosshairs with only the protection of a demon standing between her and death.

Riley Murphy said...

Okay, I think I got it. I have a short one, cut right to the bones (for me anyway) and one that has more detail. And hey? I figure if you can say it all in one breath then it’s a sentence, right?

Threatened, a highly principled lady must go against her beliefs and blackmail a dangerous man brought down by grief, who is the only one that is strong enough to protect her.

or longer version

Desperate but determined, when she discovers her step-brother’s incestuous plans for her, she seeks out the much feared ‘Terror’, a man rumored to be ravaged by grief over the disappearance of the boy he pledged to protect, and boldly blackmails him into agreeing to sire the heir she needs to secure her lands - as barter for the information she holds regarding the missing boy’s fate.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this example! Once I read it, I got a better understanding of a couple of sections, and that got me thinking. I'd been having trouble coming up with ending (other than a vague 'fight on a island'), and going through each element helped me come up with a better ending. :)

Sheila Deeth said...

Wow! Neat! I think I might have finally understood.

Dawn said...

Thanks for the link. I spotted this the other day and couldn't find my way back to it. Much appreciated.

Unknown said...

This is fantastic. Not only did it help with my pitch but it also helped me craft that synopsis that I've been procrastinating.

Jenny Maloney said...

Thanks so, so, so much for this. It was really helpful!

Unknown said...

Just found your blog and love it. I'm trying hard to craft a query letter, and after several critiques, thought I had it right. Wrong! I took quite a bashing on another site, so apparently I still have some learning to do.

I wonder if you might allow me to use this lesson on my blog for my Friday Fiction tips. I would, of course, give you full credit.


Julie Weathers said...

Heroine hires hunky carpenter to convert her garage, but has an epiphany and decides she isn't obligated to take care of ex-mother-in-law and doesn't need a control freak man in her life. She enjoys peace and quiet in her new art studio after she kicks both of them to the curb.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Ten year old Claire must save her 12 year old brother Alex from a fate worse than death - becoming a bug!

Haste yee back ;-)

Lauren said...

So I don't read romance novels, but would totally read this.

Anonymous said...

If my novel is about a family and there are three protagonists, should I write about all of them or just the most important one?
I did the exercise on all three and they are woven together into the story.

Great exercise.