THE WINNERS!!!!! We salute our 3 pitch winners. (Original Expert Pitch Class below.)
And everyone won, with Lorin's generous feedback (and VSO - Very Special Offer). :) Read Lorin's analysis (in the comments to this post) for her explanation of why these pitches achieved winning status.
CHERYL WHITMORE -- YA Science Fiction
When someone kidnaps Jeren's sister, Tara, demanding secrets her parents once held, she crosses space alone in pursuit. Jeren believes she failed to save her dying parents and vowed to protect Tara nine years earlier. Now she must unravel the mystery to keep that promise."
ROSALIE LARO -- DEMON BORN -- 85,000 word paranormal romance
"Keegan is an inter-dimensional bounty hunter on a mission to stop his father, a demon, from raising an army of zombies to take over Earth. But his resolve is tested when he falls for Brynn, the key to the apocalypse...and the very woman he may be forced to kill."
JORDAN McCOLLUM -- Thriller, I'm guessing!
"An attempted assassination in post-war Paris forces dyed-in-the-wool Soviet diplomat Katya Mikhailova to trust her family's safety to the American spy hunting the Nazi underground responsible. To stop her would-be killer from destroying the world’s tenuous peace, she must choose between being a good Soviet or a good daughter."
As an independent story editor, Lorin Oberweger specializes in all aspects of story and character development, voice, and on creating a potent emotional connection between story and reader.
Lorin’s company, Free-Expressions Seminars and Literary Services, is nationally known as the force behind Literary Agent Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Intensive and Fire in Fiction workshops.
*** CONTEST DETAILS (and prizes!) at the bottom ***
*** Awards given on Friday ***
Have you seen all the posts so far?
The first month (January, 2011) of Pitch University has provided QUITE the abundance of smart, practical, awesome advice for writers looking to pitch their works to agents, editors and, ultimately, to readers. (Ed. See all of January’s lessons on the right-hand column under “School Starts Here.”)
Kudos to the phenomenal brain trust gathered on this site so far. I look forward to more!
Pitching = Emotional Connection Between Reader and Character
What interests me most about pitching as a writer and an editor is the emotional connection between writer, protagonist, and reader.
In this case, the reader will be the agent or editor to whom one is pitching one’s work, but REALLY it’s always truly about the heart of the end reader, the man or woman in the bookstore (or on the ‘net) who must decide between your work and another worthy selection and who is entrusting you with hours of his or her life. It’s about throwing out that line and hooking your reader in the gut in such a potent way that he or she lives and breathes and FEELS along with the characters on the page.
So, when I’m speaking with students at a workshop or developing a novel with a client, I begin with a few questions to help suss out the protagonist’s emotional involvement in the plot so that we can find the best ways to capitalize on that for maximum reader gain.
1. How is your protagonist absolutely tied to the main story events? How is this HER story?
Often—too often, I find that writers have created stories where their protagonists are really tangential players. They’re loping along in life, perfectly content, when a set of contrived circumstances presents an opportunity for the protagonist’s involvement.
Note that I didn’t say circumstances DEMAND the protagonist’s involvement. It’s often the case that the protagonist decides, almost arbitrarily, to jump into the thick of things, with no really compelling emotional or practical reason for doing so.
I often see this in amateur sleuth mysteries, for example. The protagonist who has no particular skills in sleuthing and absolutely no relation to the murder victim or the accused, decides to jump into the fray simply because a dead body popped up within his domain.
Inevitably, that leads to difficulties in sustaining plausible motivations for that character (Really? You got shot in the lung, your dog was kidnapped, and you’re STILL going to keep investigating a crime that means nothing to you personally? Does your town have no police force? Also…umm, might you be crazy?). And it also makes just about everything they do incomprehensible to the sensible reader.
So, first and foremost—How MUST this be your protagonist’s story? If you were to rewrite it without your protagonist, would the story change dramatically? Is a secondary character more inextricably involved in things? If so, are you sure she isn’t REALLY your protagonist?
2. How does your protagonist PROPEL story events?
Writers sometimes create stories wherein events happen TO their protagonists, where those protagonists are borne along from event to event via a series of random and external circumstances. Those characters may respond to crises that emerge from scene to scene, and in that way, they SEEM active and the novel SEEMS to contain potent dramatic content, but, as I like to tell my clients, those protagonists are not really “driving the bus.”
So, does your protagonist--who has an absolutely essential role in the story and a true emotional investment in the problem and outcome--DRIVE story events? Is she putting a plan into action, and do those actions lead to consequences, which lead to continued renewal, recommitment, and further driving action on your protagonist’s part?
3. How do story events test your protagonist? In what ways is he forced to do things he never thought he’d do?
Think about your protagonist’s emotional state in the story, his beliefs and ethical landscape, his self-imposed limitations and those he faces given his age, social station, and the time period and milieu of the story. Think about his moral compass, and then ask yourself how you set that compass a’ spinnin’.
At the Writing the Breakout Novel Intensive workshops, Don Maass often asks, “What would your protagonist NEVER do?” followed by, “Great. Now create a situation in which he must do this very thing.”
What would that be? How does your novel force your protagonist to areas of great emotional discomfort/duress in pursuit of his goals? How does it seem to reward him for going to dark places or turning his back on his values or cultural traditions? In what ways is your protagonist tested, emotionally?
4. How does your protagonist CHANGE/GROW during the course of the story?
Beyond just a change in practical circumstances, this really speaks to where the protagonist is at the beginning of the story and where she ends up, emotionally, by the climax/dénouement.
In the most rewarding novels, the character’s journey through the above—pushing beyond emotional boundaries, entering previously untrodden ethical territory—will result in an emotional transformation on the part of the character. Your protagonist will end the story possibly sad but definitely wiser. There will be a maturing or a greater sense of peace and satisfaction; your protagonist may open herself up to love for the very first time or learn that she is capable of going it alone.
Wherever she ends up in the emotional spectrum, it should register as a marked change from the novel’s beginning. We should feel, ideally, that now were she to face the same challenges presented within the novel, she’d be able to vanquish any foe or face down any fear with greater confidence and aplomb.
THE EMOTIONAL PITCH:
So, Lorin, you ask—might you, pretty please, bring this around to my pitch?
Oh, all right. Since you asked nicely, here goes…
Beyond the simple conceptual or logline pitch, such as the “Jaws meets The Help” idea in my previous article (seriously, someone needs to write this), and beyond a simple explication of plot, adding a hint of the protagonist’s emotional challenges and journey to your pitch can elevate it from merely mechanical to truly memorable.
In order to make the most of your novel’s emotional terrain, it’s a smart idea to first answer those four questions above, really dig in and get a solid understanding of how this is your protagonist’s story, truly; of how she propels story events; what price she pays for doing so; and how the novel changes her.
Then play around with a few of those elements to help shape the pitch you present in your meeting with an agent. It might just be a couple of well-chosen words, or it might be a full sentence or two. As always, of course, try different versions—an abbreviated one and an expanded one, so that you can get the essentials across quickly and then, if prompted, add depth to your pitch.
Here’s a mechanical pitch for the novel JAWS:
Police chief Martin Brody must catch and kill a monster shark responsible for terrorizing and killing citizens of his seaside community of Amity Island, New York.
And here’s that same pitch with a few emotional elements in place:
Police chief Martin Brody must conquer his fear of the ocean and join forces with an arrogant oceanographer he suspects of having an affair with his wife in order to catch and kill a monster shark responsible for terrorizing and killing citizens of Amity Island, New York.
Better, yes? Didn’t the addition of his fear and the complication of his wife’s affair get your heart beating just a bit faster? The addition of only twenty words here has provided a ton of intrigue and MUCH greater emotional “zing.”
One approach to the emotional pitch is to consider your protagonist’s major flaw and then find a way to communicate the ways in which your novel forces him to push past that flaw.
As someone else mentioned, it’s great to set up a pitch in terms of emotional opposites and the ensuing tension when those opposites meet.
Example: A sheltered ballerina must accompany a troubled, extroverted rock star cross-country in order to make an audition that will help her support her family and find the freedom she desperately craves.
Another approach is to give hints of the character doing the thing he never imagined he’d do:
Example: Sarah, a devoutly religious Jew, must embrace the traditions of a Muslim family in order to find the child she was forced to give up for adoption fifteen years ago.
This not only hints at religious tensions and a journey of discovery but also suggests a painful but intriguing backstory related to the giving up of the child—a story that the reader will no doubt expect to unfold, at some length, during the course of the novel.
Again, you can mix and match any of the elements in the article above, really digging in to find the ones with the greatest feeling of potency, the greatest opportunity for an investment on your reader’s part. Doing so will allow your story to catch fire in the agent or editor’s imagination AND in their hearts, something that can certainly lead to the success—and ultimate longevity—of your novel.
Okay, so now I’m going to turn things over to you!
Give me your emotional pitch in the comments below—no more than fifty words, utilizing some of the elements detailed in this piece. Try different variations if you’d like.
And ask questions! I’m here to help you.
I’ll pick my top three (3) favorites and reward you handsomely with the following:
- An awesome t-shirt in a random size (kidding; I’ll try to send one in the size you specify);
- An awesome book of writing instruction;
- A line-edit and evaluation of the first 30 pages + optional 2-page synopsis; -OR-
- An awesome gift certificate for $100 off an upcoming workshop.
Get to it! I’m emotionally invested in reading your pitch!
LORIN OBERWEGER is a highly sought-after independent book editor and ghostwriter with more than twenty years’ experience in publishing.
Her company, Free Expressions, offers writing seminars nationwide with literary agent Donald Maass and others, as well as the acclaimed Story Shaping Workshops, intensive one-on-one story development weekends for writers in all genres of fiction. In addition, she serves as Editor-in-Residence/Advanced Class Instructor for the renowned Writers Retreat Workshop.
Lorin’s students and clients have (combined) millions of books in print and have been published by imprints of HarperCollins, Penguin, Hachette, and other mainstream and independent presses. They have also gained representation with some of the industry’s leading literary agents.
An award-winning author, Lorin’s poetry, short fiction, and articles have appeared in well over one-hundred periodicals, including THE MONTSERRAT REVIEW, STORYQUARTERLY, and the bestselling anthology FRENCH QUARTER FICTION. Recently, an excerpt of her novel-in-progress, ITCH, was awarded “Best of Workshop” at Writers in Paradise, co-founded by author Dennis Lehane.