Last week, we took a look at the elements of a winning logline-style elevator pitch. Today, we’re looking more closely at how to apply them and craft the pitch itself.
To recap, the elements you’re looking for are your novel’s protagonist, active antagonist, stakes, and high concept. And remember: the high concept might or might not make it into your pitch, but you need to keep it in mind.
Remember, also, that a logline pitch is merely the start of a conversation with an editor, agent, or reader. For that reason, it shouldn’t be long – a single sentence, or a single breath, at most.
Now, let’s talk about how to find and apply the elements of an effective logline pitch to your work in progress.
1. IDENTIFY YOUR PROTAGONIST (BY ARCHETYPE). Archetypes are more descriptive and harder to forget than character names. Try to identify your protagonist in no more than three words. Try several alternatives, looking for the one that sounds most intriguing. Limit yourself to archetypes, to 2-3 words at most, and don’t use any backstory elements in the description of the protagonist. The pitch is about this novel, not what your character went through in the past.
If I tell you “Hiro Hattori” has three days to solve a crime, you don’t know who or what he is. You might or might not care. But if I tell you a master ninja has to find a killer, suddenly you’re curious–because usually, the ninja IS the killer.
Your protagonist will almost always be the first thing you mention in a logline-style pitch, so open strong.
2. IDENTIFY THE ACTIVE ANTAGONIST. Who is your protagonist fighting? Again, use archetypes, not names. Sometimes, the antagonist may be implied rather than stated in the pitch. That’s ok, especially if the stakes are high. Where you have more than one antagonist (and this often happens), make a list and use the most important ones.
If you’re having trouble identifying the antagonist, ask yourself: what’s the easiest way to describe what my hero is fighting? That’s your active antagonist, and you have to either state or strongly imply its existence in your pitch.
If you don’t describe the antagonist in detail, you need to make sure you nail element #3:
3. IDENTIFY THE STAKES (AGAIN, IN ARCHETYPE IF POSSIBLE): What will happen, and who suffers, if your protagonist fails?
Your pitch MUST explain what’s at stake in your novel. Fail at that, and the listener will not care. On rare occasions, authors realize when crafting the pitch that the reason the novel isn’t working is that it has no real stakes.
Think about the story you’ve written, and ask yourself: why must the protagonist succeed? What are the consequences–for the protagonist and others–if (s)he fails? These are the stakes, and they’re the most important thing for your pitch to convey.
4. IDENTIFY YOUR STORY’S HIGH CONCEPT. How would you describe your story in 5 words or less?
For me, it’s “Ninja detective in samurai-era Japan.” Short and to the point. My pitch never actually says those words, but the high concept informs the “vibe” of the pitch even when it doesn’t appear.
It’s the little details of the pitch that convey high concept. Find unique details in your novel. Wedge them into the spaces between your protagonist, antagonist, and stakes.
5. WRITE A FIRST DRAFT OF YOUR PITCH THAT INCLUDES THE PROTAGONIST, ANTAGONIST, STAKES & HIGH CONCEPT. Then Revise.
Revise until you can say the entire pitch easily and in a single breath. Revising a pitch often involves a lot of painful cutting: You don’t have room for filler words that do not “earn their keep.” Generally, try to use no more than one adjective per noun, and don’t use adverbs if you can avoid it – they break the flow.
Most authors struggle with shortening pitches, mainly from the mistaken believe that the listener needs “more information.” The reality is that any more than a single breath will make your listener lose interest in your pitch.
Every novel or nonfiction work can be pitched in a single sentence. You CAN revise your pitch to a single breath. Justify each word and use the strongest words possible–remembering archetypes are stronger than names–and you can write a winning pitch for your book.