Thursday, January 5, 2017

Practice Makes Perfect: Query, Pitch, Action!

Hello, guys!

Long time no speak! I'd get into it but we all know the reason I and so many others have paused their writing life.

But it's a new year and new me same me so it's time to

I've been sorting my book with the worksheets I printed off. (Get a The Snowflake Method worksheet and others here!)

Just been putting together things that will help the editing process. (If you haven't read all the other articles, let me be the one to tell you: these methods will help you stay organic if you use them only in the editing process.)

So far, I've really enjoyed The 5 Turning Points of All Successful Screenplays by Michael Hauge. The superhero/hero's journey. Stages of love (hello, check out Liana Brooks for more info!)

You know, just all sorts of good fun. But the real problem is actually using the methods on my own stories, and why I know it's not so easy for you guys.

To help me even put down what I know on these worksheets, I've taken up creating a story playlist to invoke feelings; turned on movie trailers for similar stories/vibes; looped book trailers and read hundreds of successful queries in the write genre.

I have done it all to hook myself too, to be concise so I can be concise in my editing and keep the essence that makes me love this story so much.

In the original drafting of this post, I had a movie on in the background. One of the background characters is a novelist, who is on a roll. She pitches, out of the blue, and without stuttering, her latest best seller.

First of all, all I could think was, "yeah, right." This is the hardest thing about a book, right? Explaining it to others.

Second, this point came a little later for me, I realized that she did it so well, that if she hadn't told me the end, I might have been thinking about that book for much longer than I did (and still am.)

The basic structure of her pitch:

An untouchable, immortal man, blessed by the heavens has a tumor found, inoperable, terminal, goes on a killing spree.

Admittedly, not the world's best pitch, but pretty good at getting the point across. First, we get a sense of the guy. Or at least we fill in the blanks about him.

He's a man who can't be killed. Who walks out of burning buildings likely. Who probably has no concept of death or empathy for the people about to go through it.

Then we find out what changes and why that piece of backstory was important to mention.

A doctor finds a tumor. Something that stamps an expiration date on the bottom of the protagonist's foot. Secondhand helplessness ensues. Hopelessness. (If this immortal can also get a tumor, there's no hope is there?)

And then we get the reaction.

He goes on a killing spree.

This is a total disconnect. The only thing that stopped all the magic and empathy from before.

Honestly, when I reviewed it, I honestly thought: duh, what else was supposed to happen?

But that reaction is me shutting down. His response to this mortality is only compelling when you wonder what the hell sent him zero to sixty. I mean, as far as we know, he's never had a violent streak. For God's sakes, it only said he was blessed by the heavens.

Unless...unless untouchable leans on arrogance/superiority. I just thought he did this on the daily:

But so, if we didn't lean on that inference, which if that was what we were supposed to infer, that was not wise, then we have to scratch our heads.

The immortal-turned-mortal kills people. Why? Does it fix anything? Will it make him feel better? Are those innocent, random people? Or serial killers? Doctors who found the cure for cancer but sit on a throne of money given to them by pharm companies?

Who is dying and why are they dying? What about dying made this guy think that dying (faster) should be inflicted on others? Is it not a bad experience for him? Is it euphoric? Is something better waiting on the other side for everyone??

For a long time, I thought that stakes were independent of the two previous parts, but this pitch made the relationship so vital. So let's break this down.

It's in the backstory.

This not a free pass to go crazy either! I'm looking at you, prologue writers.

Characters drive stories. They are the cause and the things that ripple from them are the effects. And sometimes they're both. They cause something and it affects them so much they change from it.

Actually, what am I saying? Characters are always both.

There's this brilliant quote I love, about acorns and dead people or something, where an acorn becomes a tree that drops an acorn and becomes a tree. We're always changing, always different.

I mean, if you don't believe that, your organs are not the same ones you grew as a baby. On a cellular level, but what you have now, is because of what you had before.

We are products of things that happened before.

Who the protagonist is at the beginning of the story, he's a byproduct of before. Either because of his response or coping mechanisms, but he's still a product of who he is stemming from his responses.

After fighting in the lunar war, Serenitians* call Callie Cybo Leg or something. That's the beginning. That already tells us so much. The next few words can talk about whether or not she likes the title, cuts it into her victims, or how she lives her days as a veteran.

By the way, I went a little too specific above. A better pitch that's basic would be A veteran known for her lunar cyborg leg. At least that would be a little closer to what type of pitch we're talking about.

In the pitch we're working on, it's mentioned that this being was blessed by the heavens. We wonder why. That's compelling already. Why was this being blessed?

Conflict is usually an opposing force.

What happens to change the direction of the protag's life, it's usually an opposite force.

The immortal isn't actually immortal after all.

But conflict can be things staying the same.

Example: An immortal man doesn't like being last man standing. This man has survived the last person, has been surviving this whole time.

What changed is that there is no one left to survive. Not changing could compel someone to change.

The different sources of conflict, that helps define your genre too.

For this pitch, surprise, not as immortal as he thought and he's on the highway to Death City if we infer that his tumor, which can't be operated on, is going to kill him quickly.

Stakes have to be tightly bound to the person and the conflict.

There's no glory in not making someone bleed for their preference. It's a scientific fact that all readers have the kink of being tortured because of imaginary beings.

However, I have found out that you can't go up to someone enjoying a novel and ask them if they like pain. It interrupts reading time. The eighth deadly sin.

Being in pain is usually part of joy of being a reader. At least for me it is.

Actual reader after a good book
So back to the original pitch, because this is where there was a disconnect.

An immortal, blessed by the heavens, has an inoperable tumor


Please tell me you know what this is.
Pitches are so hard to do. Well, not pitches, but the ending. For me, it's always been the ending. Sometimes, the conflict and the background are interesting by themselves, but for me to pick up a book, to request it for ARC review, for a GoodReads add or purchase, the ending, the sparkly hook, has been everything.

You know why they call it a hook?

Because it takes you away
But seriously. That last bit of words, you can't waste it. You have to make it compelling. You have to make it irresistible. You have to make it hard not to pick up the book and find out.

An untouchable, immortal man, blessed by the heavens has a tumor found, inoperable, terminal, and becomes engrossed in mortal activities and first and last love.


An untouchable, immortal man, blessed by the heavens has a tumor found, inoperable, terminal, and discovers a group of doctors paid off by pharmaceutical companies who withhold the cure.


An untouchable, immortal man, blessed by the heavens has a tumor found, inoperable, terminal, and decides to take up arms to rebel against the heavens.

Any of these hooks are byproducts. They're the because this happened this is happening thing. It doesn't have to be explosions or fights to the death or high stakes.

But it has to be a journey.

I'm not saying that becoming a serial killer wouldn't be a journey. But you also can't testify and say that I said it would be.

But it comes off as a) disconnect in the pitch=disconnect in the writing? b) too many possibilities, not sure what kind of journey this will be. For all you know, it's a comedy. Or it's a love story. Death is sexy now for this once immortal man. He gives it gifts before moving in. WHO KNOWS.

The hook has to give a sense of what kind of journey this will be.

Another good reason to edit and reread and leave and edit again.

Like your novel, it'll take several tries to say what you're trying to say the way you want to say it. But this is the world in a pitch. The background. The conflict. The promise of the journey.

If you have an immortal who's been brought down a peg, falls in love with experiencing things as we do, and has to face the reality of death, maybe then we'd want to know how to deal with that.

Because we're always looking for someone who makes us feel less alone.

Or if that's not the kind of book you're into, try something action packed.

An immortal is brought down to demi-god by a poison and tries to get his demi-god legs just as the bad guys who brought him down a peg attempt to finish him off at any cost--even the life of the mortal girl he's fallen for.

Pretend that horrible pitch wasn't wordy.

There are so many ways a pitch can go. What kind of book it is depends entirely on what you put at odds with who your character is too.

So draft your little hearts out. I know I will.

Can't edit a blank page.