Developing an “elevator pitch” for your novel makes a lot of sense. The “elevator pitch,” also called a one-line or log line, is a one to two sentence statement that describes EXACTLY what your book is about. It got its name from the scenario: you have just entered an elevator along with an agent/publisher, and you only have a few seconds to pitch your book.
I know I would not be prepared for that opportunity. When should you start writing your elevator pitch?
When I started each of my not-finished-books, I had a great story line and a generalized idea of how to structure my book. I’ve already told you how those languish in my I-want-to-be-a-book storeroom. So this time around, I figured creating a detailed outline and using a story board was the next big step in my growth toward successful fiction writing. And it has helped.
But finding the premise – the pitch – and establishing the genre, I figured, came much later. There was plenty of time for that as the story wrapped up.
My first draft is clicking along, but I already know it’s a flat read. There is some nice writing, but as pointed out when I posted the first chapter for review this week over at Critique Circle, my beginning has no “stakes” for the protagonist. There is nothing to lose, nothing to gain. I have missed the boat on making my characters appealing, and don’t present conflict until far into the story. And they are right on. Pinpointed my main weakness in writing.
I anticipated major rewrites when I went into this, but I have learned there is a method that can bring more clarity and better writing. It won’t produce a polished piece right off the bat, but if I heed the advice in, “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder (recommended by a blog post on Critique Circle), I can save myself a lot of time and produce better and more solid work in that first draft. While Snyder teaches about writing screenplays, the theory he presents also applies to novel writing.
His requirement is to work on your “log line” or “elevator pitch” BEFORE you begin to write your first scene (or chapter). That took me by surprise.
His first major lesson, and this is my paraphrasing from my own experience: writing without knowing your story’s premise, and being able to sum it up in a one or two sentence statement is like going on a vacation without having a destination in mind. I actually did that ONCE, and it didn’t turn out well. Just sort of rambled around and I never “arrived” anywhere until I got back home. I did get a few nice pictures, and learned to decide where I wanted to go the next time.
Snyder also says a log line can’t be written until you have thought your story all the way through. By starting with a pitch line BEFORE I begin writing, I begin to see what I am aiming for, and it serves as a guide for keeping my story on course. Instead of just going for it and “hoping the spaghetti sticks on the wall,” it should help me see if a scene or portrayal of a character fits, and is good for the story.
He gives a lot of specific advice on developing your log line, and great tips on what works when you go to present it to a producer/publisher. This is a great book, and lessons stated in a straightforward, conversational read.
This approach may not work for everyone, but I am choosing to take Snyder’s advice to heart. I’m working on my story’s log line now, even though I’ve banged out five chapters. While the pitch isn’t perfected, I am gaining more clarity on the story’s purpose, and can already see a better layout and places where I need to work on my character conflict and development. What I won’t be doing is rewriting those first five chapters. They are just going to sit there as is, for now. I’ll work on them after the first draft is completed.
Here is my understanding of the four components, paraphrasing the major components Snyder says must be included in a successful log line (elevator pitch):
- Must show the main conflict and be emotionally involving.
- Must give a picture of what the story is about, and be easily visualized
- Must target a specific, defined audience (genre).
- Must be accompanied by a “killer title.” (hopefully, more on that at a later date, as I still have no clue!)
SUMMARY: being added to “Lessons I am learning… on my way to becoming an author.”
- The time to develop a log line (elevator pitch, one-line) is BEFORE you begin writing your story. It can assist in building your outline, and developing your characters and ideas. A log line can’t be successfully written until you have thought your story all the way through. Only then begin writing your story.