I was going to post the interview with the judges today, but I decided to leave that for tomorrow. I’ve been seeing many authors stressing over the one-sentence pitch, so I wanted to give you a few tips on how to craft a good one before you enter the contest.
At RWA, I attended this wonderful workshop by New York Times Bestselling author Lori Wilde called “Got high concept?” (the same title of her e-book on this topic). It was about delivering a high-concept one-sentence pitch. The tips she gave were wonderful, and resonate with a lot of what I’ve been seeing on one-sentence pitches.
But first things first. After all, what is the structure of a one-sentence pitch?
According to Nathan Bransford’s great post on this subject, the pitch has three elements:
- The opening conflict or inciting incident
- The obstacle
- The quest
Based on that, he says a basic one-sentence pitch would be structured like this: When OPENING CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER(s), they have OVERCOME CONFLICT to COMPLETE QUEST.
Simple, right? Now, Bransford also says that, once you have that basic structure, you should add some flavor there, some of that character’s voice, a quirk, anything that makes this original and fresh. And that leads us to the high-concept pitch.
According to Wilde, here are the elements that must be present in a pitch:
- A compelling character with a desperate desire.
- A flaw related to the character’s career or situation.
- A classic plot device, enticing topic or universal theme.
- A life-altering inciting incident.
- An innovative idea.
- A quirk of fate or irony
And here is what the high-concept pitch should be:
- It’s different
- It’s universal
- It has instant emotional appeal
- You can visualize the story
How can it possibly be different and universal? The same way your story can. You’re not writing the same old story that has been told a hundred times. You have something there that makes it different. But the feel to it? That’s universal. Your character, the desperate desire, the inciting incident – all of that should be different. But the general theme (looking for love, fish out of the water, quest for survival, etc.) that’s universal. When you manage the universal theme – something that everyone can relate to – and the innovative idea – the surprise factor – you have an instant emotional appeal. See?
To complete that, your pitch should make it able for us to visualize the story. So, should I have the end there then? Not necessarily. Visualizing the story is very different from telling the end. Let’s go back to Nathan, because he explains this very well. He says you should be careful to explain the story, not the theme. The theme is generic. The story is not. Here’s the example he uses:
“The pitch of EAT PRAY LOVE is not ‘A recently divorced woman searches for love and happiness.’ That sounds like, well, a million books published every year. A better pitch would be ‘A recently divorced woman travels to Italy for pleasure,India for spirituality, and Bali for balance, but she finds love instead.’ That’s what actually happens.”
Now, does that tell you the ending? In a way it does. She finds love. But it doesn’t detail it. It doesn’t say what happens at the very end. It shows you her quest. Here’s an example Wilde gave in her class. It’s a pitch for the movie Speed: “A cocky cop must find a way to save people stranded on a city bus that will explode if it slows below55 mph.”
Does that tell you the ending? No, but it gives you enough to suspect what the ending will be. Does it tell you what the story is about? Yes. Does it have a personal detail? Yes (note it’s not any cop, it’s a cocky cop). Is it different? Yes. Is it universal? Yes. Does it have emotional appeal? Yes.
There you have it. That’s a high-concept, one-sentence pitch. So, are you ready to craft yours? Great! Go to the previous post for the Get Your Foot In the Door Contest rules and to Mr. Linky to sign up!