Saturday, 26 July 2014

What’s with the ‘difficult’ problem thing on Facebook?

OK, so what are these things all about? New age problems for a seriously dumbed down society or am I missing some clever irony? I’ve just seen another one. It says

‘Name a CITY that does not have the letter “A” in it. Bet you can’t.’ Someone has added ‘This is hard!’

As I read it I thought Hereford, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Hull (or even Kingston-upon-Hull for the purists)... and wondered what the point was. Previous ones have been along the lines of ‘Bet you can’t say your own name without falling over backwards – this is hard!’


So I’m doing my own. Here we go



OK - go!


Thursday, 10 July 2014

THE SHORT SHARP FOCUSED PITCH

When I and my co-author launched our book The Writers’ Toolkit back in wheneveritwas, our publisher treated us to a frenetic 2-day launch event online. They canvassed for short submissions that we had to critique as part of the launch, using the pearls of wisdom we aimed to pass on as part of the toolkit.

I think we critiqued about 40 short pieces. It was a demanding, intense, constructive and enjoyable exercise. We were also asked to pass on some specific practical advice on writing and selling commercial fiction. We did this via articles, tutorials and discussions.

One of the tutorials was entitled: A MINI TUTORIAL - THE SHORT SHARP FOCUSED PITCH and this is reproduced below.

In the actual launch, this was published in three parts with people joining in over the course of the first day. You can see the interactive discussions by following the links given at the end of each section.

THE SHORT SHARP FOCUSED PITCH
PART I
The aim of this mini tutorial is to give you the tools to create a short, focused pitch for your commercial fiction novel.

Write down the following three things about your novel
1. The name of the main character.
2. This character's goal or objective.
3. A sticky situation in which this character finds him/herself.

Usually in commercial fiction there is a clearly identifiable main character, but there may be more than one. Pick one. The character you choose may have different goals at different points in the story. Note however that the main character usually has an overarching goal and this is the best one to pick. Likewise your character will go through several sticky situations as the story progresses. Pick one that really threatens the goal.

Example
1. Jack Smith.
2. To climb Mount Everest.
3. The summit is 20 minutes away but time is tight.

In the online tutorial, participants were asked to have a go at listing out these three elements for their own novel and saying why they picked each one. Those who wanted then posted their lists as comments on the tutorial itself and we commented on their choices. See these discussions HERE.

PART II
Add the following two elements to the list you created in part one.
4. Something or someone who stands in the way of the character you listed in part one.
5. The potentially disastrous consequences that could result if the character doesn’t overcome this opposition.

Again there will be several answers to these questions. Your character will meet different types of opposition and will face different consequences at different times in the story. Try to choose something that could really spell disaster for your character.

Example (continued from the example in part one)
4. The clock stands in Jack’s way. It says that Jack must turn back in 25 minutes or he will not be able to descend safely before night falls.
5. Another climber in difficulty asks for his help, which will take precious minutes from his available time.

If you end up with several different versions for the five elements, that’s good. You will be able to experiment and see which pitch works best.

Again in the online tutorial, participants were asked to have a go at listing out these two elements for their own novel and saying why they picked each one. Those who wanted then posted their lists as comments and we commented on their choices. See these discussions HERE.

We also recommended that participants try out several variations, noting that it is usually easy to decide on 1, 2 and 3, but it gets harder to figure out 4 and 5 as there will usually be many more alternatives.

PART III
Take the first three of the elements in your list and turn them into a single statement.

Using the example given, we can turn this into the following:
Jack Smith has sold everything to fund his attempt to climb Everest and he stands within sight of his goal.

Now take the last two elements in your list and turn them into a question.

Using the examples given, we can turn this into the following:
Will he lose this only chance to fulfil a lifetime ambition when a stranger calls for help?

Put these together and you have a short, focused pitch:
Jack Smith has sold everything to fund his attempt to climb Everest and he stands within sight of his goal. Will he lose this only chance to fulfil a lifetime ambition when a stranger calls for help?

These short pitches don't tell the story of the book in any detail. The important thing is that they introduce the main character, say something about his or her motivation and then they raise a question, hopefully leaving the reader curious enough to read on.

This is the technique I used to write the pitch for the novel Like False Money. It caught the eye of several publishers who asked to see more of the book, even before the book itself was well enough written to warrant publication. However, when the book was accepted the publisher took the essence of the pitch and used it in the cover blurb.

The original pitch around the five elements was as follows:
Annie Raymond [1], desperate to be taken seriously as a private investigator [2], finds herself in an impossible job with a boss who hasn’t a clue who she is [3]. Will her career be over before it starts when a schoolgirl [4] accuses her of unprofessional conduct [5]?

Participants were invited to post their own short pitches for people to comment on. See these discussions HERE.

Adapted from Chapter 2 of the Writers’ Toolkit which contains more detail and examples.



If you found this mini tutorial useful, please leave a comment, spread the word and buy the book.