I’ve read too many novels in which the main character has no plan of action. Things happen, and he responds when necessary. In other words, he is reactive, which means outside forces are largely responsible for any character development that might occur.
Recently agent Rachelle Gardner allowed writers to post in the comments section of her blog one-sentence story pitches which whittle a novel to its bare bones–the premise.
According to former agent Nathan Bransford, there are three necessary elements in a twenty-five word pitch:
– The opening conflict (called the Inciting Incident by Robert McKee)
– The obstacle
– The quest
Racheller expands on this to include the following:
→ A character or two
→ Their choice, conflict, or goal
→ What’s at stake (may be implied)
→ Action that will get them to the goal
→ Setting (if important) [emphasis mine]
In the template she borrowed from Mr. Bransford, the character is to “overcome the conflict.” She then gives an example pitch she borrowed from Randy Ingermanson of a well-known story in which the character “battles for his life.”
In response to Rachelle’s invitation, many writers bravely put their pitches out for critique. However, I noticed one commonality–not universal, but frequent: the recurring actions in these pitches were “revealing” or “discovering” or “finding.”
Yes, those are verbs and therefore actions, but they are not graphic or explicit. They aren’t necessarily reactive, but they don’t show what the character is doing.
I’ll be the first to admit–writing an active pitch is not easy.
For one thing, not every story has a character hunt down the killer or free the princess. Some stories key in on the protagonist’s inner struggle, but the key word there is “struggle.” The hard work of facing life as a victim of rape or of recovering from a divorce or any of the other cataclysmic events that can change a person, must still come through as active in a pitch.
A character can defeat her doubts or conquer her fears, but she can also do something more particular to your novel. The more unique or original, and active, the verb in your pitch, the more likely it will catch a reader’s (or agent’s or editor’s) attention.
Here’s my pitch of a few familiar stories (fictitious or true). Do they sound intriguing? Do you recognize them or are they too general?
- When a rebellious prophet sails away from God, he must survive the stormy consequences and repent in order to escape a watery grave.
- When a family leaves their secluded home for a day, they must solve the mystery of the disturbing break-in that decimated their child’s belongings.
- A loyal lieutenant must escape through a window and live like a fugitive in order to avoid the undeserved murderous rage of his father-in-law, the king.
- When a trusting king expects instant riches from the miller’s daughter, she must outsmart a magical imp to save her life and that of her firstborn son.
No doubt you can improve on these, but each contains action. And action is what you want to show those reading your pitch.
Now it’s your turn. If you’d like to try your hand at writing a twenty-five word, single sentence pitch of your novel, feel free to post it here to receive some feedback.