Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Elevator Pitch

The other day, Rachelle Gardner asked for elevator pitches. Below you will find what I submitted, along with her response. What I submitted is actually a type of fill in the blank logline (developed by Jose Silerio) with the blanks filled in with my stuff. As you can see from the response, it is enough to make her think about drinking, which does not bode well for a potential agent/author relationship.

Timothy Fish:
The story is about a wealthy businessman facing retirement with no grandchildren, who is visited by a con-artist claiming she is raising a granddaughter he didn’t know he had and demanding that his son marry her; believing she only wants money, he seeks to discredit her, with the help of his son’s socialite girlfriend, but when they discover the con-artist is telling the truth, he must learn that social status isn’t important, before his son leaves the family business, to prevent the homeless con-artist from joining his family.

Rachelle Gardner:
That is one l-o-n-g sentence, dude. My eyes glazed over about 30 words in, and I began wondering what we were having for dinner and why the heck couldn't we get a decent glass of wine around here. This is way too detailed and convoluted—I can hardly make heads or tails of what's happening. The point is NOT to wow me with your intricate plot. Give me the genre; give me the exciting pieces that spark my imagination; give me an overview that makes me want to read the book. "A wealthy businessman becomes involved with a con-artist who may or may not be trying to con him..." What's at stake? Why do we care?

Let’s see if we can clean this up. Jose’s tool calls for:

Stasis=Death moment
family party with no grandchildren

flawed protagonist
snobbish rich man

Catalyst (Inciting Incident)
con-artist shows up with girl she claims is his granddaughter

Break Into Two
investigates woman’s past

B Story
son’s girlfriend

scares con-artist off

Theme Stated
social status is unimportant

All Is Lost
son leaves family business to marry con-artist

flawed antagonist
homeless con-artist

We try plugging these in again and get: On the verge of a family party without grandchildren, a snobbish rich man has a con-artist show up with a girl she claims is his granddaughter and investigates the woman’s past with the his son’s girlfriend; but when the con-artist disappears happens, he/she must learn that social status isn’t important, before his son leaves the family business, to defeat (or stop) the homeless con-artist (from marrying his son.

Is it better? Not much. The problem, I think, is that we have too much here that we don’t really care about at this point. It isn’t that these things aren’t important to the story. We want a B Story and a Midpoint and a Theme. We want all of it, but we don’t necessarily care what they are.

What if we do this: A respected rich man investigates the death of his daughter-in-law in order to discredit a homeless con-artist who shows up on his doorstep with a girl she claims is his granddaughter. Does that help? I think so. Even if that doesn’t make you want to read the book, you know what it’s about. It isn’t an elevator pitch yet, but we’re a lot closer. We can even turn it around: A homeless con-artist tries to convince a respected rich man that the girl she has raised is his granddaughter.

In the modifications above we use something along the lines of flawed protagonist does fun and games to defeat flawed antagonist because of catalyst. In a 300 page manuscript, the fun and games section occurs between pages 75 and 150. It’s all the stuff that our protagonist does to solve his problem before he realizes it ain’t gonna work.

Let’s try one more variation. The book is about a wealthy man who investigates the death of his daughter-in-law to prove that a homeless woman he thinks is trying to weasel her way into his family is lying about the girl she raised being his granddaughter. At this point, I’ll call this good enough. It isn’t perfect, but keep in mind that this is an elevator pitch. We aren’t likely to repeat our pitch word for word from one time to the next.