Writing Tip of the Week: So, What’s Your Story About?

When we’ve written something we’re proud of, we often want to share it with others.  When we ask someone to read out work, the typical response is: “What’s it about?” This is usually where we fall into two categories.  

The first is the deer in the headlights look, followed by basic descriptors (“It’s a thriller, and it’s got ghosts.”).  The second is we overexplain to the point that we see the other person’s eyes glaze over.

Neither is the best approach to getting someone to read our work.  That being said, it’s best to have what would be known in Hollywood as an “Elevator Pitch” prepared for your story.  Having this stored in your memory is a great way to concisely tell others about your story to hook them and garner interest.

Let’s talk about it!

What is an Elevator Pitch?

As the name implies, the Elevator Pitch is a 60-second sales pitch for your story.  It should entice and interest the listener to the point that they want to know more.  Think of this as a commercial for your novel or script.  How do you effectively hook someone into buying your product?

We’ve all seen thousands of TV commercials, YouTube ads, movie trailers, and commercials for TV shows. Some get us excited; many others don’t.  The trick is to be in the first category, driving interest toward your project.

But how do you do it effectively?

Begin at the Basics

Can you write down the main plot of your story in one sentence?  Does the sentence present the main character, their opposition, and the primary conflict?  

This should be your first task when coming up with a pitch for your story and can also help you later when you have to write a blurb for the back of the book.  You want to get people to buy the book, giving them just enough information to feel compelled to purchase and read more.

What are two or three key moments in the story?  Do they move the main character in a new direction?  Look at your inciting incident (the moment the main character starts on their journey), the first major plot point, and the story’s mid-point.  These should be major events that drive the story and the character forward, and they are points you can add to your pitch.

Since we want to keep them interested, don’t mention or imply how the story ends; just give them a taste of what the story is about and what happens.

Now you have one sentence with the basics of the story and some key story points outlined.

Genre Matters

It’s also important when working on a pitch to keep your genre in mind.  Is your novel or screenplay a comedy?  Is it horror?  Is it a thriller?  A mystery? 

As you begin to craft your pitch, make sure the tone matches the genre of your work.  If you tell someone about your thriller and they start laughing, that’s a problem.  If you pitch a comedic story and they sit there stone-faced, that’s a problem, too.

I recommend looking at blurbs on the back of books in your genre to see how they set the tone.  Are there ones that work better and hook you more?  Those are the ones you want to emulate tone-wise.

Drafting, Drafting, Drafting

When you first start to draft, overwrite the paragraph to your heart’s content. It’s okay.  

Then, go through the paragraph again and trim it down.  A word here and a sentence there.  You want to fine-tune the pitch to cover the story’s basics in a way that makes someone want to know more.  

This can be a challenging process but take your time.  I recommend reading the paragraph to a few people to get their feedback.  Does it make them want to know more?  Is it too vague?  Too wordy?  Are there any points where they lose interest?

This pitch is your calling card for your work, so make sure to take the time to make this the best sales pitch you can.

Final Thoughts: Not Just Hollywood

While this concept may have originated in Hollywood, this is a great format to practice if someone finds out you’re a writer and asks what you’re working on. It’s also good if a friend or relative asks what your book’s about or any other situation where you have the opportunity to tell someone about your book.

These less-formal situations will also help you gauge interest based on your pitch.  If someone doesn’t seem interested, you can ask them why (don’t get upset or offended).  Especially if it’s your first attempt at pitching, you want to get feedback so you can get better in the future.

Be proud of what you’ve written or what you’re working on.  Sell it to the masses!  Pitch that story!

Happy Drafting, and I’ll see you next time!

If you want to learn more bout Elevator Pitches, I highly recommend the following book: