Getting to the point

Writer’s Digest’s Maria Schneider put up an informative post the other day about things she heard at when she accompanied the magazine’s contest winners on their New York agent meets (lucky them). I won’t plagarize her information here, but one caught my eye for further review: The elevator pitch, be able to sum up your story in two minutes.


In screenwriting, they call this a log line, and it would really be even less than two minutes. It should be at the most two sentences — two short sentences.


I always found this hard, and I wasn’t the only one. Hollywood seminars have entire sections designed to help aspiring screenwriters write their best log line.


I think one of the difficulties for us authors — be it of a novel or screenplay — is that we don’t see our stories as just the main arc that runs from beginning to end. We see our stories as the main arc, plus all the emotions and choices our characters make, plus all the difficulties they get into, plus … etc., etc. Ask us to describe all that in a couple sentences, and our brain goes, huh?


But Maria Schneider is right. When we’re at conferences, retreats, etc., we need to be able to succinctly and confidently say, “My novel is about …” and not take up so long that the agent/editor standing in front of us starts looking at her/his watch.


And we should know it by heart. I was in this situation once, and my brain went blank, completely blank. I couldn’t remember my main character’s name much less what the story was about. I got there in the end, but I looked pretty embarassing. Believe me, you don’t want to be there.


The thing is, we can trim down our story to a few sentences, because every story has a main story, and that’s what you want to focus on. Our protagonist has a need, an event that has flamed that need, and a barrier he/she must get through to achieve that need. I’m simplifying of course, but that’s the point.  (Note, a synopsis is longer.)


Writing your elevator pitch is an interesting and useful exercise for every author to do to make sure your writing is not trying to be too much, not trying to tell too many stories in one.


Another reason it’s a good exercise is that it forces you to choose just the right words to say what you want to say, to describe your work, using the least amount of words as possible. And that’s something that’s good for our writing in general. In your novel, screenplay, article, whatever, every word should add something to the story. It should say something about plot or character. Every Word! (Sure, “and” and “the” might not, but the words around them should.) If you’re writing a picture book, this is even more important.


So, get out a notebook, your computer, whatever you use to write, and formulate the log line for your novel or screenplay, or whatever you’re working on. It’s more difficult than it seems — because you also want it to intrigue, impress, tease, make the reader want to know more — but it’ll be worth it. You don’t have to get the perfect log line in one sitting; most don’t. But while you’re writing your bigger piece, working on your log line will help you stay on track as well as editing to be efficient with words. And when you’re ready to sell your work, you’ll be well on your way.


Let me know how you do.


Write On!


4 Responses

  1. At The Screenwriting Conference in Santa Fe ( we stress that a producer does not want to know what happens in our story. They want to know what it’s about. Think about the difference. Internalize this concept and you’ll be a much better logline writer and pitch person.

  2. lalber says:

    Oh, pitching is so hard! I’ve had experiences where people (not even in publishing) have looked at me funny because I couldn’t spit out the gist of my novel in a few sentences. Don’t you know what your own novel is about? someone once asked me.

    But I say distilling a complex story down to a few sentences is its own skill set — takes practise like anything else. I think only fellow writers can understand how hard this is…

    Glad I found your blog (through Bloglily), cheers, Lisa

  3. Thanks for your comments, Larry and lalber. I agree, lalber, it is its own skill set. But I know we can all do it!

    And, glad you found my blog. I hope you enjoy it. Bloglily has a great blog too.

  4. Caryn says:

    Thanks! This was great. Just in time, too, since I’m going to the Romance Writers of America conference in a few weeks, so I’ll need an elevator pitch for that! I’ve also heard people say that if you can’t sum up your novel in one or two sentences, you don’t have a good core plot or you’ve lost sight of your premise.

What do you think?