The Elevator Pitch

"Once upon a time, in a far away land, where the streets were paved with gold, there lived a lady writer called Amelia. Her cat, Puss in Boots had made friends with the local Emperor, who liked to walk naked through the town. Her best friend Rapunzel had been imprisoned in a nearby tower and lived her life waiting for a faithful prince to come and rescue her. In the garden of Amelia's house, the house she had bought from Jack's mother, a cutting of a beanstalk leading towards the sky often echoed with the sound of overhead giants.

Sometimes, Amelia felt like she was living in a strange fairytale..."

It's a given that fairy tales have a happy ending. It's more or less understood in chick lit that the girl will get her man and in a tale of good versus evil that good will win out. So spinning a yarn on paper, should be simple. Easy peasy.

The reality is that we writers have many moments of being in the horrors. Days, weeks, spent wondering what the hell we are doing.Times when we doubt ourselves, tell ourselves to stop this madness and move on - do something else with our time. If I had a pound for every time I felt those feelings, it would provide (at least) a part time income. If I had a pound for everyone who looked blankly at me saying 'You're a writer, have I heard of something you've written?' only to follow it up (before I've had a chance to reply) with 'I've thought about writing a book, they say everyone's got one in them, don't they?'

Yes. 'They' frigging do.

So it must be a cinch really, this writing lark. After all, everyone's got a book in them.

Well I've had three actually. All of them pretty steep learning curves in this apprenticeship. But if I'm honest, I can now see their faults clearly and before/if I embark on another novel, I'm determined to try one extra thing I haven't previously done - Whats that? Answer in one to three lines what the story is about... I now believe every novel should have a succinct elevator pitch - saying exactly what the story core is. A pared back pitch from which everything else hangs, the bones without the meat - you get the picture. What is the book REALLY about?

For example, in the case of my opening paragraph:

Rapunzel A beautiful young woman is trapped, then, realises she already holds the means of her escape in her hands.

The Emperors New Clothes - A vain powerful man is conned by people who know his weakness.

It's easier to do with fairy-tales and of course it can always be done after you've read a novel you love. It is however not easy to do before you write one, or even during the structured writing process. It's different to theme. You have to pare the layers away to get to the story core. I could write a book about love, identity and healing friendship - all wonderful themes, but if asked to elevator pitch it to Steven Spielberg in one line, I'd probably say 'It's about a friendly alien who lands on earth and needs to find a way home'.

So what's your current WIP really about? Be it a short story, a poem, a novel, could you have that short succinct reply ready if you met Le Spielberg in an elevator and he asked you that question. Or, despite what I now think, does it even matter?


Helen Black said...

This is certainly how I've always worked, Fi.

My first book began with the central question that I had been asked as a lawyer, all my working life; what do you do if you suspect your client is guilty?

The answer is actually quite technical and boring, but I could see that this was an issue which really intrigued people.

In my mind I also had a character. Warm, funny, scatty, feisty and utterly idealistic. I called her Lilly Valentine.

So my elevator pitch became...what would Lilly Valentine do if she suspected her client was guilty of a horrific murder?
HB x

Gillian McDade said...

Interesting post, Fi, and to be honest I've never really stripped it down to one sentence.

Here goes - Standing Man (2012) is about redemption and repentance following a church massacre at the height of the Troubles.

Recently completed - Cake - a Victoria Sponge contest ends in murder and illustrates the extent some people go to for revenge.

WIP - The Dodo Society - um, well it's about the kidnapping of a child while on holiday....

See - I need to work on the third!!

Caroline Green said...

I've only recently discovered this approach, Fi, and find it helps enormously. It seems that I have to be able to hold the story in the palm of my hand, or something, to really see it.

Roderic Vincent said...

About a man who has a psychotic episode triggered by the breakdown of his marriage.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

I always get confused as to the difference between the story of the book or the theme of it. So for mine the story is -

The Making of Her is the programme Clara never wanted to direct, starring the one person she would never have chosen...

And the theme is -

Does change come from the inside out, or from the outside in?

- but neither really work as elevator pitches...

Debs Riccio said...

Sounds like a neat trick. Will be mulling this over later. Food for thought, Fi, thanks x

Ruby Claire said...

Certainly, you are right. Thanks Helen for pointing our on mind Character.

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DT said...

You've reminded me that my 'coming of age' transatlantic tragic comedy, Scars & Stripes, could be pitched as a warped Goldilocks and the Three Women.

One is too hot, one is too cold, and one is just...wrong!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Love your pitch, Derek. Hope you find yourself in an elevator with Simon Trewin very soon!

Fionnuala said...

An elevator with Simon Trewin... Now that would be nice