Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Writing Effective Loglines and Pitches

One of the most important parts of selling your novel is creating an effective logline and pitch. Regardless of the fabulous epic novel you've written, filled with quirky characters, edge-of-your-seat action and riveting dialogue, the logline and pitch are the first thing any editor or agent will see to determine if your novel is something they wish to read. Therefore, they need several key elements that not only convey what the story is about, but also the tone of the story itself, distilled down to one or two sentences, in the case of the logline, and a couple of paragraphs for the pitch. I don't know about you, but this task, to me, may be even more daunting than the writing of the story itself.

Let's start with the logline. A logline gives a concise overview of the story without going into detail on characters or subplots, just the essential bones. For example, let's look at THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. It's logline, taken from it's Copyright page, reads:

“In a future North America, where the rules of Panem maintain control though an annual televised survival competition pitting young people from each of the twelve districts against one another, sixteen-year-old Katniss’s skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place.”

A strong logline will convey the following: WHO the story is about, a SETTING, if essential to the story, WHAT the protagonist wants and WHAT stands in his/her way. All of this is told without giving away the entire story. Think of it as the answer you'd provide when people ask you what your novel is about. Generally, it should be just one sentence, but more intricate storylines may use two. Use a really strong adjective or two when describing your main character (a geeky clarinet-playing seventeen-year-old, an overachiever, etc.) to help paint a bigger portrait of who the protagonist is. Also try and avoid putting "themes" or "messages" in your logline, as it may make the story immediately seem preachy or cliched.

The pitch lets you go into a little more detail. This is the information you would put into a query to agents, and ultimately what your agent would use to in turn pitch the story to editors. You have the ability to elaborate with a little more detail on the points you touched on in the logline, but again, be sure not to give away twists and turns or the ending. Otherwise it leaves the reader no need to read the story itself to find out what happens. Think of the pitch like reading the jacket flap on a book. It conveys an outline of the story with just enough detail to read you in but leave you hungry for more. It is important to include information about setting, genre, and what makes your book unique or stand out (i.e. not just another road trip novel or vampire story.) This is truly the place to let the tone of your book show and let the agent/editor get a feel for you as a writer. If your book is funny, the pitch better be too! Otherwise you are missing a golden opportunity to show the flavor of your book and your writing.

Good luck!


Monday, July 16, 2012

Should They Or Shouldn't They? Coming Up With The Best Ending For Your Story

One of the key components of any good novel is to leave your readers guessing so that they keep turning the page. Even if your story is simply about characters going from A to B, unless you throw in twists and turns that threaten that journey, or change their course, your reader will be, in a word, bored.

In fact, some of the best writing comes when you leave the reader surprised - as in they never saw that coming. Recently I read Hilary Weisman Graham's fantastic YA novel REUNITED, and it really got me thinking about great writing and how to surprise the reader by hitting them with something they never expected. Without providing an unwanted spoiler, I will say that while aspects of the book run the course I expected they would from the beginning, there were other aspects that didn't at all, and that's what made me love it so much. But doubling back to the first part, where the outcomes of certain aspects were predictable from page 1: that's not always a bad thing. In fact, if that HADN'T been the outcome, it would have been highly unsatisfying. With some stories, if you tweak the outcome you've been building towards, it can change the whole story entirely, and not always in a good way.

I am facing a similar dilemma in the new novel I am writing, TWO JACKS AND A JILL, which is a contemporary road trip novel. There is a love triangle of sorts, and I have to decide which boy the reader would be rooting for her to end up with more. I even posed it as a question to my writer friends on Facebook to ask them if an ending would be unsatisfying or a nice twist if the girl didn't end up with the guy they thought she would all along? Immediately, the responses started flowing back, all equally insightful and brilliant. There should be a damn good reason, not bad timing or something. It's not a romantic comedy if they don't get together, it's just a comedy. And ultimately, that it's the HOW they get together that holds the twist, the coming together despite the odds and great differences.

Then I received a private message from an author friend who said the real words I'd been needing to hear. That she worried I was getting too caught up in the mechanics of the story instead of the story itself. She advised, so wisely I might add, that I take a step back and think about if I'm telling the story I want to tell or I think I should be telling. That I shouldn't worry about making it unique or surprising as much as making it MINE and that it would BE those other things.

She was right. Once again, I was reminded that there are stories in me that I want to tell the way I want to tell them. And much like Katy Perry talks about in her recent concert movie, I'm not interested in being the next anybody, I want to be the first Robin Reul. I'm not looking to follow someone else's rules or wish list, I want to write this story as I would want to read it. So when a friend asked me, "What do YOU want to happen? Do YOU want them to get together?" the answer was simple and came without hesitation. And I was no longer scared that I was making the wrong choice. Because if it satisfied me, then it would likely satisfy other readers as well.

What are your thoughts on the should they/shouldn't they dilemma? Do you vote for a satisfying ending that the reader has been building towards or want to opt to surprise them with a whole new direction, one that might end up being empowering for one character but perhaps leave the other disappointed but oh-so-much-wiser?