For those of you who just went "lights out" with that phrase, think back flap paragraph of a novel. In a nutshell, it is the most basic summarization of a story and typically a single sentence of about 25-35 words.
The short pitch is gold when it comes time to submit a query to an agent. It can be one's best friend or worst enemy, depending on how well it is written.
artwork by Instagram @mhaas_art
A short pitch is also sometimes called the premise, or central idea, of a story.
Without a central idea, a story may become just a series of rambling scenes with no point. Identifying the premise BEFORE diving into a new story can help focus the project from day one and keep a writer on track with a concrete purpose. If, however, a writer chooses to formulate a premise after the first draft, the writer may discover the plot has more holes than Swiss cheese (This was the case with the very first novel I attempted to write. The first draft required major revisions to fix central idea problems. I wish I'd recognized the importance of a premise before beginning my novel).
A premise should contain five elements: character, situation/setting, "oh, crap" moment, goal/objective, and an opponent. Basically, the premise explains who has a problem and what the main character must do to solve the problem before something seriously bad happens.
Sample Premise Formula: When (opening conflict/disaster) happens to (character or characters), he/she/they must (action to overcome conflict/defeat opponent) to (obtain objective/complete quest).
Example: When a tornado whisks Dorothy off to a magical land, she must enlist the help of new friends and a lovely pair of ruby slippers to defeat a wicked witch and find her way home to Kansas.
Have fun Googling premise formulas. There are a gazillion versions, and, depending on what you're writing, it may take some time to find the formula that best suits the project.
Below is the working short pitch/premise for the women's fiction novel I started last fall during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
By Brenda Haas
When 28-year-old writer Charlotte Sutton's estranged father Chuck is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, the dutiful daughter must return to her small, Lake Erie hometown to face her father and the past she'd run from 10 years prior.
Still tweaking. Not 100% happy with the wording yet. It's not quite ready to put in an agent query letter, but I'm getting close.
Charlotte's Choice Premise Analysis --
Character: Charlotte, a 28-year-old writer (strong)
Situation/Setting: small, Lake Erie hometown (strong)
Oh, Crap Moment: father Chuck is diagnosed with Alzheimer's (strong)
Goal/Objective: face father and past she'd run from 10 years prior (somewhat weak, too ambiguous)
Opponent: Chuck? Alzheimer's? Past? Charlotte herself? (somewhat weak. I think the primary opponent is Charlotte herself, because it's Charlotte's flashback memories of her past that create an internal conflict ... a personal, mental opponent).
I'll keep working on this until I'm comfortable reciting it in my sleep, or it sounds right the next time someone asks me what I'm working on:)
For more info on premise, check out the Novel Factory for some great free handouts.
Good luck and pitch on, my writerly friends!
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