#pitchShredding: I Am Become Death

2012-Jun-11 -> from the perfect-pitches department Tags: #pitchshredding 

Welcome to Pitch Shredding! Don't let the name fool you, we're not here to make a public mockery of anyone's work. The term "shredding" is often used in my circle of friends to refer to the process of taking a pitch and refining it to the point that it carries more impact, and is much stronger than it started. We shred the fluff away, and get all the right details in so as to make the strongest pitch possible.

This is a collaborative effort. This is a constructive effort. The goal is to help people learn to write great pitches, and to help authors create a great pitch for their book.

With that said, I invite everyone to help out with this first pitch I've chosen. The title of the book is "I Am Become Death". Here is the pitch, as submitted:

When Robert Oppenheimer witnessed the first nuclear explosion, he thought of a Hindu quote: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." He knew that through such destructive technology, the world would never be the same. Now, a trio of students has discovered a new destructive power that, in the wrong hands, can change the world again.

Japanese teenager Chikara Kaminari, while heartbroken by the death of her mother, inherits a strange black ring and is told to share it with her friends, Renka and Gen. Her mother's will predicts that the ring and their friendship will lead to Chikara fighting political fanatics and saving the world. As the three develop extraordinary abilities, they must uncover the origin of the ring as a series of strange events forces them to become the heroes they are destined to be.

The first thing I notice is that almost the entire first paragraph isn't even about the book. Part of writing a great pitch is having a great opening, and I think a big part of creating a great opening is getting your plot hook and possibly your main character into that opening line. The approach used for this pitch leaves only one paragraph about the story itself, which I already know will not adequately convey the story to the reader.

In the second paragraph, the first sentence is very complex. I suggest carving this in half and making it the starting point of the pitch. It has your main character in it, and a good plot hook (the mysterious ring). The rest of this paragraph gets a little wishy-washy and doesn't really tell me what the rest of the book is about. Sure, she's fighting political fanatics, but why? What is her motivation? She's developing "extraordinary abilities", but what are they? This is a must-have if you really want to capture a reader's attention. "A series of strange events" is also so vague as to be almost meaningless to a general reader. It's akin to saying "stuff happens".

There are three critical elements to a really good pitch. The main character (somebody to care about), the main conflict (something to care about), and the stakes (a reason to care). To me, this pitch is missing the central conflict and the stakes. We don't really know what happens or why.

Don't be afraid to name specifics, especially if it's something important to the central conflict or the stakes. The character's abilities are one such specific that I would include. Can they turn lead to gold? Shoot fireballs from their eyes? Bring dead things back to life? These are all very different things, and would change how we look at the story.


How would you alter this pitch to make it more compelling?

What do you think are the strongest parts of this pitch?

How do you feel about using quotes in a pitch?

Join the discussion in the comments below to help this author improve their pitch, and don't forget to Subscribe by Email so that you don't miss a single installment of Pitch Shredding!

If you have a pitch or book blurb of your own that you'd like help with, Contact Me with it, and I'll consider featuring it on a future Pitch Shredding installment.

Thanks for reading!

I'm always interested in hearing what you have to say. Contact Me, I'd love to hear from you.

Don't forget to join in on the conversation in the comments section below.


By Marianne Sheldon on Mon 11 Jun 2012 03:25:23 pm [ Reply ] I agree with Thomas. The first two sentences are not about the characters in this story, so they don't belong in the pitch.

In the second paragraph, watch that your verbs stay active and clear. Example: "is told to" ... Who tells her? It's vague.

By Will Belacqua on Mon 11 Jun 2012 09:46:33 pm [ Reply ] 1) Why are you making me do math, Thomas? I don't like math.

2) The pitch itself seems very vague, as you pointed out. The writer should try to be more direct, and perhaps use more forceful language. It just seems so languid that had I picked it up at the bookstore, I would put it down after the first paragraph. It needs to grab onto my attention like a vice and not let go until I start reading.

3)The strongest part of the pitch, in my opinion, is the mention of Chikara's mother's death and the ring. That's interesting and makes me want to read more.

4) Quotes can be used in a pitch, if you have the wordcount for them. If you're given 250 words and you have an excellent pitch in 200, by all means throw in the quote that inspired you. In this pitch, however, I think the quote detracts from the overall effect. With perhaps JUST the quote and none of the explanations of it, I might like it better.

By Amber Bagola on Tue 12 Jun 2012 07:54:40 am [ Reply ] How would you alter this pitch to make it more compelling?
Focus on the story, not the analogy. At first read I thought this was about the first nuclear explosion. When I got to the second paragraph, I found that to be untrue. It sounds poetic, but pitches aren't the place for poetry. That would make a good introduction/forward, perhaps, to set a tone or frame of reference.

What do you think are the strongest parts of this pitch?
I agree, the black ring is the strongest part of this pitch. Work that up, focusing on Chikara and the forces she will fight, and why. The last line needs more question, something to lead people into the story. Or, at the very least, make it exciting. As is, it sounds very generic and unappealing. ("...strange events forces them to become the heroes they are destined to be.") Cliche, overused, it has no impact on me.

How do you feel about using quotes in a pitch?
I don't like them. I'm picking up a book to read about that book, now how that book is like something else, or is leaning on something else. It generally makes the pitch sound weaker, to me. The book should be able to stand on its own, not rely on outside words. Showcase your book, what makes it interesting, different, something someone would read the pitch for and not be able to wait to dive in and find out what happens. This is selling your book, make it count.

As written, I would have put the book down at the first paragraph and moved on.

By Amber Bagola on Tue 12 Jun 2012 07:58:22 am [ Reply ] First paragraph to answer the last question 'now' should be 'not'.

And curses for no editing my reply. >.>

By Thomas A. Knight on Tue 12 Jun 2012 08:54:27 am [ Reply ] Marianne makes a very good point about staying active in your verbs. Pitches should be active verbs, and present tense to keep the tension high. By the end of the pitch, I want to be excited, not bored.

Will: I'm making you do math to keep the spammers away. It appears to work. Apparently spammers can't do math. :) Thanks for your comments!

Amber: I don't see any mistakes in your first paragraph... but I could be blind. At any rate, it's very difficult to allow editing of comments without creating a registration system for my site, and I didn't want to force people to register just to leave a comment on a post. :)

By Caroline Gerardo on Tue 12 Jun 2012 10:51:43 am [ Reply ] I agree although Robert Oppenheimer brings to mind a scientist on the brink he has nothing to do with the story. I like the second paragraph as a stand alone. Will you give Chikara a nickname?

By S.Jerrems on Tue 12 Jun 2012 11:22:26 am [ Reply ] I don't know, what to say because I actually liked the pitch just as it was written. The first paragraph enticed me because it explained the title and referenced it to the story. The implication of worldwide annihilation was quite apparent to me in the analogy. And the second paragraph gave me enough information to entice me to read it. I don't miss the details actually, instead it aroused my curiosity by the absence of them.

By Gypsy on Tue 12 Jun 2012 12:05:11 pm [ Reply ] 1. First thing's first, it needs an opening hook. I'd personally toss that first paragraph too since it doesn't actually focus on the main character or kick off the beginning of the story. Though I figure the author has it in to justify the poor grammer of the title (seriously, that title just isn't grammatically sound and screams of being written by english as second language, which makes me as a reader leery about reading the entire story). In summary, it needs and opening clincher that's actually about the main character or place as it opens.

2. The "strange black ring" draws me in nicely. The rest of it, though, is rather vague. The mother dying is cliche, the becoming heroes -also cliche, for that matter, even the ring is cliche (but more elaboration would probably flesh it out).

3. I personally hate using quotes in a pitch. It's a waste of words that could be used to actually describe your own novel. (For that matter, I don't even like seeing quotes within books all that much, unless they're trying to set a humorous mood -like in the Robert Asprin MYTH series).

In other words, I'm pretty much on the same page as you.

By Rocco Ryg on Tue 12 Jun 2012 02:47:58 pm [ Reply ] I'm the author, and I appreciate you guys giving me this advice. I suppose I can add more detail and drop the explanation of the title. Sorry, but it's a direct quote and I can't change it. Here's a rewrite...

"Japanese teenager Chikara Kaminari, while heartbroken by the death of her mother, inherits a strange black ring. Her motherís will tells her to share it with her friends, Renka and Gen, so that they can save the world from political fanatics. As the three develop extraordinary abilities, including emotional manipulation and control over darkness, they must uncover the origin of the ring and its connection to their mind-controlling school bully, Michiko.

Their destiny becomes clearer as Michikoís power grows beyond her control, turning a classmate into a murderous berserker. As predicted, dangerous extremists appear, seeking to use the ringís power to force their views onto all of humanity. Chikara and her friends must put aside their political differences and become the heroes they were destined to be."

If you're interested in the book, it's on Kindle and Nook now.

By Gypsy Madden on Thu 14 Jun 2012 04:30:37 am [ Reply ] Thing is, it's the direct quote of a translation (and english was obviously not the translator's native language) and you're sacrificing prospective audience just because they'll use the title as a first example of what is within the pages. This new version still seems very by the numbers. What I mean by hook is, within your first sentence should be the tease/clincher that would want to make them read more. Maybe flesh out the ring more. What makes it strange? "political fanatics" is vague. Maybe tell us exactly what the mother tells them in the will/why she wants them to save the world. "extraordinary abilities" is also vague. I know it's defined just after that, so you don't really need the vague term. Why must they uncover the origin of the ring? "murderous berserker" also vague and doesn't really do anything to up the ante (you could tell us how many other students she cuts down). "as predicted" makes it sound by the numbers. "dangerous extremists" also vague. "political differences" also vague. "their views" also vague.

By Gypsy Madden on Thu 14 Jun 2012 04:45:52 am [ Reply ] I know I just posted, but how about trying to inject actual action into the pitch? Maybe use the actual scene of Chikara receiving the ring and her initial impressions of it.

By Rocco Ryg on Thu 14 Jun 2012 08:51:01 pm [ Reply ] You bring up some great ideas, Gypsy, but I think you're asking for too much information. This is a suspenseful mystery where clues are presented gradually chapter by chapter. I don't want to give too much away in the pitch because then there would be no drive to put the pieces together. I don't think "political differences" and "their views" need any more detail in the summary; the audience just needs to know that political issues play a role in the story, and it isn't necessary to compare Ayn Rand's views to Inejiro Asanuma's.
I like some of your ideas and appreciate your advice, but this isn't a by-the-numbers book where all the twists are given away beforehand. I think it should be just vague enough to arouse the reader's curiosity.

By Gypsy Madden on Sat 16 Jun 2012 01:33:22 pm [ Reply ] And that's the problem. The assumption that vague arouses the reader's curiosity. I've seen it more than enough times in other pitches on the pitch thread. What really arouses a reader's curiosity (and makes them want to pick up the book now) is cliffhangers and questions. As in, what will happen next? How will character get out of x situation? Vaguarities rarely work.

By Thomas A. Knight on Sat 16 Jun 2012 01:42:00 pm [ Reply ] I think Gypsy makes a very good point here. At what point do we cross the line from enticing cliff hanger to pointless vaguery? The problem with pitching is that the line between the two is subjective. Not everybody will think your cliffhanger (or intentional vaguery) enticing.

I think that some specifics can serve a pitch well to entice a reader into wanting more.

By Rocco Ryg on Sat 16 Jun 2012 09:08:51 pm [ Reply ] There's also the matter of the target audience, Thomas. Some books are served better by a straight-forward pitch, but others may need one that reveals only just enough. Take the detective books I like, where the mystery is set up with a few hints as to where the case leads, but not too much. A thriller or adventure, on the other hand, could require more extensive description.

But that's what pitch-shredding is for. Thanks for all the advice, guys.

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