#pitchShredding: Mind Pressure Quotient

2012-Jun-15 -> from the perfect-pitches department Tags: #pitchshredding 

I try to pick pitches that either really need help, or that I can use to demonstrate a particular lesson or guideline. When this pitch came to me I knew right away that I needed to feature it. The author has presented me with an OK pitch, but the opening paragraph veers into pet peeve territory. Let's take a look at the pitch, and then I'll tell you why:

Psychic powers are among the most well-described plot devices in fiction. They work a certain way, without fail, every time. They let you move things with your mind and see the future. Most importantly, they are fiction... right?

The life of Tom Edwards couldn't be more ordinary. A recent graduate of community college, average intelligence, working manual labor to pay rent, he couldn't possibly imagine life being more complicated than it is.

That is, until a state-of-the-art medical scan shows something very wrong with him... and fixing the problem leads him into a conspiracy of mental warfare and psychic combat of life and death. Now, the ordinary Illinois twenty-something has to fight for his life... and his mind.

There are three problems with the opening paragraph, all of which will likely turn an agent off of looking at this book, no matter how good it is.

First, agents and editors know all about plot devices in literature. They work with literature on a daily basis, so I don't think the author needs to describe this here.

Second, The first paragraph really isn't about the story. It's a description of what the author has used to drive their plot forward, and it's all telling. We want to know what the book is about, and it should compel us to read on. It's always a safe bet to open with something directly related to the plot.

Third, and this is where it verges into pet peeve territory: the author has added a rhetorical question to the first paragraph. This is only slightly less annoying than opening with a rhetorical question. Here's the problem with rhetorical questions: it prompts the reader to consider a question before they have a reason to care about the answer. If you prompt the reader directly, you absolutely must make sure the reader has a reason to care about the prompt. Otherwise, the prompt will have the opposite effect on the reader. The best bet is to just stay away from this entirely.

The rest of this pitch is actually not too bad, albeit a little lean. A good pitch should entice a reader into your world in 250 words or less. This entire pitch is only 115 words, and if you cut the first paragraph (which I think the author should) it's even smaller. There's room to expand on some of the more compelling parts of the book, so why not, right?

Show us what this book is about.


How do you feel about using rhetoric in a pitch?

What does it take to keep you reading a longer pitch?

What would you expand on this pitch to make it better?

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By L.A. Rikand on Fri 15 Jun 2012 05:21:46 pm [ Reply ] The story itself sounds like a good one, and the pitch is worded simply enough that I understand that story (I think), but this pitch needs much more.

Lose the entire first paragraph. It's not about the story. The pitch-reader knows all this, anyway and would be insulted by reading it here. The story starts in the paragraph two.

Paragraph two says right away his life is ordinary, then the last sentence says it's complicated. What? All the in-between points to ordinary/boring, so I'd change the complicated to mundane or "real than it is."

The third paragraph is where I want the details. Who is the enemy here? Name him/her/it. And why is he fighting for his life? The pitch reader is in want of specifics here or what incentive do they have to read it?

By Gypsy Madden on Fri 15 Jun 2012 11:41:01 pm [ Reply ] My problem with that first paragraph is that an effective pitch would immerse the audience in the world of the book as if it was real. But here, the paragraph steps outside the world of the book and starts discussing the craft of writing instead. The real problem with it is that it distances the audience from the characters and story and reminds the audience that it is a book rather than a world they can escape into (and that is essentially what it would take to keep me reading a longer pitch. To be completely immersed in the world of the book and actually care about the characters enough to keep reading).

Second paragraph introduces the character, but, honestly, he's not a very interesting character and the pitch actually tries to drive it home just how average and boring of a character he is. To kick off the pitch the hook is needed and we just don't have anything interesting with this character as described right now.

Third paragraph... you know, I still have no idea what this novel is about. All I know is that the average character had a medical scan and now has some sort of problem with his mind.

By Brigid on Sun 17 Jun 2012 08:55:03 pm [ Reply ] I agree about rhetorical questions in pitches ... I don't care for them, and I know a lot of agents don't, either. So yes, I agree the first paragraph could probably be taken out. It doesn't tell us anything about the plot or main character. Agents prefer that you get right into the story. I know Janet Reid (aka the "Query Shark") suggests starting a pitch with the protagonist's name; that compels the writer to get right to the point.

Also, I agree that the rest of the pitch could use some fleshing out. It's good to be concise of course, but not so much that the agent doesn't understand what the point of the story is. Right now this pitch is less than 200 words, and most pitches tend to be 300-500 or so, so there's room to explain some more. Right now, I think the biggest problem is that I don't understand what the *stakes* are in this story. What is "very wrong" with Tom? What is this "conspiracy of mental warfare"––and why is it necessary for the protagonist to fight against it? But more importantly, what is at stake for him? What horrible thing will happen if he fails? (Once again, this is a point that Janet Reid often stresses.) It's important to not only set up the plot, but to make it clear that there are high stakes for the main character.

This is a good beginning––but the first paragraph should be taken out, the summary needs more detail, and the stakes should be more clearly established. Good luck!

By Jenny Milchman on Mon 18 Jun 2012 10:02:40 am [ Reply ] The second graf, though...now *there's* a way to start a pitch. If the writer begins there, then fleshes things out a little to give a sense of the character and how the plot rises, peaks, and levels out, this will be a great pitch.

I don't have a problem with rhetorical questions in general, for example, something like: What happens if you're standing on the porch at the moment your family's home bursts into flames? so long as the rest of the pitch delivers on that premise. But I think your right that most pros in the biz dislike them.

Great forum for a blog! Will spread the word.

By Thomas A. Knight on Mon 18 Jun 2012 03:16:31 pm [ Reply ] Thanks for stopping by Jenny. You know how much I value your input on this kind of stuff. :)

And a HUGE thanks to everyone else for stopping by and making this a success! Keep spreading the word. :)

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