We write our Visionary Fiction manuscript, flesh it out, cut and edit it, refine it, finalize it. And then we are required to summarize our novel in a Synopsis and a back cover blurb. In addition, during this whole process someone inevitably asks, “What is your novel about?” To answer, we must condense our novel down yet again, into one or two sentences that capture the essence of our creation – called the elevator pitch.
The name elevator pitch reflects the idea that we may fortuitously run into readers, agents, or publishers, in any variety of settings, perhaps an elevator. And when asked what our novel is about, we need to be able to describe it within the time frame of a typical elevator ride. This gives us approximately thirty seconds to share our hopefully captivating elevator pitch. If our pitch is interesting and impressive, it may result in an agent requesting to see our manuscript, or it may generate a book sale. No pressure. No wonder many of us stare like the proverbial deer caught in headlights when asked what our novel is about.
We all know it is not an easy thing to write a novel. The sports columnist Red Smith summed it up when he said, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” I certainly relate, bloody bandages in hand. Still, I find it even more challenging to distill a novel’s essence into a pithy answer to that inescapable question of, “What is your novel about?” Thus, I wanted to face this dreaded dragon and write an article that might ease the misery of constructing an elevator pitch.
An elevator pitch is a brief, uber-abridged summary of your story; two sentences that capture your story’s essence.
Fashioning your novel’s essence is not the same as stating your novel’s theme. A theme is a somewhat philosophical statement of your novel’s message, such as good triumphs evil. The elevator pitch is more of a brief, uber-abridged summary of your story. It can be likened to those one or two sentence descriptions of a television show in a TV guide, or a film in a movie guide. For example, the IMdb movie trailer description from Star Wars: the Force Awakens: ‘Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the resistance.’
Another, even more concise example comes from author Randy Ingermanson, describing the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone : ‘A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents.’
One of my author projects is to come up with an elevator pitch for my current manuscript that is as engaging and succinct as these two examples. There are many formulas for how to construct your elevator pitch. I will highlight a few of the ones I have found to be useful, and hopefully they will help you in crafting your own elevator pitch.
The website Scriptlogist.com offers the suggestion of asking yourself three questions to help formulate your elevator pitch. If you can briefly answer these questions, you have the raw material for your pitch.
- Who is the main character and what does he or she want?
- Who (villain) or what is standing in the way of the main character?
- What makes this story unique?
Nathan Bransford Formula
Former literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. and author Nathan Bransford gives us a formula for a one-sentence elevator pitch. His blueprint is a fill in the blank sentence: “When [opening conflict] happens to [character(s)], they must [overcome conflict] to [complete their quest].”
C.S. Lakin Process
Livewrite Thrive author and blogger, C.S. Lakin, likens the elevator pitch to a one-sentence story structure. Lakin says every great novel is about someone with passion going after a goal. So, to get the raw material for your elevator pitch, try thinking of your character’s inciting incident, your protagonist’s goal, and the high stakes conflict. These elements create the content of your elevator pitch.
Dwight V. Swain Technique
One of our own VFA authors and founders, Margaret Duarte, uses a two-sentence approach, attributed to Dwight V. Swain in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer. According to Swain’s technique, sentence one is a statement that establishes the situation, character, and objective. Sentence two is the question that nails down the opponent and disaster. Margaret’s elevator pitch for her soon to be published novel Between Darkness and Dawn succinctly answers those questions, and her elevator pitch looks like this:
‘When a pragmatic Silicon Valley woman begins hearing a voice when no one is there, she wants to make it stop. But can she free herself of the voice without losing connection with her soul?’
With my four published novels I have played with using a more free-form approach to create an elevator pitch, building it from scratch. I have also attempted using my agent query pitch to start and then editing it down until it is only one or two sentences. One idea is not better than the other. I use whatever works. In my current manuscript, The Hidden Abbey, I am using the query/condense, reduce some more method, incorporating my answers to the questions from the methods detailed above. I haven’t arrived at the final elevator pitch, but I have a draft I can work with. My current novel has an added layer of challenge since my story has two timelines. This is what I have thus far:
When King Henry VIII sets out to destroy all of England’s Monasteries, a priestess of Avlaon, Marissa, and her secret lover, Michael, a monk at Glastonbury Abbey, become embroiled in a grand plan to save the most sacred talisman at the heart of ancient Christianity. When their grand plan is thwarted and their love star-crossed, they are reborn into the 21st century, and given one last chance to fulfill their shared destiny.
I know – too many sentences. More editing and condensing needed. But I wanted to give you an idea of an elevator pitch construction in process.
An Invitation to Share and Assist
Now, I invite you to share your elevator pitch for your novel. This can be pitches that are works in progress like mine, or refined and usable elevator pitches, like Margaret’s. Perhaps we can help each other arrive at those attention-grabbing two line sentences that won’t leave us wide-eyed and stammering when someone asks, “What is your novel about?”
So, what is your novel about?
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