Monday, December 16, 2013

Writing a Pitch Is A B*$%#


As the title of this post indicates, writing a pitch is not a lot of fun. But that's not to say that I am not EXTREMELY fortunate to be writing one for my upcoming pitch gallery for Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars. I have been working with Saint Veronica Bartles. I call her Saint Veronica because she really has been patient with me. Writing a pitch, I've discovered, can be more difficult (at least for this hair brained writer) than the novel itself. Part of the difficulty is the word limit. In this case, 35 words. And as Veronica has taught me, it's not about the what, so much as the why of what the character does that is important and will catch the eye of the agent.

In my Middle Grade novel, Miracle Meggie, Meggie will do anything to help her baby sister who is born premature. She will even go as far as becoming weird Wanda Huffnagle's assistant in Wanda's miracle-making business. That to me is a pitch in itself. At least I thought so. While I am still struggling to get it right, I thought I'd detail some of my attempts here and some of Veronica's wise words:

My pitches (with word count):

Desperate to save her premature sister, Meggie gets mixed up in a classmate's miracle-making business, discovering miracles don't have to be big and splashy. And neither does friendship. (28 words)

If the doctors can't help her premature sister, Meggie will. Getting mixed up in a classmate's miracle-making business, she discovers that miracles don't have to be big. (27)

If the doctors can't help her premature sister, Meggie will. Getting mixed up in a classmate's miracle-making business, she discovers that miracles don't have to be hard. And neither does friendship. (31)

Veronica's advice:

Hmmm… I think you’re getting closer. I like “If the doctors can't help her premature sister, Meggie will.” But I’m still not getting a real sense of the personal stakes. Let’s try coming at it from a different angle. Don’t worry about the pitch for right now. Tell me about Meggie. Why is she so excited to have a little sister? What does the new baby sister represent in Meggie’s mind? Feel free to ramble as much as you’d like, but introduce Meggie to me. And then, once her character is clearly spelled out and we can easily see the personal stakes, we’ll work together to write a rockin’ pitch.

I love Veronica's advice here, especially her permission to let me ramble. Rambling is good. Rambling is something I can do. So here's what I put together:

Aside from wanting to protect her baby sister, I think Meggie is trying to prove herself as well. In her mind, she isn't a little kid anymore and gets annoyed when people, mainly Nana, when they treat her like one. She is striving for independence and self-determination and, now that she won't be the little one in the household any more, she will get this chance. But when Dolly is born premature, that chance is stolen away from her and the household falls apart . Meggie is left floundering. Not only isn't she going to get a chance to be a "big girl", she doesn't know where she stands in the family because the family has turned into this big amorphous blob. The future of who she is and who her family is is left in limbo, balancing on the edge of what will happen to the baby they all love. Meggie is desperate to reel it all in, to make something make sense. So when Wanda offers her some "magic", Meggie sets aside her good sense and grabs for it. Something is better than nothing even if it goes against every grain of logic.

Also, Meggie as a person before Wanda was a conformist. Her opinion about things had been made up by other people, like her parents, grandparents and the popular kids at school. She never approached Wanda at school because Wanda came with a label affixed to her by other people - like a jar that says Do Not Open, but you don't know why? And you are still curious to open it, but everyone around you says you shouldn't, so you don't. So it's not only Dolly's birth that is the inciting event that makes Meggie want to be different and grow up, it is also her natural growing up process. Meggie wants to exercise her own desires, rather than be a toucan that repeats verbatim everything everyone says. Essentially, Meggie wants to know who Meggie is and she sees this as her chance.
As a result of this rambling, this is what I came up with:
Always the conformist, Meggie gets mixed up in her classmate's miracle-making business to help her premature sister. But if bending the rules doesn't work, Meggie could lose her family and her chance to prove herself. (35)
Veronica's advice:
This has a better sense of the stakes, but it’s still missing that zing! that makes your manuscript stand out from the crowd. Why will she lose her family if she can’t bend the rules? What does she have to prove about herself? And I still love the voicey feel to the line from one of your original pitches about how Meggie was going to fix everything herself if the doctors couldn’t do it. – Let’s work on getting that kind of specifics and voice into the entire pitch. J 
Meggie is trying to prove that she’s all grown up and can take care of things (instead of being taken care of), right? I think that’s what I love about the doctor line – it shows that “I’ll do it myself” determination. Maybe a pitch that shows the Meggie against the world feel to the story? And let’s work on making it more active overall. Maybe, instead of saying she’s “always a conformist,” you could say “Meggie’s tired of everyone telling her what to do.” That pulls us into her decision to act. J
Finally Veronica offers this format of sorts:
If the doctors can't heal her premature sister, Meggie will. She signs up to be an assistant miracle maker, determined to find a magical cure. But when [something happens to derail her efforts], she realizes that [she’ll have to be a real-life miracle for her family].
I like this format. It's sort of like Mad Libs. Even so, I'm back to the drawing board. Like I said, Veronica has been a doll throughout this whole process, but I'm starting to feel like this:

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