Since the pitch to a story is a crucial part of drawing in readers (and publishers for that matter), I thought I would post a VERY rough pitch of my book. Life is crazy right now for this writer, so instead of leaving you to wait to read something from me on this blog for awhile, I decided to throw out this pitch. If you have any suggestions to make it better, let me know (I just realized that it is one sentence, so I could probably work on that one!)! For your information, my book is in the genre of young adult fantasy.
Little did Prim, an orphan who did not like any attention directed toward her, realize at the time she entered the contest that she’d be immediately thrust into the upper tier Elite of Medadrom society to not only fight for her right to represent the Kingdom of Medad at the Universus, but fight quite literally for her life as she unwittingly interferes in the pinnacle events of a decades-long plan to corrupt the Kingdom of Medad and stumbles over evidence of an even greater threat to the ten United Kingdoms of Vertus.
In all honesty, would you want to read my book after reading that?
Writing is one of my favorite things, but I confess that I have another favorite thing. Yes, it is true that my major in college was communications (let’s call it the more practical side of my personality). However, I admit, acting is my other favorite thing (let’s call it the more hopelessly romantic, adventurous part of my personality). From playing the wicked queen in Snow White in elementary school, to writing, designing the set, and directing a neighborhood rendition of Cinderella before my first year in junior high, to playing crazy Aunt Abby in Arsenic and Old Lace in high school, to having a one-liner in a student film in college, I think you could say I love acting. My minor in college was...you guessed it...theater studies.
Now, before you click on to another blog about writing, let me tell you how helpful an actor’s perspective is on writing characters! In fact, I’d venture to say that a good writer will go through some of the same processes an actor does when preparing to perform.
I came across this great quote by Robert Frost recently:
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
There are many different acting methods out there, but basically an actor has the job to use themselves to portray a character that may be entirely different from themselves. That is where acting comes in (& what I love so much!)…an actor must build a bridge between their own experience and that of the character they are playing. A good actor can take their own experiences, which might not be as dramatic as that of the character they are portraying, and use them to help the character emerge.
For example, let’s say I am to act in the role of a character who is bit on the nose by a wild, rabid dog. Don’t worry. I haven’t actually contracted rabies from a dog that bit my nose. However, what I have experienced is having my top lip swollen three times its normal size and hurting like crazy because I got stung by a bee (well I guess more accurately, a wasp). If I am to bring across to my audience the correct physical and emotional response of being attacked by a rabid dog, I could probably use the feelings from my experience with the wasp as a good substitute. I won’t actually be thinking on stage ‘I have been bitten by a bee! Ow!,’ but rather I will remember physical pain and terror (which I recalled from the experience with the bee). I can then magnify that essence of terror and pain onstage in the situation with the rabid dog. Make sense?
In writing my book, I am imagining up a bunch of different characters who have experiences that I as the writer probably haven’t experienced or may not relate to at all. However, I have had an array of experiences in my life. While writing, I can think of those experiences with their accompanying emotional, physical, mental thought processes and transfer them into the experiences of the experiences of my characters. In writing my book, I've done that (putting myself in a character’s situation to write a true reaction) already without actually analyzing it. Until now.
As a writer, we can step into the lives of the characters and write a true response by drawing on the essence of our own experience…Dog bites. Bee stings. Feeling sad, etc…This helps our characters become real.
As a writer, you are writing for a reader. And not just any reader. The type of reader who would pick up your type of writing and read it. Your writing must give the reader what they want in the way they want it. Let’s look at some examples.
Newswriting. Why does someone browse a news website? Why would someone pick up a newspaper at an airport? Why would someone read it? They want to know what is going on in the world. They want the current information and they want it now. So how do you write for them? Well, I have the answer to that because print journalism professors drilled it into my head from the very first assignment in my very first pre-communications-before-I-was-accepted-to-the-communications-program class. The very first one or two sentences of a hard news story should clearly tell the reader the story and be followed by paragraphs of story in descending order of importance. The summary lead of this traditional inverted pyramid news writing style should answer as many of the 5 Ws & H as possible: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. “It lets the reader grasp the news of the day conveniently by simply skimming lead paragraphs. The form allows readers to decide whether they want to continue reading a story or leave it after any one of its paragraphs” (Newswriting and Reporting for Today’s Media page 45). The reader of news stories expects the writer to deliver information upfront without sugar coating and fluff (or they might stop reading).
Poetry. Now, to start off. I am not a poetry expert. However, I did publish poetry in one of those general poetry books while I was still in high school. (I still get e-mails from the poetry organization asking for more poetry to publish). I would venture to say that the expectations of a reader of poetry are quite opposite to that of one reading a hard news story. They don’t want to be told everything upfront. A reader of poetry wants the writer to deliver a message that uses words to creatively symbolize the essences of life. A poetry reader wants to ponder its meaning and feel enriched from the experience. In other words, the reader of poetry wants to see crucial information in each word the writer uses.
Fiction writing. This is where I am the reader and striving to become the writer. As a reader, I want to be drawn in, led along eagerly, jumping from one thread of story to the next without being told every detail. I want the bare minimum, only given those essential tidbits to make me hungry for more. It isn't until the climax and falling action that I, as a reader, want the writer to give me all the information, including discovering a deeper meaning.
To write for a reader of fiction, I believe techniques I've observed from both news writing and poetry can be used. From news writing, the concept of cutting the fluff (long, drawn-out explanations usually lose me unless I'm already interested). From poetry, the idea of revealing deeper meaning with fewer words. This is how Jon Franklin says to approach the writing of a story (and I wholeheartedly agree and attest to completely as a reader): “Wherever possible, the master storyteller scrupulously avoids telling the reader how a character feels, or why he does a thing. Instead he shows the reader what happens, and what the character does in response, and what happened then. If he does this correctly, the reader will automatically understand where the character is coming from.”
Writing craftsmanship and artistic expression come when the writer delivers his or her uncompromising message while in the same moment giving the reader what they want in the way they want it. How do you do this?
Show. Then you won’t have to Tell.
Poetry and News writing.
I've done it. I've broken with my own self-assured know-how and submitted to the suggestion of expert writer Jon Franklin. Breaking myself with a chief error beginners make:
“One of the chief errors that a beginning writer is likely to make in the rough-draft stage, and one that consumed horrible gobs of my own artistic youth, is to start at the beginning and write your way through, making every sentence as perfect as you can.”
After initially reading this instruction the first time, I thought, I will keep that in mind. I started my book by developing an outline and then wrote from the beginning. My reasoning: I know how the story is going to end, so I can still just start at the beginning. I liked going through the journey with my characters, being surprised with them, living the action with them, wondering what would happen next, letting the concreteness of the story come as it would. That was how I started, following my self-assured beginners’ thoughts.
It went quite well to start out. Then I found so many threads going that I rewrote my outline, discovering even more intricacies to the story unfolding (keep in mind, there is nothing wrong with rewriting the outline to make your story better). The outline was helping me maintain focus, but I found my mind and story wandering. It was getting a bit dull to write.
Then I re-read Franklin’s advice:
“The story doesn't pivot on the beginning, it pivots on the ending – so write that first.”
I mentioned this advice to my husband one night while plunking away at my story. He immediately said, That makes sense; you should do it.
It moved with me and then sat on an office shelf in our basement for years. I acquired what I’ll name “the secret weapon” several years ago at a college bookstore. It was one of several texts required for a feature news writing class. I don’t think I've ever been as excited about a nonfiction book as I am about this one. As a college student making my way through the class reading assignments, I remember thinking even then that this book would be so helpful when I write a book someday. It didn't make it to the bookstore buy-back. Instead, it got shoved with a bunch of other books, then sat collecting dust.
What did I first do when I decided to write that book? I retrieved this secret weapon. Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by a Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner. The basic premise of the book is to use dramatic fiction form to write non-fiction feature stories. I turn Franklin’s premise back on itself, using his method of nonfiction feature-writing to write fiction. The book is incredibly helpful in teaching writing technique, but teaches it in a way that is not dry and boring. I find myself thinking as I read: Yes! Yes! So true! I've noticed this as well. Franklin puts into words what most writers may have, but can't describe. If you've ever wanted to know The Secret of Writing, start here.