Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Using External and Internal Conflict to Create a Pitch

Note: When I reviewed this post, I realized it looked awful long! Don't worry--a couple of things are repeated here, just to show structure, so it's not as tedious as it originally looks :)

While I liked the Editor Rent formula for doing a tagline, I felt that it left out some of the thing necessary for creating an entire pitch paragraph for the query. Normally I wouldn't worry about this sort of thing until the book is finished, but right now all my crit partners are saying the first half that I do have done is running a bit long and I need to get to the point. So, I am hoping that by developing a query pitch, I'll help my mind refocus on the most essential parts of the story.

Structure: Typically, when I write a query, I like to start off with an interesting tagline (or hook), then give the book details, then give a longer summary of the book (the pitch paragraph), and end with a short bio. This structure works for me--you do what works for you.

Tagline: After thinking a lot about everything you guys said, I think I'm going with a simplified version of the first tagline I developed yesterday:

After a teen girl wakes up early from cryogenic freezing, she must work with the future leader of the space ship to find the person who is unplugging (and thereby killing) the other cryogenically frozen people...before her parents are unplugged.


Pitch Paragraph: One thing I did quite like about the Editor Rent formula was the concept that some of the things you don't use in your tagline, you should use in your query pitch. Some of the elements from the first list (such as the secret the kids have to decide whether to tell or not) I do want to include. But, one thing that I think needs to be most emphasized in the pitch paragraph is the external and internal plot. The external and internal conflict are the things that make the story interesting (imo, at least), the things that keep a reader reading. It's what adds the blunt-force action and the deep inner struggle that both keeps the reader on the edge of his seat and makes him care about the characters.
  • External conflict: Someone is killing off the cryogenically frozen people
  • Internal conflict: The boy must cope with the fact that he actually had a role in helping the killer (by accident); the girl must cope with the fact that her parents are frozen and she is not. Also: when in pursuit of the killer they discover a secret about the ship, they have decide whether or not to tell everyone or let them live in happy ignorance.
Developing the Pitch Paragraph: To go this, I need to combine key elements of the tagline list and both the external and internal conflict.

Amy and Elder should never have met. After all, Amy was born on Earth, cryogenically frozen before boarding a space ship with her parents. Elder was born on the ship, part of the generations of crew that keep the ship running until it finally arrives, after centuries of travel, on the new planet. But when someone wakes Amy up fifty years early, Elder saves her from dying during the cyrogenic malfunction. But was it a malfunction? When more and more frozen people are unplugged, Amy and Elder work together to figure out who is killing them. The murderer, however, has a plan: use his strategic killing to make Elder, who is next in line to rule the ship, discover a terrible secret. Now Amy and Elder must decide: is it better to tell the truth or let everyone else live in happy ignorance?

Note: Some of the stuff didn't make it into the pitch--such as Elder's role in setting off the murderer. Every time I tried to add it, I started adding too much extra detail, and explaining more and more stuff that wasn't needed. It is important also to keep this paragraph short, so I cut that detail, hoping that the resolution of telling or not telling the secret would be enough of an internal conflict, and trusting that Amy's thoughts/feelings about waking up without her parents could be inferred.

Final Result:

Dear Agent,

After a teen girl wakes up early from cryogenic freezing, she must work with the future leader of the space ship to find the person who is unplugging (and thereby killing) the other cryogenically frozen people...before her parents are unplugged.

A LONG WAY HOME is a YA science fiction light on science but strong in character development, such as Mary Pearson's THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX. The novel is complete at X words. Because of your work with X, I thought this novel might appeal to you.

Amy and Elder should never have met. After all, Amy was born on Earth, cryogenically frozen before boarding a space ship with her parents. Elder was born on the ship, part of the generations of crew that keep the ship running until it finally arrives, after centuries of travel, on the new planet. When someone wakes Amy up fifty years early, Elder saves her from dying during the cyrogenic malfunction. But was it a malfunction? As more and more frozen people are unplugged, Amy and Elder work together to figure out who is killing them. The murderer, however, has a plan: use his strategic killing to make Elder, who is next in line to rule the ship, discover a terrible secret. Now Amy and Elder must decide: is it better to tell the truth or let everyone else live in happy ignorance?

I am currently a high school world literature teacher and an active member of SCBWI, having been published in and working as the copy editor of the state SCBWI magazine. Additionally, I run a blog on writing for MG and YA audiences which receives about 75 hits a day.

I am prepared to submit the entire manuscript upon your request. Thank you for your time and consideration with this project.

Sincerely,

Beth Revis

Final Thoughts: Looking at this and comparing it to my writing progress, I see that I am going to have to cut a lot. I've written about 25k words (about 100 pages), but have only just now gotten to the first murder. My pace for the first half of the novel is slow, and I am going to have to focus on tightening the storyline and bringing up the murders in the first half, either through cutting extraneous stuff (more likely) or adding in a few chapters of foreshadow and tension. I'm not doing that now, though--now, I'm focusing on finishing the novel! But by developing the query first, especially the pitch paragraph, I have readjusted my focus and I have a clear idea of how to revise before I start knocking down people's doors for beta reading. :)

PS: Feel free to give any comments you'd like--I'm always looking to perfect this sort of thing!
Post a Comment