Start with Your Accordion Mostly Closed

by | Apr 4, 2019

By Beth Barany

Elevator pitches–not just for marketing… Today, Beth Barany provides us with a different perspective on elevator pitches, those one paragraph synopses we should all be writing for our books, how to write them and how to use them. Lots of great information. I think you’ll enjoy it.


When I was starting on my path as a novelist, I just dove right in, but I had no idea what I was doing. It was scary but I was determined to stick with it, no matter what.

Soon I found roadmaps of sorts to guide me along my way. I didn’t know if these “how to” guides would get me to The End but I persisted.

Novel #1

My roadmap for my first novel was The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray. Divided into 52 lessons, I was able to go through this book, complete the assignments, and make progress on my novel.

By the time I finished my first novel, I was determined to find a better way to write a novel. It took me 5 years to get to The End.

5 years, really? I mean, there had to be more direct routes to get to my destination of a finished first draft. (Though I know it took the time it took because learning, and life.)

Novel #2

I wrote the second novel in 6 weeks because I found a story map that resonated and excited me.

That resource was The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. Based on The Hero with A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, Vogler created a 12-stage story map for novelists and screenplay writers.

His book resonated with me because it was based on myths and fairy tales. I spent my childhood reading every fairy tale, myth, and legend I could get my hands on.

But when it came time to edit the book, I realized that even though I had a cool story map that spoke to me, the map was incomplete. I hadn’t thought about so many things as I wrote. And I was still lost as to how to answer those questions as I struggled to edit the book.

After banging my head against the wall trying to shoehorn that second novel into something it wasn’t, I set it aside. I haven’t yet gone back to this novel and unfortunately lost most of it. I will re-create it one day!

Novel #3

The third novel would be the one I’d get clear about what I was doing before I actually started. Then I could at least attempt to aim to include those elements as I wrote a sloppy first draft.

For this book, I again used the 12 stages of the Hero’s Journey based on The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. I’d internalized them by then and found they fit perfectly for the novel I was writing, a young adult adventure fantasy, the first in my Henrietta The Dragon Slayer series.

I dove into that book with gusto, clarity, and passion, and was excited by the project.

Pitching Novel #3

When I finished writing the book and wanted to think about pitching it to agents and editors, I learned I had to write one paragraph to pitch it in a query letter, or in person.

And I freaked.

What? What do you mean I had to squeeze my novel into only a few sentences? How in the bleep did I do that? It felt so hard, so foreign, and so wrong.

Thankfully, a kind, experienced author taught us new authors how to craft this paragraph, known as an elevator pitch, and in my case, almost wrote it for me. I was so frozen by fear.

After that, I vowed to master the elevator pitch and make it my friend. I realized something else…

As foreign as the elevator pitch was to me, it is designed to encapsulate the 5 main elements of your novel. If I could put those elements together, then I could better conceive of a story even before it was written.

A compressed story, if you will.

An almost closed accordion.

As you make your way through the rest of the plan and novel tips (shared in our book, Plan Your Novel Like A Pro), the accordion will open, and your story will reveal itself more and more to you.

Here’s how to write your own elevator pitch as a story planning tool (or even to pitch).

Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is another name for book blurb, designed to be so short you could say it to an literary agent or book editor in a short elevator ride – hence the name.

When you read the back of a book or the book description at an online bookstore, you’re reading a version of an elevator pitch.

Drafting your elevator pitch can be done in as little as 5-10 minutes, though take all the time you need. Brainstorming the 5 elements of this pitch will help you get your creative juices flowing. And don’t worry about it being perfect. Just focus on putting ideas on the page.

Before you start: Think about your story’s genre. Then you’ll have a general idea of your story ending and other reader expectations.

Resource: I like how Shawn Coyne talks about genre in Story Grid. Essentially, it’s all about reader expectations, and as such, what we think of as a certain genre changes over time.

Elevator Pitch Formula

Here are the 5 elements to brainstorm. For each one, draft as quickly as you can in notes or list format.

Then string these elements together into a 2-4 sentence paragraph.

If you don’t know what your story is yet, you can use this exercise to experiment with an idea.

If you don’t like what you come up with, I recommend you do the exercise multiple times until you come up with an idea you do like. You know, that tingly feeling up and down your spine and all the way to your toes!

5 Elements to Brainstorm

    1. Situation: also called the Initial Action or Premise, this is the beginning of the plot.
    1. Main Character: self-explanatory. Note their name, or an identifying characteristic and/or role.
    1. Primary Objective: at the start of the story, what does your main character want?
    1. Antagonist or Opponent: also known as the Central Conflict. Who or what is keeping your main characters from getting what they want? Who or what is the opposing force? You can list more than one.
  1. Disaster That Could Happen: Ask yourself, What’s the worst that could happen? Or, what does your character want next? This last element is often phrased as a question.

Example (I think you’ll recognize this story!)

  1. Abandoned on his relatives’ doorstep as an infant,
  2. Harry Potter
  3. longs to understand where he came from and why he feels different.
  4. He discovers that he is a wizard and that his parents were killed by Voldemort, a powerful and evil wizard,
  5. who has been hunting for Harry, to kill him.

In Paragraph Format
Abandoned on his relatives’ doorstep as an infant, Harry Potter longs to understand where he came from and why he feels different. He discovers that he is a wizard and that his parents were killed by Voldemort, a powerful and evil wizard, who has been hunting for Harry, to kill him.

Another example
A reclusive computer programmer, Nathan Yirmorshy, pounds out ones and zeros in the quiet of his home while his landlord secretly watches from behind a two-way mirror. When an intercepted note connects the landlord to a secret society, and a detective ends up dead, Nathan must abandon his home and everything familiar to him, open his heart to a tarot reader he has never met, and trust her with his life – just as the ancient scriptures have foretold. (from The Torah Codes by bestselling author, Ezra Barany)

Resources

Resources mentioned in this article:

Now your turn! Post yours in the comments below to share and I’ll give you my feedback on them.

Award-winning fantasy novelist, Master NLP Practitioner, and certified creativity coach for writers, Beth Barany runs Barany School of Fiction, a full suite of courses designed to help genre fiction writers experience clarity and get writing, so they can revise and proudly publish their novels to the delight of their readers. She’s also the author of books for writers, including Plan Your Novel Like A Pro, co-written with her husband, thriller writer, Ezra Barany. Connect with Beth via her blog, Writer’s Fun Zone or on Twitter.

Photo: BigStockPhoto. Amazon links contain affiliate code.

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7 Comments

  1. Marilyn R Flower

    Thank you, Beth! It’s very clear and easy to use!

    Reply
  2. Keri Kruspe

    Great article, Beth! I had to share on my FB page and Twitter account…

    Reply
  3. Beth Barany

    You’re welcome, Patricia. Thanks for stopping by.

    Kay, glad you thought the post was interesting. Glad you popped by.

    Reply
  4. Patricia Simpson

    Thank you, Beth. Great information.

    If you can write the elevator pitch before the actual book, it really helps clarify the path of your novel–something we all need!

    Patricia Simpson
    Author of Spellbound and The Londo Chronicles

    Reply
  5. KayK

    Interesting post! Writing the back cover copy is often a challenge, so it’s helpful to think of these five primary elements and how to compress them to gain maximum value.

    Reply
  6. Beth Barany

    Thanks for having me on your blog, Joel!

    Reply

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