Sunday, August 29, 2004

Cheryl's Pitch


I helped my friend Squirl (Cheryl Wyatt) with her pitch last night. It was a lot of fun. There's something about figuring out her setup, 3 disasters and ending that's like a puzzle or a game. I think I really enjoy teaching writing, which is strange since I'm not a great teacher, and had no inclination to teach when I was in college.

Figuring out her 5-sentence pitch turned out to be rather simple, because she had three very natural disasters happening in her wip. She also had a good spiritual epiphany for her main character right at the climax, requiring a crucial decision toward the end events. She basically IM'd her storyline to me, and I pasted it onto a Word document. The only difference was that I made a separate line for each sentence, to see her story progress at a glance.

I went through her story events and picked out the moment the hero made his goal (to protect the heroine, find the stalker). Then I went through to find the disasters that hindered him—the stalker stabbed his sister, burned his parents' house, and murdered his coworker. They all happened to be personal disasters to upset his equilibrium, versus plot disasters that hindered his investigation. She had those types of plot disasters also (the African villagers killed one of the hitmen, the other one was missing, etc.), but the personal disasters were perfectly horrible (!) and their timing in the story fit the 3-disasters "formula." Then the 5th sentence told the hero's epiphany (he realized he needed to give full control to God) and the resolution (the death of the suspected stalker led to the true mastermind behind the scheme).

I realize that it was super easy because Cheryl already had the main ingredients for the story: the hero's goal, conflicts, and spiritual epiphany. If it had been a rambling storyline, it would have been difficult to figure out a pitch. The heroine, though a minor character, even had a goal of her own—to find a family, which comprised a subplot. The disasters all resulted because the hero made choices toward his goal and the villain reacted to those choices, which I believe is how good fiction should be. I don't care much for stories where the main character simply reacts to events around him/her. In order to motivate the character to make the goal in the first place, sometimes things need to happen so the character can react to the upset of events. But an engaging character is constantly striving and moving forward, rather than being buffeted around.

That's not even an original idea, that's straight from Dwight Swain. But the more stories I read, the more I see how right he is in his book.

I started writing a bit yesterday, but ended up stopping to fill in a line in my scene spreadsheet because my writing just meandered around. I use an Excel spreadsheet with columns for chapter #, POV character, then goal, conflict disaster, reaction, dilemma, and decision. For each scene, I list the POV character, and then either 1) their goal for the scene and the ensuing conflict and disaster, or else 2) their reaction to the previous scene, the dilemma of what to do next, and their decision of action. It helps me to be more focused and efficient when I write if I have a guideline for each scene like that.

Hopefully I'll get more writing done today.


  1. Just thought I would stop by and say "Hello Camy." It's been a hectic
    but very worthwhile last few days for me. In searching for more program for troubled teens related info on the Internet, I came across your site. I appreciate your content and I really appreciate your this post! It's been a great help in collecting more info on program for troubled teens. Thanks again and have a great day!

    Great blog. Found your blog while searching for more information at yahoo about this post . Your blog has quite a lot of interesting thoughts. Keep up the good work,
    Thanks Cheryl's Pitch,

  2. Thanks for visiting my blog! I'm also an editor for RubyZine, a Christian ezine for teen girls, which might interest you: