Writing Simple Pitches with Personality

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A pitch is one of the hardest things for a creator to write, but it’s also vital for grabbing the attention of an audience. A solid pitch can be the difference between a new reader and a lost opportunity. Yet time and again, I hear pitches that rely on featureless genre labels or vague mash-ups of existing franchises. Neither tactic delivers an accurate or intriguing picture. How can a creator build a pitch that represents their story, interests the listener, and still keeps things short?

There are no hard and fast rules for what makes a good pitch or a bad pitch, but here’s my tips for building a simple pitch with personality.

THE FOUNDATION

WHO

Who should the audience care about, and how much can you tell them in a few words? I’ve found that a quick and useful short-hand is:

[adjective] – [role]

Think about your main characters. If you had to give one word for their personality, what would it be? That’s your adjective. As for role, how does society define them, or how do they define themselves?

This gives people a quick and accessible way to connect with your characters, without being bogged down with unfamiliar names or situations. The reader can start to imagine and visualize these personalities, and get interested in how they’ll interact.

How about a love-sick street-rat? A gluttonous animal companion? An off-kilter genie? A independent princess? A scheming vizier? A child-like sultan? A clever magic-carpet?

Gosh, do these sound familiar? What film could these possibly be from? If your mind can conjure an image quickly without being given a name or a paragraph of context, then you’ve succeeded at covering “WHO” sufficiently for an introduction.

AladinGif

WHY AND WHAT

Now the audience knows WHO is important in this story, but WHY should they care? WHAT is the central appeal of the story?

This can be in the form of a central conflict, an interesting scenario, or even a governing question. This applies to both comedy and drama material. What is the driving force in what you’re writing about? Presenting your playing field allows the potential reader to spin out their own internal jokes or dramatic possibilities. If they are interested in their own guess-work and theorizing, they’ll be curious about how your creative mind chose to tackle those same situations. Their imagination has been engaged!

If you’re really stuck on what ties your comic together, an exercise that really worked for me was looking at each character one by one and asking myself what questions they dealt with the most. What I discovered is that each member of my cast had one dilemma in common: “Could you choose between your family and your future?” This question has become integrated into my pitch and my advertisements, and it is something that many people latch onto when they first hear or read my pitch. It serves as a talking point, and gets people curious about how that question might play out in the story. For example, this is what the front of one of my current fliers looks like:
businesscard-3.5inx2in-h-front

WHEN AND WHERE

I list WHEN and WHERE last, because I personally don’t find them as necessary as WHO, WHY, and WHAT. However, some comics depend on a location or time for their appeal. If I’m creating a Historical Fiction, it behooves me to include the time period! It might also be relevant to state the place in which the story takes place. For example, if a comic is set in an alternate timeline during World War II, knowing that it takes place on the Russian front, or the fighting in the Pacific, or a town back home untouched directly by the war, will drastically change the scenario.

WHERE might also be important if it takes place in an imagined world, or on another planet, or within an unusual environment. A survival story set on Mars could be very different than one in a National Forest.

Either way, we certainly ain't in Kansas anymore!

Either way, we certainly ain’t in Kansas anymore!

Photo credits: Mars Photo, the source is unknown. Forest Photo By Bruce Tremper

Who is in the story and what situations they face may be shaped by WHEN or WHERE, and in that case it’s important to present that information. You’ll have to evaluate their importance in your pitch for yourself!

FINE-TUNING

At this point, you should have one-to-three sentences covering the basics of your story. If you’ve got more than three, get out your editing pen and cut that excess back! Less is more here. However, short and to the point might be informative, but is it interesting? This is where fine-tuning comes in.

Establishing Genre

Once you’ve established your WHO, WHY, WHAT, and maybe WHEN and WHERE, you may find that your genre is already clearly established, but this isn’t always the case. How can we let the potential reader know what kind of comic they’re getting into without a bland “it’s a genre/genre strip” statement?

Your word-choice also gives you the chance to imply the genre without actually stating it. Think about some of the key-words associated with your genre. “Mystery” key words could include, “case, detective, crime, clues, solve,” whereas “Fantasy” could be implied by “magic, goddess, quest, artifact, wizard.” A “slice-of-life” story is when the subject, characters, and situations are described using mundane words. At no point do we have to rely on the crutch of “It’s a comedy/fantasy,” or “It’s a gamer/slice-of-life.” Ultimately, these words aren’t informative beyond genre. They serve one purpose, but your language choice can convey both genre AND something unique about your comic.

I do think genre labels CAN be valuable, and they do have their place as establishing a rough category quickly. However, they just aren’t all that interesting in themselves. Since making something sound INTERESTING is the entire point of a pitch, I think genre category markers should be put to other purposes.

And let's be honest...sometimes mashing genres together just goes too far...

And let’s be honest…sometimes mashing genres together just goes too far…

Words of Interest

Some words are just more fun than others, whether to read, say, or hear. The same way that some numbers are just inherently funnier than others. There’s a reason, after all, that the “answer to life, the universe, and everything” is 42. If it had been “1” that just seems a little…well, mundane, don’t you think? 1? Really? 42, on the other hand, just has a special ring to it that 1 does not.

The words we choose for our pitch can also subtly shape the level of interest they garner. Did someone “go to the moon” or were they “launched, rocketed, or blasted,” there? Each word conveys a different feeling. “Launched” is a more official-sounding and technical term, making the mind think along scientific lines. “Rocketed” has touches of something uncontrolled and mad-cap, full of adventure. Whereas “blasted” still has that zany energy, but implies a potential for disaster, because it sounds a bit like something’s going to get blown apart, and has a double meaning as a minced oath: “This BLASTED contraption just won’t work!”

Think about the words you’re choosing. Beyond just their basic purpose, what are they implying? What word choices are the most meaningful and enjoyable? Which engage the listener most, and set the tone best?

Of course, not all words are equally entertaining to EVERYONE...

Of course, not all words are equally entertaining to EVERYONE…

Comic Credit to Bill Watterson, “Calvin & Hobbes”

Practice and Experiment

Your pitch may be brilliant on paper, and an utter tongue-twisting disaster when you try to say it out loud. Keep that written version for later, because it will be great to utilize online, but start substitutions for your out-loud version. Say it over and over, and note where you consistently stumble or struggle with it. Find better ways to express that idea. It might mean rearranging things, or choosing a different word. You want this to flow off your tongue with practiced ease!

It’s also important to fine-tune your pitch as you see how people respond to it. Watch for a listener’s reaction as you tell them about your story. Switch out an adjective in your WHO and see if that plays better with more people. Try re-wording your core question. Do you get more engagement? Do people smile, or frown, or glaze over at the same place each time you share your pitch? Maybe cut that piece out and see what happens.

Also, listen to the pieces that your pitch ISN’T covering. If people ask you the same question about the story over and over after hearing the pitch, you might have discovered a gap. The good news is, people are interested in that piece, so it might be worth finding a way to tie it into your starting pitch.

Fill in the pieces until you've built a bridge between your story and your audience!

Fill in the pieces until you’ve built a bridge between your story and your audience!

This is only the beginning

This guide is by no means intended as a way to make a sure-fire, 100% effective pitch every time. Today we’ve covered the basics, but that doesn’t mean that the basics will be the perfect fit for your unique comic. Keep pushing yourself to find new ways of presenting your work, and test those pitches on as many people as you can. Only you can seek out your audience and find what appeals to them the most. However, it is my hope that you’ll get a lot more traction with a simple pitch with personality, than a flat genre mash-up!

What’s YOUR pitch? Share it in the comments below!

Do you need some assistance writing your comic pitch? Let me help! I’m a Creative Consultant, and my first call (or text chat!) is always free. I also offer project development, crowd-funding coaching, and developmental editing. Contact me!

Curious about my creative work? LeyLines is the story of an irresponsible prince, his dream-weaving sister, and their adopted brother. When their mother dies under suspicious circumstances and a goddess asks them for help, they embark on a quest that will force them to choose between their family and their future. Read it at LeyLinesComic.com

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Posted in Business, Featured News, Helpful Hints, Writing and tagged , , , , .

7 Comments

  1. Ah. A subject near and dear to my heart. Here is mine so far: Aedre’s Firefly is about a young girl trapped in ongoing abuse at home and at school who desperately wants to die. She runs away to the woods where she meets a mysterious stranger who offers to grant her “her heart’s desire” in return for delivering something small and precious. The catch? The person who needs to receive it is not in this world, and the stranger’s odd companions must accompany her, for the way there is full of dangers. Though sure she will fail, there is the feint hope that perhaps before dying she could finally do something right, something useful. Aedre trusts no one by now but this could be her one chance to end her pain on her own terms. Or is it?

    Meh. That’s a place to start I guess. I never know how long to make these and often confuse them with the log line/elevator pitch.
    I really like the idea of practising speaking it out loud until it just comes naturally, as well as trying it out on other people, Robin. Thanks!

    And to anyone who needs help with this stuff, Robin is an amazing Creative Consultant whose advice has given my graphic novel a new lease on life and has me confident enough that I’m even setting up a Patreon Page about it! Her first session is free, so don’t hesitate.

    • Hi Jande! Sorry for the delay in replying to this comment.

      I think what you’ve got there is a good start, but I’d recommend trying to reduce its length by half. The key points you’ve covered are:

      1. Aedre’s deathwish due to abuse.
      2. Someone promising to grant her heart’s desire
      3. Task of delivering something precious to another world
      4. (optional) Aedre’s desire to do something useful before her death

      I list 4 as optional, because I think the sentiment is one that people can related to, and it gives a hopeful note to the pitch that is appealing, but in terms of material that hook people in, the 1st 3 combined cover that.

      If we try to apply the formula above:

      WHO: Aedra is an abused girl with a deathwish.
      WHAT: She’s promised her heart’s desire if she delivers a mysterious and precious package
      WHY: She hopes to achieve something useful before her death.
      WHERE: This world, and another world
      WHEN: Not material to this story.

      So, if we combine that:

      Aedra, an abused girl with a deathwish, is promised her heart’s desire on the condition that she leaves this world for another to deliver a mysterious and precious package. Believing that she has nothing left to lose, Aedra agrees, hoping to achieve something useful before she dies.

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  3. This is actually really good advice! I’ve been practicing pitching my projects to people just so I can get better at it, even if I’m not planning on publishing them. Here’s a few that I’ve tried to apply your techniques to:

    “A boy with no name or memory wakes up to a world where humanity once lived and passed away; now, he and the others like him are left to make whatever life they can among mankind’s ashes – and, just maybe, reclaim it from the enemy that ended it all.” -Nine Hearts, One Soul (Fanfiction)

    “Chance Brennan, a young man with a secret past, has his whole world turned upside down when he discovers the existence of the hidden world of magic and myths. When he and his friends are targeted by a cult of myth hunters, Chance’s past comes back to prove that what you don’t know really can hurt you.” -Unblessed (Original novel project)

    “In Hunter’s Mark, a group of teenagers cursed to become monsters band together to defeat an ancient evil, hoping to right the thousand-year-old wrong that caused the curse in the first place.” -Hunter’s Mark (Personal project)

    • I think you’ve got a great start on all of these. What I’d do next is go over them again and see if there’s a more succinct or interesting way of presenting some of these concepts. For example, “he and the others like him are left to make whatever life they can among mankind’s ashes” (17 words) could be simplified to “he and a few survivors struggle to build a life from mankind’s ashes” (13 words). Repeating your existing pitches out loud will help you find spots to combine/simplify ideas. Sometimes you’ll have to decide if a poetic way of saying things is more interesting, or just more complicated, than a simple way. For example, “once lived and passed away” could be presented with the words/phases “vanished,” “went extinct,” “were destroyed,” etc. 1-2 words, instead of 5. Is that easier to say? Is it more, or less, compelling to hear? Try out some paired down options and some more poetic options out loud with friends. See what they respond to more! Crafting the perfect pitch is a process. It takes a lot of repetition and trial and error before you find the one that works best the most often. That said, you’ve got a strong starting point to work from!

      • Thanks for the compliment, and the advice! Especially on so old a post and all that. That’s actually all really useful critique, and I’ll definitely think about it and go over it.

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