Pantsters and Pitches

I’ve finished the edits for Billabong Bend, and am having a break from writing. Instead I’m riding my horse, pulling up ragwort in the paddocks and generally enjoying the beauty on offer here at Pilyara. Writing is never very far from my thoughts though, for a new novel is brewing.

pantster 1I’m a pantster at heart. My stories evolve organically. I’d get bored if I already knew everything that was going to happen – and it seems I’m in good company!

“Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort, and the dullard’s first choice.”  ~Stephen King in On Writing

“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through.”  ~Ray Bradbury

pantster 2Ha, take that plotters! 🙂 However the realities of commercial publishing make a degree of planning essential, especially when you’re pitching an unwritten book as I’m doing for the first time. Writing an outline is always tricky, but what if you don’t know precisely what happens yourself? I like to start with a short synopsis, 120 words or so. This can be lengthened or abbreviated as needed. The most useful pitch advice I ever received was a simple formula. This is a story about …….. who wants more than anything to ……… but can’t because ………. ‘If your story doesn’t fit into this template, you don’t have one.’  And my teacher was right. This breaks the narrative down to its bare bones – character, goal and conflict. Take The Wizard Of Oz for example. It’s a story about a little girl named Dorothy, who wants more than anything to go home, but can’t because she’s stuck in a strange land. I used this formula when I pitched my first novel Brumby’s Run to Penguin. ‘It’s a story about a spoilt city girl named Samantha, who wants more than anything to build a fresh future in Victoria’s beautiful high country, but can’t because it means stealing her sister’s life.’ Worked like a charm

panster 3So now I need a pitch for my new novel.
– I’m not too worried that I don’t know how it ends yet. Pitches for me have always worked best when they don’t tell the full story, but finish instead with a hook, an intriguing question.
– I’ll concentrate on character and conflict, and never mention theme. As novelist Sophie Masson says, ‘Themes belong in English studies, not in novel outlines.’
– It will be my very best writing.

Merry Christmas to all my readers, and a heartfelt thank you for your support during the year. Here’s to a wonderful 2014!!!

christmas in the bush

7 thoughts on “Pantsters and Pitches

  1. Thanks, Jennifer! As fellow-pantser, I’m with you all the way.
    And am delighted to say when I tested your pitch formula on my almost-completed novel, I found that it works beautifully: This is a story about Angelica who wants more than anything to live a long, happy life with her husband Bill, but can’t because he’s dead.
    Gosh! Not a bad hook?

  2. As another pantster I’ve always struggled with pitches but, I must say I rather like your version! I’m going to give it a try. Have fun over Christmas. If you’re like me, that new story will be brewing nicely in the background while you focus on other things. 🙂

    Merry Christmas!

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