Browsing Twitter reminds me of looking through my badge collection as a child and all the badges in the shop, sifting through all the shinies to find something that struck a chord with me. I love seeing what people offer to the world, what’s good and what is not, the thoughts and feelings, the news and the tidbits. Today I stumbled across a seemingly insignificant tweet about a writing pitch on Twitter. It’s a chance for agents to see your completed manuscript ideas. I haven’t finished one yet but I thought I would have a look in case I decide to try such a thing in the future. It got me thinking about how I would tweet the premise of my nearly completed debut. How do you cram a novel length story into 140 characters?
Basically, it comes down to a few bare points.
- Who is the protagonist?
- What’s his goal?
- What’s his problem?
So I wrote that down. Now, this may sound stupid, but doing so actually made me realize that the plot of my novel is something different than I expected. Before I explain, here’s the tweet I ended up writing:
Just to clarify, I can’t enter this in the competition because my manuscript isn’t complete. Anyway, can you see how the three questions are answered? Well, spoilers: that’s the pitch but the sentence I wrote down first before editing it into 140 characters was something like this:
A vampire slacker and the world’s first literal cat burglar goes after his ultimate prize, the prince’s cat, but to get it he might have to avert a civil war.
Agreed, this isn’t a major change. I cut out ‘slacker’ because it’s implied by the bizarre profession of stealing cats. I mean, do you really expect a professional, ambitious go-getter to steal feline pets from people’s homes? I don’t think so. So, I just left in those points that really define his character: he’s a vampire. This is important because it shows there are many supernatural creatures around, or at least opens up the possibility. Second, he steals cats, which we need to understand to twig what his goal is about. I then did some minor fiddling to edit down the latter part: the problem. The meaning remains the same.
So, answering this query really made me focus on the plot in a way I hadn’t done when building the novel and when writing it. I suddenly became aware that all my protagonist wants is to steal this cat of cats and reach the pinnacle of his chosen profession, but in trying to steal the leader of the free supernatural world’s pet, political misadventures, assassination attempts, invasion and war keep getting in his way. The comedy comes from how he then treats these cat-ass-trophies as minor annoyances in the face of what he perceives as the greatest of achievements. While I was writing, I was thinking that the main plot was the civil war and disasters and how he coped with being dragged into them, and that chasing the prince’s cat was a McGuffin to get that plot started. Oh, how wrong I have been.
This simple shift of focus in my mind unleashes so much comic potential, and allows me, with another rewrite, to tighten up the plot in ways that hadn’t occurred to me previously. Once that clicked – and it clicked for me while I was riding the bus home – I couldn’t wait to get to my computer and start trimming and straightening out the story. The excitement propelled me through the afternoon.
So I urge you, if you have trouble with a plot, or even if you are pretty sure you’ve got it worked out, have a go at writing a pitch in tweet form and see if the fog, which you didn’t even know was there, clears for you. I hope it does. And why not tweet your pitch with the hashtag #ImagineMyPitch so I can have a look?
Have you tweeted a pitch before? Any results you want to share? Let me know in the comments.