googlead166c37c697d4d3.html Glenn Ashton Author Blog: Your Novel & Your Elevator Speech


Friday, July 29, 2011

Your Novel & Your Elevator Speech

As soon as you put pen to paper to write your book – perhaps even sooner – you will run slap into a major problem. How do you describe what your novel  is about when someone asks you?

You will suddenly realize that you desperately need what some of us call your "elevator speech", and others your "logline".

Let's talk about you in an elevator, then move on to Star Trek and how you can use the availability bias to make your elevator speech memorable.

Now imagine that you are in an elevator on the tenth floor when a heavy hitter of a publisher steps into the elevator. The door closes. She notices your manuscript tucked under your arm.

"Your book?" she asks, and you nod, tongue-tied. Beads of sweat spring out on your forehead, and you swallow, trying to lubricate your dry mouth so that you can say something interesting, something arresting, something memorable.

This is your big chance ...

"What is it?" she asks.

You are now one floor further down, and your brain freezes. Your mind goes blank. Bits of static dance where once your neurons danced and made intelligent patterns resulting in interesting things to say.

This is when you really, really need your elevator speech.

The one that pitches your novel to the big-time publisher in the time it takes for the elevator to drop from the tenth floor to the ground level, and she rushes out to her next meeting.

The one that makes her stop, give you her card, and ask you to call her.

On her private number.

And soon. Like that night.

What must your elevator speech contain for you to get  her card when the doors open?
Saved by the Cat?

Blake Snyder, author of Save the Cat!, comes to our rescue (we met him in this blog post):
"What is it?" is the name of the game. "What is it?" is the movie. A good "What is it?" is the coin of the realm.
So let's start with two of Blake's definitions and then explore the two concepts. His definition of the hook is short and sweet:
Save the Cat!
"It is a simple mental picture that promises fun and gives you enough of a peek into the storyline that you can see the potential."
And he defines the logline this way:
"A logline is a one- or two-sentence description of your movie that tells us what it is."
Another advantage of a good logline is the discipline it exerts on the author, as Blake observes:
"And concentrate on writing one sentence. One line. Because if you can learn how to tell me "What is it?" better, faster, and with more creativity, you'll keep me interested. And incidentally, by doing so before you start writing your script, you'll make the story better, too.
Click here to see some other descriptions in our website of the elements of a good elevator speech.
The Da Vinci Hook?

And what hook did Dan Brown use for The Da Vinci Code? The plot of the 450-page novel can be neatly summarised in 44 words, which Brown himself helpfully does on his website:
"A renowned Harvard symbologist is summoned to the Louvre Museum to examine a series of cryptic symbols relating to Da Vinci's artwork. In decrypting the code, he uncovers the key to one of the greatest mysteries of all time ... and he becomes a hunted man."
The Obelisk Seven Hook ...
And our elevator speech for Obelisk Seven?
What is the link between seven obelisks which are sending out signals, an international television show on global warming, and a new oil-eating microbe which threatens the world’s energy supplies? And who is willing to kill to prevent others finding this link?  
When Nick Kangles, the host of a global warming international television show, microbiologist Kate Stanton and Egyptologist Gliffy discover that an ancient Egyptian obelisk in Rome is sending out mysterious signals, they set out on an increasingly dangerous hunt across Europe, Egypt and America to find the secret of the signals.
Back to Blake, who says that in Hollywood parlance that one sentence, that one line, is called a logline or a one-line. Along with answering "What is it?" each contains certain building blocks that make it a sale.

The first building block of Blake is irony. Why the need for irony? Because that is the hook that often gets your attention.  He gives this example of the logline for Die Hard: A cop comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife and her office building is taken over by terrorists.

Another Blake description:
A logline is like the cover of a book; a good one makes you want to open it,  right now, to find out what's inside.
What is the next building block? Blake claims that the logline must provide a compelling mental picture:
"... you must be able to see a whole movie in it... a good logline, once said,  blossoms in your brain."
Blake writes that a good logline, in addition to pulling you in, has to offer the promise of more. Blake advises any writer who is winding up to make his pitch to make sure his audience can hear somewhere in the pitch some version of: "It's about a guy who ..."
"The "who" is our way in. We, the audience, zero in on and project onto the "who" whether its an epic motion picture or a commercial for Tide detergent.  The "who" gives us someone to identify with..."
A good logline "hooks us with someone to identify with as much as something."

What else does a good logline do? Once again, Blake puts his finger on it.
"The logline is your story's code, its DNA, the one constant that has to be true... It is,  in short, the touchstone, both for you the writer and the audience you're selling your movie to... The logline tells the hero's story: Who he is, who he's up against, and what's at stake."
Hooking with the Availability Bias ...
One last note: when making your elevator speech, you should use what psychologists call the availability bias. We can learn a bit about this bias from Leonard Mlodinow.

Just who is Leonard Mlodinow? For starters, he is a physicist and an author. Apart from being a screenwriter for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mlodinow, according to Wikipedia, while a doctoral student, developed a new type of perturbation theory for eigenvalue problems in  quantum mechanics.

For our purposes we can forget Mlodinow's new perturbation theory and instead turn to his latest book, The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives in which he writes about how the availability bias distorts our view of the world by distorting our view of past events and our environment.

How can you use the availability bias in your elevator speech?

Pehaps this way. You make your pitch to one or perhaps two people (a potential agent or publisher). That person then has to go back to their firm and tell others about your pitch, and explain why it did or did not grab them.

Mlodinow gives an example of evidence presented to two groups in a mock jury trial, with each group then to pretend to be jurors and to give guilt/innocence ratings. The key finding was that the "side with the more vivid presentation of the evidence always prevailed" and the effect was enhanced when there was a forty-eight-hour delay before rendering the verdict.

The more vivid evidence lingered best in the minds of the "jurors", and was more persuasive.

So if you want the person you are making your elevator speech to to remember it positively, and pass on a positive recommendation to others in his or her firm, then make your pitch vivid.

Vivid lingers. Vivid sells. So use vivid in your elevator speech.

Now, go back to that building, and  ride that elevator up and down until the big-time publisher gets on it again. And this time, hit her with your elevator speech.

And then open your bank account so that you can deposit all your royalties in it ...

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