Pitch Your Story in a Pinch (ONE Sentence)

Baseball, pitch, pitch your story, Kristen Lamb

Baseball, pitch, pitch your story, Kristen Lamb

Pitch your ENTIRE novel, series, whatever in ONE sentence. Yes, it CAN be done. It can be done and it MUST be done, especially for those who want to be PAID to write. If you want to make income from your ideas/writing, you must master the pitch.

Why? First, a great log-line (pitch) can help you immediately spot the flaws in a story. WAY easier to fix a small prototype. Secondly, when you get writing, it is easy to get lost in something so vast as a novel. The log-line serves as a sort of “true north” so that epic high fantasy doesn’t suddenly involve space aliens, time travel, and GF waffle recipes.

Lastly? Better to need and not have than have and not need.

Fortune favors the prepared. Who knows what opportunity might present itself and are you prepared to take max advantage? You might only have a minute or two to impress an agent, producer, director, etc. WHY is your idea is better than the competition?

Additionally, even beyond these fine reasons, simply knowing how to pitch opens up opportunities. I’ve landed book deals, feature articles, been included in some major anthologies, and more simply because I could give an editor a one-sentence pitch and sell my IDEA…then deliver a great story or article.

What do I use for the pitch? A concept we’ve talked about called the “log-line.”

Pitch in a Pinch with a Log-Line

I introduced this concept ages ago in the post, Writer’s Block: Is It Laziness or a Critical Part of Being a Longtime Author? Today we’re going to deep-dive exactly HOW to boil our novel down to a single sentence. Some of you might be wondering if I was trying to give you a heart attack with my title. Maybe you believe this feat is impossible. AN ENTIRE NOVEL IN ONLY ONE SENTENCE?

Maybe something simple, plebeian and commercially formulaic *flips hair* but ART cannot be forced into a box.

Yes. Yes it can.

I know, I know. Your novel is almost five-hundred pages with made up technology and wizards and folding space using enchanted Thigh Masters….

I hear you. Calm down.

A log-line is a lifeline that will allow you to pitch a novel (or series) in ONE—YES ONE—sentence. The log-line is going to save you time, energy, and sanity (save the crazy for the fiction).

We’ll get to how a log-line is going to do ALL this AND give you six-pack abs in only five minutes a day in a moment…

***Legal Disclaimer: Consult your psychiatrist before believing any writing tool will give you six-pack abs. The giant pink bunny in the corner lies, too FYI.

Anyway, pitch, pitch, b–pitch…

I used to try to teach story structure from the perspective of an editor, but I found that my approach was flawed. Why? Because editors are like building inspectors. We have skills best used on a finished product. We’re trained to look for structure problems.

Is that a good skill? Sure. But do building inspectors design buildings?


Architects do. Architects employ creativity and vision to create a final structure. Hopefully, they will have the necessary skills to create and design a structure that will meet code standards.

Creativity and vision are not enough. Architects need to learn mathematics and physics. They need to understand that a picture window might be super pretty, but if they put that sucker in a load-bearing wall, they won’t pass inspection and that they even risk a fatal collapse.

Aestheticism must align with pragmatism.

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

This insight made me step back and learn to become an architect. When it comes to plotting, I hope to teach you guys how to have the creative vision of the designer, but with the practical understanding of an inspector.

We’ve discussed how plot works on a micro-scale (scene and sequel). After that, we panned back for an aerial shot, and discussed how great stories–like amazeballs rollercoasters—are addictive by design.

I’ve also covered how the single most important component to plot is the opposition, and l even have a tested method to make sure your core idea  is actually solid enough to be the foundation for an entire novel.

So what’s this log-line pitch thingy?

Basically, we should be able to tell someone (an agent, editor, producer, director, potential reader) what our story is about in one sentence. That is called the “log-line.” Log-lines are used in Hollywood to pitch movies.

In this post we’ll cover two different types of log-lines. One is the big picture of your story idea. We’ll cover that first.

But, if you read this earlier post, I presented a formula for you to use before you even start writing your book. This is the more functional log-line. Think of this second type of log-line as your story prototype. It is a scaled down version to make sure you have all the critical story pieces and YES, it will reveal the whole story.

More on that in a bit….

One resource that should be in every writer’s library is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s a book on screenwriting, but every writer can benefit enormously from Snyder’s teaching.

In the world of screenwriting there is a tenet, “Give me the same, but different.” This axiom still holds true when it comes to novels.

Our story cannot go so far off the deep end that readers cannot relate, yet our story needs to be different enough that people don’t just think it’s a retread.

We as writers have to negotiate this fine balance of same but different, and that is no easy task.

So let’s look at components of a great pitch (log-line):

A great pitch is short and clear.

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

I cannot tell you how many writers I ask, “So what’s your book about?” and they take off rambling for the next ten minutes. Often why writers are so terrified of the pitch session is that they cannot clearly state what their book is about in one to three sentences.

Here is a little insider information. When we cannot whittle our entire story into a maximum of three sentences, that is a clear sign to agents and editors that our story is structurally flawed. Not always, but more often than not. Your goal should be ONE sentence. What is your story about?

A good pitch is ironic. 

Irony gets attention and hooks interest. Here’s an example:

The Green Mile is about the lives of guards on death row in the rural Depression Era South leading up to the execution of a black man accused of rape and child murder who has the power of faith healing.

What can be more ironic than a murderer having the power of healing? Or guards having to stand up against a dysfunctional society to do the right thing? Think of the complex emotions that one sentence evokes, the moral complications that we just know are going to blossom out of the “seed idea.”

A good pitch is emotionally intriguing.

A good log-line tells the entire story. Like a movie, you can almost see the entire story play out in your head.

During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.

Didn’t you just see the entire movie play out in your head with that ONE sentence? Apparently Steven Spielberg did, too and that’s why he took Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park and made it into a blockbuster movie.

A good pitch will interest the potential audience

Good log-lines exude inherent conflict. Conflict is interesting. In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder relays stories of how he would take his log-line to local coffee shops and ask total strangers what they thought about his idea.

This is a great exercise for your novel.

Pitch to friends, family, and even total strangers and watch their reaction. Did their eyes glaze over? Did the smile seem polite or forced? If you can boil your book down into one sentence that generates excitement for the regular person, then you know you are on a solid path for your novel.

Yet, if your potential audience looks confused or bored or lost, then you know it is time to go back to the drawing board. But the good news is this; you just have to fix ONE sentence.

You don’t have to go rewrite, revise a novel that is confusing, convoluted, boring, arcane, ridiculous, etc.

Think of your one sentence as your scale-model or your prototype. If the prototype doesn’t generate excitement and interest, it is unlikely the real thing will succeed. So revise the prototype until you find something that gets the future audience genuinely excited.

You have your log-line. Now what?

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

log-line, Kristen Lamb, story structure, plot, pitching a novel, how to pitch an agent, writing tips, screenwriting, writing fiction

Your log-line is the core idea of your story. This will be the beacon of light in the darkness so you always know where the shore is versus the open sea. This sentence will keep you grounded in the original story you wanted to tell and keep you from prancing down bunny trails.

The Fear Factor

Fear is probably the most common emotion shared by writers. The newer we are the more fear we will feel. A side-effect of fear is to emotionally distance from the source of our discomfort.

This is why so many first-time novels fall apart.

I can tell everything that is wrong in a novel with a single glance at the log-line. Conversely, I can tell a writer what precisely needs to be fixed by looking at the log-line.

Does the story have a core problem? Is it a large enough/interesting enough problem to merit a whole novel? What are the stakes? Is there a ticking clock or have we given the MC forever to get around to accomplishing the goal?

If you’re like me and botched your first (hundred) attempts to write a novel, RELAX. It takes time to develop the level of sadism required to write spectacular stories. Not everyone is a born psychopath like George R.R. Martin.

New writers (in particular) tend to shy from any source of conflict, but conflict is the life blood of fiction. Log-lines can show us our story is flat-lining and WHY.

One of the best ways to learn how to write log-lines is to go peruse the IMDB (Internet Movie Database). Look up your favorite movies and see how they are described.

You can even look up movies that bombed and very often see the log-line was weak and the movie was doomed from the start. Look up movies similar to the story you are writing. Check out movies similar to the story you want to tell.

Your Log-Line As Prototype

Some of the above examples are fantastic to pitch a book to, say, an agent. We still get an idea of the story. If cloned dinosaurs start running amok in a theme park, then one gets the idea that there are probably people stranded/in danger and that the point of the story is to a) escape and b) do something about the dinosaurs.

This is good enough but isn’t as specific as I would recommend if, say, you’re planning a new novel for this year’s upcoming NaNoWriMo, which is why I recommend using a certain formula.

Why is this so important?

Think about an architect responsible for a sky scraper. Such a large building will require a ton of money, materials, and time, so what does the architecture firm do first? They create a scaled down replica before ever breaking ground. This makes it far simpler to see critical flaws or areas that could be enhanced.

Same with a car manufacturer. Engineers have a fabulous idea for a new super car? They don’t simply start building a full-size, fully operational super car. They begin with the prototype. This saves time, effort, energy…and heavy drinking.

It’s the same for a novel. It is SO much easier to spot any problems with the log-line and tweak THAT, then it is to kill yourself writing 70,000-110,000 words only to THEN try and go BACK and try to figure out why the story isn’t working.

Here is the formula I use to create a solid log-line (story).

Intriguing protagonist + active verb + core story problem (antagonist/Big Boss Troublemaker) + stakes + ticking clock.

Log-lines are like Legos. Pop one piece off or change another and TOTALLY different (better) story.

Notice I Said “Intriguing Protagonist

holiday, writers, five challenges writers holidays, writers, humor, Kristen Lamb, funny

holiday, writers, five challenges writers holidays, writers, humor, Kristen Lamb, funny

If I write a log-line that says:

Susan must locate her birth mother and convince her to donate a kidney before her daughter dies from an incredibly rare genetic disease.

At first glance it seems I have all the pieces, right? I have an active goal (locating birth mother for kidney). There are HIGH stakes (daughter could die and we are dealing with a rare genetic disease so unknown grandparent is likely only option) and a ticking clock (daughter will not last long without a kidney).

But who the heck is Susan? What did I say that gave y’all ANY idea about who she is? This is where that “ironic/intriguing” will help you out. Ideally, we want to cast the protagonist who will have the toughest time talking someone out of a kidney (as if that isn’t already difficult).

Example A:

A recently divorced, overworked stay-at-home mom must locate her birth mother and convince her to donate a kidney before her daughter dies from a rare genetic disease.

Here we now have a clearer picture of our protagonist, and this is a perfectly great log-line depending on genre and how gritty you want to write. But a stay-at-home mom isn’t a super hard sell. She’s feasibly been abandoned (first by mom then later by her husband). She’s rather sympathetic.

We get she was adopted and there are plenty of challenges ahead, but once she reunites with her birth mother, the tough part, by and large, is seeing if a stranger is willing to part with a kidney.

Example B:

After serving ten years of hard time for drug trafficking, an estranged mother recently reunited with her child must locate her own birth mother and convince her to donate a kidney before her daughter dies from a rare genetic disease.

See how this alteration changes the entire feel of the story as well as the stakes for all involved? Now we are dealing with a woman crushed by guilt, struggling to reenter society and remain clean.

The one dream that probably kept her sane in prison was that she would one day hold her daughter again. Though she IS reunited with her daughter, she regains custody from the courts just in time to watch her child die…unless she can perform this HERCULEAN feat.

We know from the log-line she will find the woman who put her up for adoption, but instead of Susan the sympathetic homemaker, she is Susan with the track marks, bad tattoos, and a history steeped in shame. Serious guilt/shame because, had she not done so many hard drugs, she would have been a perfect match for her daughter, but her kidneys are tainted with Hepatitis (just raising those stakes there).

Both log-lines would make excellent stories, just one is far grittier from the get-go. See how, by simply changing blocks around, we can completely change the entire story? I hope this example helped clarify the whole “log-line” concept.

So here is an exercise to create a pitch.

See if you can state your novel in one sentence. It will not only help add clarity to your writing and keep you on track, but when it comes time to pitch an agent or hook readers to BUY, you will be well-prepared and ready to knock it out of the park.

Practice on your favorite movies and books. Work those log-line muscles!

What are your thoughts?

Does this make plotting seem more doable? Outlines make my left eye twitch, but I find this trick very handy. Can you now see the component parts of a good story more clearly? Feel free to test out your log-line in the comments. There are no NEW ideas. I share ideas all the time, because everyone has a unique voice. Just know I reward bravery.


To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat.

I actually have landed agents for people who’ve won this contest. Agents like me because I make their lives easier.

If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. For those who listen to the PODCAST (mentioned LAST POST), y’all get THREE times in the hat.

What do you win?

The unvarnished truth from yours truly (and maybe even time with an agent).

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). People with superlative writing, I (with your permission) have been known to pass you onto an agent.

Anyway, I look forward to reading your comments and your writing!

Kristen Lamb

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Kristen Lamb