Sunday, July 18, 2010


Candy, evangelism, Texas, ranch

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Come up with an elevator pitch for a story encompassing those four words. Any genre or time period acceptable.

I look forward to seeing your suggestions in the comments.

I chose those four words because they were the four elements I wanted to include in my latest book proposal. (I won’t bother you with the reasons why). My chosen genre was historical romance. How did I get from those four words to a nine page book synopsis?

I start by asking questions.

• Who are my hero and heroine? What occupations might include candy, evangelism, or a ranch?
• What problems keep them apart? She is a missionary committed to service overseas. He’s a fisherman who once asked her to marry him.
• What problems might interfere with those occupations? The missionary has to stay at home because of family problems. The candy shop fails. Someone unused to a ranch has to learn how to ranch.
• When and where will this story take place? I’m a sucker for natural disasters. Dressed in Scarlet is set during Colorado’s worst blizzard; Beacon of Love takes place in a lighthouse during a hurricane; Bridge to Love examines the infamous Year of No Summer. So it’s no wonder that I was drawn to the Galveston hurricane of 1900.

Okay, with those questions I had enough for an elevator pitch. Next I started on structure: the inciting incident, one or two plot change points, and the black moment.

We’re told to start with action; what is more action-packed than a ship at sea during a hurricane—trying to pick up stranded fishermen? The black moment? Make something happen so that it appears the hero and heroine won’t achieve their hearts’ desire—then resolve it. For my couple, she’s afraid she can’t go back to the mission field, and he’s afraid she will.

In between, though, it gets tougher. One method makes things get progressively worse; the problems escalate. Another resolves the first problem but presents a second.

I used the second method. So by now I have four plot pivots: opening chapter; two change points; and a black moment at the end.

So far I had a page at most. Not much.

Next, I let my mind wander freely. I list scenes and problems as they occur to me, in incomplete sentences, one or two lines each. I don’t enforce any order. Questions I ask myself include how do the hero and heroine get from point A to point B (how do they get from the hurricane-tossed ship to Galveston to evacuation?) Given what I know of my characters, how are they going to react to what’s happening? What problems might arise along each step of the way?

This netted me four-five pages of short ideas. I put them in order, write them into full sentences and paragraphs, add connecting threads and make sure I show emotions and romantic development ...

And I’ve got a nine page synopsis.

Please accept your mission. I look forward to reading your ideas.

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