We've all been there. Submitting a new webcomic (or even editing a current one), when suddenly you arrive at...
And it occurs to you that you've never really known how to describe your story. This is what writers call "the elevator pitch," and don't worry... it gets everyone. The premise of the elevator pitch is to describe your story in only 1-3 sentences, in a way that authors, audiences, and literary agents and critics can't possibly resist. It can be very tempting to be vague and try to be interesting. But we've all also seen that one story summary that just sounds... awfully generic.
We've all been taught how to pitch wrong! So as someone who's had to pitch time and time and time and time again... I'll offer some advice in the form of a little tutorial.
Follow along if you want! Start off by imagining you're trapped in an elevator with someone. You only have a few moments to answer the question, when they ask you... "so, what is your story about?"
Step 1: Start.
Start with your gut instinct. We're all taught that the secret to pitching and summary writing is to be ~mysterious~ to generate ~intrigue~. But really... that's wrong. Here's an example of the classic "mysterious intrigue-generating pitch" -- I'll be using my own comic, Godstray, as an example here.
Wyld Hunter Yora Caarvelian appears in Rynmoor one day, fleeing from her pursuers. She must team up with the kind Rhea and the eccentric and queer Filless in order to escape them, and seek her revenge.
... Okay. A lot of information about our cast. A lot of names that ultimately mean nothing to our readers. The character descriptions can also be misleading. What genre is this? The names suggest fantasy, or maybe mythology. But 'eccentric' for Filless might lead the reader to think this is comedy. We've already lost them, Jim.
Step 2: Get Rid of your Mystery!
Yora Caarvelian, an elf from another plane, appears one day in the world of Rynmoor, fleeing prison wardens and seeking revenge against the God of Curses. She must team up with the kind Rhea Vallyn, and the eccentric and queer Filless Haion in order to navigate this world.
Yes, it hurts. Yes, it's better for you. Readers want to know what they're signing up for! This already gives the reader a far clearer idea of what they're in for... and lets them judge if they're interested. We've now made it very clear that this is a fantasy story, and includes a divine struggle! Ooh!
Now you've outlined your target audience, as well. People who are interested in gods and fantasy are going to be drawn in from the get-go!
Step 3: STAKES!
The number one thing that a pitch needs is a sense of stakes! What happens if they fail? Why does this story need to be told? What makes it unique? Let's try adding in some weight, and some danger.
Yora Caarvelian, an elf from another plane, appears one day in the world of Rynmoor, fleeing prison wardens and seeking revenge against the God of Curses. She must team up with the kind Rhea Vallyn, and the eccentric and queer Filless Haion in order to navigate this world, and seek out the source of a mysterious rot threatening to consume all organic life. Only Yora and her toxic blood can resist the all-devouring rot.
Woah! Where did this come from? Rot? Mold? Toxic blood? This just got a lot more interesting!
Step 4: No More Names
Get those names out of here! Why? Because they don't mean anything to someone who hasn't read the story yet. They're filler, and they make the reader's brain blank out. They're empty gaps to a stranger! So make them something fun and descriptive.
One day, an elf from another plane appears in the mortal realm, fleeing prison wardens and seeking revenge on the God of Curses. They must team up with a guard captain and a skilled mage to navigate this new world, and to help them seek the source of a strange rot that threatens to consume all organic life. Only the stranger and their toxic blood can resist this all-devouring rot...
Hmmm.... better! But still a long way to go.
Step 5: Add Plot-Relevant Traits!
Why are these characters relevant to this story specifically? What makes them the chosen cast? Make their character traits immediately clear, to help define their relationship to the story and its progression. How are these characters going to interact with the plot that you've now laid out?
One day, a bastard half-elf appears in the mortal realm from another plane, cursed with toxic blood, fleeing prison wardens, and seeking revenge on the God of Curses. They must team up with a captain favored by the God of Blessings, and a mage possessing unrivaled skill with flame in order to survive this world, and to help them find the source of an all-devouring rot threatening all organic life.
Now we know what ties this story together! The god of blessings and the god of curses? Opposing forces, working together? And a mage with fire magic sounds useful against a belligerent mold!
Step 6: Time Limit!
Most stories have some kind of deadline or pressure. What happens if they don't complete the task on time? Add a couple words to raise the stakes and make it clear what's going on when... and why they must go now.
One day, a bastard half-elf appears in the mortal realm from another plane, cursed with toxic blood, fleeing prison wardens, and seeking revenge on the God of Curses. They must team up with a captain favored by the God of Blessings, and a mage possessing unrivaled skill with flame in order to survive this world, and to help them find the source of an all-devouring rot, before its creator attains immortality... and godhood.
Is this spoiling the story a bit? Yes! Is that bad? NO!!! It just means readers have something to look forward to, and more context to judge the story by!
Step 7: Cut it Down To Size
This is the hard part. You've made the pitch interesting, but it's very clunky now and hard to get through. This is the part where you re-visit it and slice out unnecessary content. What can they go without reading? What can you rephrase? How can you reorganize to make it "punchier"? This step takes the most time out of all of them, so don't try to cut corners.
An all-devouring mold threatens the mortal realm, when a cursed half-elf appears from another plane. They must seek the aid of a blessed guard, and a mage unparalleled in fire magic to fulfill their goals: Exact revenge on the God of Curses, and kill the source of the rot before it achieves immortality and godhood itself.
If this helped, feel free to post your before-and-after below! I would LOVE to see how this advice has impacted your pitches and summaries!