Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's Like This And Like That

Chasing Skirts
Submission policies seem to go through phases. Ten pages, three pages, query only, first three chapters, query and a synopsis, fifty pages—it’s a sort of publishing hemline, up one year and down the next. In the mini skirt years, short pitches are all the rage. Three line, one line, thirty seconds. The elevator pitch it’s called, though you should never ambush an editor in the elevator. Or, as one editor went to the trouble of explaining in his lecture, no urinal ambushing. Shame too, because that’s where I saw him the most, there being so few men at a children’s writing conference. Anyway...

Going Mini
The short pitch. While we might think our books are too deep and meaningful for a three sentence description—and I’m a huge fan of complicated plots with lots of characters—I like this test for my own stories. After all, if I can’t describe a story in a few sentences, there’s a good chance I don’t know what the story is about. And if I don’t know what a story is about, it’s not ready for submission. Granted, a three sentence description won’t capture the subplots and most of the characters, but it will hit enough high points to show that I have a story. So, can we do it in one sentence?

One sentence is not going to capture the plot and characters of a YA novel. But if you borrow a few touchstones from our common culture, you can at least convey the concept of a story. Yes, I’m talking about the “This Meets That” pitch. For instance, War of the Worlds meets Shane gives you Cowboys and Aliens. Or maybe not, but you get the idea. Borrow, from the zeitgeist, make your own gestalt.

Back to my earlier point about pitches going through phases. The “This Meets That” pitch is in style. I’ve even seen an online submission form that expressly asked for a one sentence “This Meets That” description—and nothing else. So I say, if it’s not going away, why not have a little fun trolling the depths of our culture and polishing our submissions at the same time?

Cause It’s All About Me
In my bio on this site, I describe my YA work in progress as being like Toy Story meets Dirty Harry. See, in my mind, Toy Story is a road trip buddy picture, and the Dirty Harry is a violent crime story. But I’ve since refined that description to better match the plot structure and story. I now think of the story as The Wizard of Oz meets James Bond. Again, The Wizard of Oz is essentially a road trip buddy story, and James Bond is all about violent espionage. Plus there’s a sort-of Bond Girl in my story and gadgets.

This is a YA blog, but I’ve written a few middle-grade books as well, so indulge me while I try to describe those stories. Okay... Mr. Ribs, a two-plots in one story, is the Calvin and Hobbs cartoon meets Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not because I’m as cool as Bill Watterson, but because it’s about a boy who shifts worlds in his head, while on an epic treasure hunt. Amanda Johnson, Extra Ordinary, a girl buddy story, is Fast Food Nation meets A League Of Their Own. Bertram Grome, a fantasy, would be The Hobbit meets Hatchet, except I wouldn’t dare. And Shadow Space, a not-time-travel adventure, is The Time Machine fails to meets my childhood (I said this was all about me).

And About You
Have you written a story that you can describe in a “This Meets That” format? Post a comment and make us all want to read it. Then have a little fun. How weirdly can describe a classic story? Maybe a Renaissance painting meets a techno-pop song, or monumental architecture meets a traditional food recipe? Can you remind us of touchstones we’ve forgotten? Or use contemporary references in unusual ways? Go for it, and blow us all away.

10 comments:

Colette Ballard said...

Great post, Kurt! As always, you have an interesting take on things. I however, can't seem to come up with any genius comparisons for my work yet. hmmm.....

Katie McGarry said...

Having read Colette's work, I'd say one of her stories is The Outsiders meets a love story. I have to think longer on a love story. The brain is still waking up.

As for my own...I'll get back to you on that.

Kurt Hampe said...

Colette and Katie, thanks for the comments. There is an Outsiders feel to Colette's work, but yeah, it definitely "meets" a love story--and has it's own ending. Katie, one of the things I like about Pushing the Limits is that it isn't automatically This Meets That. You found a way to put serious plot and issues in a teen romance. I suppose, in a way, it's The Outsiders meets a love story, but in a different way than Colette's.

Kristin Lenz said...

If anyone is looking for more tips on how to write a one sentence pitch, check out this post: http://monibw.blogspot.com/2011/07/details-about-agent-pitch-contest-with.html.

But still, I haven't come up with a "This Meets That" for my novels. It would be a suspenseful travel adventure (rock climbing) meets romantic/social drama. ??? Actually, the second half has elements of Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons, so now I just need a rock climbing comparison.

And my other novel is somewhat similar to Katie's. Teen romance with a serious plot and issues.

Thanks for getting us thinking, Kurt!

Kurt Hampe said...

Kristin, thanks for posting the link.

One of the great things about "This Meets That" is that the two things don't have to be books or movies, and that sometimes they are more meaningful if the two items come from opposite sides of the cultural spectrum. So "Competition Rock Climbing Meets 'Walk Two Moons'" works for me, as long as you leave out the poisonous snake.

Kristin Lenz said...

Kurt - I seriously have a poisonous snake in my other novel! :)

Cate Hart said...

Oh great post Kurt. I'm still new to the Mid-south group, so hello.
I'm terrible at coming up with the one sentence pitch, but for my current MS I'd say "The Craft" meets "Camelot" and for my first MS probably "Pride and Prejudice" with Angels.

Kurt Hampe said...

Cate, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Pride and Prejudice meets angels, huh? For a minute my brain was stuck in the mode of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but now that I think about it, you could be doing angels living out a Pride and Prejudice style story. Hmmm...

Lisa Tapp said...

Okay Kurt, you've made me think so heard the smoke detector is going off. But I'm going with Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Dr. Suess' "Are You My Mother?" Great post!

Lisa

Kurt Hampe said...

Lisa, thanks for commenting. Raiders of the Lost Ark worked on several levels, so it's a definite "go to" comparison. And Dr. Suess, that's just a given, right?