Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pitching and Log Lines, Part I

The programming I attended on Thursday and Friday at the conference leaned heavily toward pitches, queries, synopses and lovely little details like those. I learned some helpful tips that got me through a pitch without spilling anything on the editor (bonus points for me!) or fainting dead away, so I wanted to pass a little of that along.

The one thing I heard repeated over and over was that agents and editors are people just like you. Speak to them like people. Don't rush in and start throwing words at them. Introduce yourself when you walk in, tell them your name then talk to them about your book. Yes, you'll want to have your pitch practiced and in your head, but don't speak like you're reading from a prompt card.

I think the most logical place to start is with Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation & Conflict workshop. She has a book available for this concept, and it was highly recommended by others at the conference. The full title of her book is Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction.

First, you must figure out the who, what, why and where:

Who is your character?
What is their goal?
Why do they want this? What is their motivation?
Where is the conflict?

Not only can GMC help you figure out where to go with your story and what to write, it can help you figure out your pitch. I'll briefly go over what each word means and will then go over using it to make a pitch.

Goal: Goal is what the character wants to achieve, what they want. Your characters should want something they don't have yet, and it should be sorely needed. A goal may not always be achieved, but the characters must make a real attempt at it, strive toward it. Goals can change throughout the book and there can be multiple goals. In fact, a smaller starter goal is a good way to introduce the characters and allow the reader a chance to get to know them.

Motivation: Motivation is what drives the characters. It adds a sense of urgency to the goal. Debra Dixon said it is "the fuel in your motor." As with goals, there can be more than one motivation, and that motivation can change. The goal is derived from the motivation. You must ask what line your character will not cross and make them cross it, because this means the goal is important enough to keep the character going. Otherwise, they'd be able to resist crossing that line.

Conflict: Conflict is what stands in your character's way. Figure out what they want then throw roadblocks in front of them, challenges. Seeing how your characters handle conflict can develop them more for your readers. Just as with the other two categories, there can be multiple conflicts. In fact, there usually should be. Debra Dixon said characters should gain or lose every time there is conflict.

To work out the GMC, Debra Dixon recommended writing out a statement for each in the following form:

My character wants _____ because _____ , but _____ . What they want is their goal, the "because" is their motivation, and the "but" is their conflict. Remember that there can be multiples of each of these, so write this statement as many times as you need to figure out what drives them and why.

It's not only your primary character who should have GMC. If you don't want secondary characters and villains to be little cardboard cutouts, you will give each of them GMC, as well. Not only that, but your characters will have both an internal GMC and an external GMC. External GMC is the plot, while internal GMC is the emotional character arc.

Debra used the Wizard of Oz as an example:

Dorothy's external goal was to get home. Her internal goal was looking for her heart's desire, a place with no trouble.
The motivation behind her external goal was because her aunt was sick. The motivation behind her internal goal was because she was unhappy and trouble follows her everywhere.
The conflict behind her external goal was the witch and the balloon lifting off without her. The conflict behind her internal goal was that she didn't know quite what she wanted.

Obviously, this is vastly simplified, and there were many smaller GMC's mixed in. Hopefully it gives you an idea of what it means, though.

One important point she made was that the choices should be between sucky and suckier, not between good and bad. I imagine we'd all agree that making a choice hard to make is a much better read. She says that once you figure out your goal and motivation, you should ask yourself three questions:

Is it important? Is it urgent? Will the character act against their own self interests to achieve it?

Another important point is that characters can be motivated by a lie, either someone else's or their own subconscious lie. Also, they do not have to be aware of their goal or motivation; they can be subconscious.

GMC is the building block for a story. Each scene should dramatically either:

(Goal) Illustrate your character's progress toward a goal,
(Motivation) Provide your character with an experience that strengthens motivation or changes motivation,
(Conflict) or bring a character into conflict with opposing forces.

There should be at least three reasons for a scene, and at least one of those reasons should be one of the above goals, motivations or conflicts.

So, how does this apply to a pitch? Knowing these things about your story and character tell you what it's about. Your first log line should address the very same question you asked yourself before: my character wants _____ because _____ , but _____ . You aren't going to phrase it that way, but it should give you an idea of what your true plot is, boiled down to the simplest form that will express the point of the story.

This is long enough that I will have to make it a multi-part post. Part II will be posted tomorrow, and will address Linda Rohrbough's Second Log Line, as well as the Pitch workshop. Before I close this post, though, I'd like to list a few references and recommended books from Debra Dixon, as well as how you can find her book directly, which is actually cheaper than from Amazon, from what I could tell.

Debra Dixon recommends these books, in order of value toward your writing:
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler (If you can find the 1st edition, it is the best version.)
GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon (via or
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain
Fiction is Folks by Robert Newton Peck (This is out of print, but worth finding.)

Happy Writing!


  1. Excellent post! Sounds like a great conference!

  2. What a great recap! I think you took better notes than I did. I'll have to fill them in from your post!


  3. Awesomely concise. (=

    Great post.

  4. L.J., thank you, it was!

    Debbie, I felt the same about your synopsis post!

    Jo, thank you!

  5. Nice job summarizing the main points. I read this book last summer and it taught me a lot. Of course, then there was the colossal blunder where sent my GMC chart (complete with adultery and other such behaviors) to my entire church prayer chain. Yup. Horridly embarrassing...but it might encourage you to see your own blunders topped by a colossal one...

    Tina @ Life is Good