Why an Elevator

Often times we are told to condense a business proposal, a company service, a new product idea, and yes, your new novel into a short ‘elevator pitch’ and nothing more. Even marriage proposals should be elevator pitches. In the literary world, we know this abbreviated proposal as The Hook of your story.

Well, let’s look at the elevator pitch a little deeper than, or should that be higher?

I’ll begin with a fun factoid: The fastest elevator in the world is in the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre skyscraper in Guangzhou, China. It climbs about 95 floors (1,443 feet) in 43 seconds at a speed of 45 miles per hour. It would take a person (in decent shape) 30 minutes to climb that height in steps. Unless you suffer from elevataphobia (my word for a mix of claustrophobia and agoraphobia), you would certainly prefer a 43 second ride to the dulcet sounds of Kenny G than a heart pounding 30-minute stairwell climb.

Let’s dial it back to the average elevator. Elevators today travel at around 10 miles per hour or 14 feet per second. A 20-story climb takes about 22 seconds. That is your typical time frame for the elevator pitch. Step into the elevator with me. “Okay, kid, you have twenty stories to tell me your idea.”

Let’s translate that into a literary Hook. 22 seconds is about 50 words. Yes, 50 words to convince someone you have a promising manuscript. Wait, my book is 410 pages. Nobody said it was going to be easy. Maybe I can help.

Unlike a business, product or service that needs to be sold, a literary Hook is not the time to ‘sell’ your idea. It is the time you are given to inspire, move and even seduce the listener/reader with your idea, your passion, and your enthusiasm. Convince them that you see the world in a most fabulous and different way that they need to know about. And you need to do this with beautifully written and captivating words. Well, that sounds easy. No, it sounds harder than climbing the Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre stairwell. If you want to learn anything from this blog, read this paragraph about six more times.

I’ve written television shows, cartoon strips, screenplays, novels and stage plays and every one of those projects required a short, very short synopsis, i.e., Hook, to convince the producer or publisher is was worthy. Here’s how I approach it.

I said that 410-page novel (about 102,000 words) needs to go down into 50 words? I say start by bringing it down to one word. Yes, one. Finish this phrase with just one word: My book is about __________________. Revenge. Lust. Quest. Pain. Companionship. War. Conquest. Protection. Redemption. Recovery. Let the essence of your manuscript birth the word. Then add to the one word the character(s) who execute that word and why. Next, add the counterparts to whom or for whom the character(s) are executing the word. Finish by adding the why and how (and the where if necessary) the word is executed. As you build this one word into 4, 8, 20 words and so forth, you’ll find yourself doing an act of addition or building instead of one of subtraction and attrition of your 410 pages. I find it to be a much easier process.

I wrote and produced a musical stage production (for puppets) called 7, 8, 9 and 10. It is a story about a child who cared only about how many presents he was getting for Christmas. When he discovers his parents had hidden away ten presents for his brother, but only 6 for himself, he embarks on an adventure to procure the ‘missing’ four presents. Here’s how I would build the hook.

My one word: Greed.

My character: Selfish 8-year old Petey Blankenship wants more.

Counterparts: Parents who mistakenly shortchanged their son of presents

Why the Greed: It’s only right that Petey should get his fair share.

How: Petey will beg, borrow and steal to make things right, risking soul and sanity.

The Hook: Petulant Petey Blankenship turns Christmas upside-down when he discovers his parents’ hideaway of pending presents with his name on four less gifts than his brother. The eight-year-old embarks on a madcap mission of mischief to right the imbalance, only to discover he didn’t know what the season is about.

50 words.

What was a two-hour musical production has been boiled down into 50 words. I probably only need 18 of those 20 floors to get this one out. Try it with your manuscript. Find the word. Read the aforementioned paragraph another few times and make it a quick trip to greater heights for your listener/reader.