Monday, December 30, 2013

The Perfectly Painless Pitch Practice game!

With all the Twitter pitch contests coming up, ready to test your ability to boil your story down to 140 characters or less, I figured I'd share something with you all.

Something that'll change your life.

And the way you pitch.

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Step right up and experience the one and only PPPPG!

*For the full effect, imagine I said that in a creepy carnival game operator's voice.*

Beetlejuice may not have been the ideal pain-free example, but I wasn't lying when I said my game is perfectly painless. And it's really fun, too! The best part, though, is that it will definitely help you hone your pitch. 

Here's how it works:

Take a sheet of paper and make 2 columns. Each column will have it's own heading. The headings will look like this:

  1. Column 1: just pick a random person, group of people, or place. This can be very specific (like Bruce Willis, The U.S. Navy, or Waffle House) or generic (a Chihuahua, people, or a lemonade stand).
  2. Column 2: the more specific you can get here, the funnier the outcome. Sure, you can say "goes to work," but why not turn that blah into an ah! by writing "races her coworkers to the factory on a jet-powered pogo stick?" 

The next step is to fill the columns. If you're a whip-cracking taskmaster, you can set a time limit. Say, one minute for each column. If you're more like me, then just go for 6 items under each heading. You'll need a minimum of 3 actions and 2 characters to create one complete pitch. So if you want to create more than one, go for multiplies of  those numbers. If you've forgotten what multiples are, then I'd like to direct you to

Okay, so after you've created your list, here's what you do. Simply fill in the blanks below with the items in your list. If you worked with another person or a group, this becomes less like homework and more like a party game. Because these will get crazy. 

Crazy FUN, that is. 

You may need to add in a small word here and there to make it really work, but that should be fairly easy to do. 

At this point, you may be thinking, "How is this gonna help me with my pitch?"

Well, it's simple practice. It's taking all of these disconnected elements and plugging them in where they go to find the story within a bunch of random lines. And if you can do that with the items you came up with, then creating a pitch for your own story will be a piece of cake.

Just for fun, I included a bunch of pitches that my wife and I came up with while playing this game. I think some of these need to be outlined and written. Because they are AMAZEBALLS.

When the US government passes a law to legalize mullets, Cary Elwes must impregnate the last women on Earth in order to become the King of the Owls.

When 10,000 Mitt Romney clones catch the T-Virus, the world’s oldest rapper must win a hotdog eating contest in order to stop the devil from getting his own cooking show.

When children all over the world begin blogging, the British must hire Christian Grey as the new Kindergarten teacher in order to learn a new language in 6 weeks.

When butt fat is discovered as a cure for cancer, a couple in desperate need of counseling must sail to Sandwich Islands in order to keep the robots out for good.

When a tribe of pygmies runs for Congress, zombie miners must punch a hole in the sun in order to defeat Dr. Seuss.

When Wal-Mart files chapter 11, a pirate with a fear of wood and water must grow mustaches of golden fleece in order to save the internet.

When our nation’s farms begin growing bellybuttons instead of crops, an a capella group must forcefeed Jason Statham an entire box of Lucky Charms in order to find Miley Cyrus's lost sandal.

When Furbies become sentient, an adorable child with a lisp must find Waldo in order to bring the lost puppy back home.

Happy pitching!

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Great Question: What Is An Appropriate Middle Grade Word Count?

Middle Grade is a tricky category for many, many reasons. We haven’t been twelve-year-old kids in a very long time (some longer than others) so being authentic is probably the most realistic concern for new (or old) MG writers.  Nailing the voice. Knowing how kids really think. Knowing what will actually interest a kid of that age. All legitimate concerns.

So I find it ironic that the biggest questions I had when I first started writing middle grade was about word count.

This partially has to do with the fact that publishing has some strict guidelines, break them and you very well may lose out on the possibility of finding a publisher for your book. But the other reason is because the answers I’ve found we’re all over the place.

Writer’s Digest, for example, says 20,000 – 45,000 words, but I’ve seen quite a few middle grade books find success with word counts as high at 70,000 recently. One agent I asked didn’t give a firm answer but mentioned that 40,000 words was on the low side. Agents don’t seem to be worried about a word count closer to 70-80k anymore.

I kind of obsessed about this issue at first. I just wanted to know what to aim for. If I end up with 30,000 words do I need to fight to expand the plot? If I write 80,000 words do I need to split it into two books or just cut a few scenes?

So, I asked around, read lots of blog posts, even asked agents when I had the opportunity. This is the answer I came up with: it’s changing.

The middle grade category is changing, growing, as we speak. The extreme blow up of the Young Adult category has had an effect on many categories around it, including middle grade.  Agent Pam van hylckama vlieg says that YA and MG are "so closely related anymore. MGers are reading The Hunger Games for example”.

Upper MG is the next step down from YA, filling in the gaps between the two categories. So it makes sense for word counts to be doing the same.

So what’s the answer here?

The answer is that it depends. Middle Grade word counts are trending up, yes. But does that mean a light middle grade contemporary should be 60,000 words? No. But I doubt an agent would turn up their nose if it was.

The range for middle grade is very wide right now. Contemporary stories are usually shorter than speculative fiction but in general the sweet spot for a middle grade novel is 40,000-60,000 words. Anything inside that range shouldn’t raise any eyebrows. But even as low as 30,000 or as high as 70,000 is still saleable. 

 It’s never fun to find yourself worrying about how long your book is instead of the characters, voice, plot, concept etc. but it is an issue to think about if you are serious about getting published. In a few years this post very well may be outdated and there will be a clear line for middle grade word count. Until then, or until you have an agent to advise you on how long is too long, keep a look out. Pay attention to the length of books selling to publishers, catching agents, sitting on shelves.

2013                                                             2013
Word count: 47642                                      Word count: 73438

 2012                                                                  2012
Word Count: 98578                                           Word Count:  52395

(This website is great for looking up word counts. Not all books are listed but I’ve found most are.

But most of all, write the best book you can. Write the length that is right for your book and only worry about word count if you end up in one of the extremes, way too long or way too short. There are more important things to stress over!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Battle of the Sexes - Breaking Down Gender Differences


It's the age old battle of the sexes. We all know men and women are wired differently. They think differently, speak differently, and even react differently. So how can we fuel our writing using some of those differences? Here are some generalizations for males vs females that can help with writing the opposite sex. Let the battle of the sexes begin!

Male dialogue is usually shorter and snappier. Females tend to be a little more long winded.


Guys tend to hide their real feelings or lash out and explode when they get mad. Fights with guys don't last very long. They get it out and it's usually over. Girls tend to be more emotional and more in touch with their feelings. Fights can stretch on for a long time. They hold grudges.

Girls are better communicators then guys. They talk through issues, try to come to logical conclusions, and even effectively use nonverbal cues. Guys are less chatty and don't always pick up on the nonverbal clues in a conversation. They have an easier time understanding the emotion if it's verbally expressed.

Attention to Detail
Girls notice details and tend to make more comparisons. They notice what people are wearing, and their surroundings. They are more landmark driven. With guys what you see is what you get. They are directionally and spatially driven. They also tend to be more broad about how they view things.

Example: Guys aren't as good with colors.
A girl might say "Wow, I love your indigo scarf."
A guy would prob just say "You look nice." (but if you asked them what the color of the scarf was they'd probably say blue.)

Guys can usually focus on one issue at a time. Girls are thinking about all the possible outcomes as well as eight other unrelated issues. Girls are often multitaskers so they can often get overwhelmed faster.

Girls tend to be more serious with their friends. Everything can be a big deal. There's secrets backstabbing and drama. Guys tend to joke around more. They don't usually buy into gossip and rumors, but they will believe bold faced lies if they are presented confidently and without question.

In stressful situations, guys tend to go back to primal instincts, the fight or flight response while girls are more nurturing.

Girls tend to have better memories than guys (sorry guys!), especially when it comes to recall of pictures, words, and day to day activities. Where men excel in memory is spatially. They are more likely to remember where they parked the car or how to find their way back somewhere that they've been before.

These are just a few examples of how guys and girls think and act differently. Oh course they are generalizations and not every male/female will fit into this mold. There are no firm rules, but these are good guidelines to start off with. Feel free to share more in the comments!