The 50-word elevator pitch

The 50-word elevator pitch:

Basic story elements and a two-sentence novel summary

Writing a 50-word summary is good to help you condense your thoughts and themes for your novel. This summary can be used when you pitch to editors or agents, and it can also be used in a query letter to an editor or agent.

Swain gives this excellent method to come up with a 2-sentence (or 50-word) summary of your novel. This can be done before you write it or afterward, whichever works best for your writing style.

This is similar to steps 1 and 2 of Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake method:

Each novel typically has five basic story elements:

Character--Your protagonist or focal character. You can sometimes have two protagonists, but even then, often the story of one character is slightly more dominant than the other.

Situation--The troubling situation your character is stuck in that forces him to act.

Objective--What your character desires and strives for. It could be something he wants to retain/protect or attain, which is endangered.

Opponent--Your antagonist who works directly against your protagonist's objective. An antagonist who simply makes general "trouble" is not as vibrant a character as one who deliberately works against what your hero/heroine is working toward, someone who resists and fights back.

Disaster--The climax of your story, the Black Moment, the point at which everything is Hopelessly Lost.

You take these five elements and craft them into two simple sentences, and voila! You have a 10-second blurb to tell an agent or editor at a writer's conference that completely sums up your novel's plot.

Sentence one states character, situation, and objective. Sentence two is a yes/no question that asks if character can overcome opponent and disaster.


Character--Sydney Bristow, secret agent

Situation--Discovers she's been tricked into thinking she's working for the CIA when in truth it's a terrorist agency

Objective-- To topple the powerful organization called the Alliance by working as a double agent

Opponent--her boss Arvin Sloan, who has been a family friend for years, who lied to her about her job

Disaster--Sloane suspects her because she told her fiancé, and he had him killed.

After discovering she was tricked into thinking she's working for the CIA, agent Sydney Bristow becomes a double agent, determined to take down the terrorist group called the Alliance. But can she fool her boss Arvin Sloane when he kills her fiancé and suspects her enough to kill her?

There is also the “What If?” method:

One or two sentences asking “What if...?” to pique listener interest in the outcome of the storyline.

What if agent Sydney Bristow discovers her boss Arvin Sloane had tricked her into thinking she worked for the CIA and ordered her fiancé killed? And what if she now has to return to work for her lover’s murderer as a double-agent in order to take down the terrorist group called the Alliance?

Please note: These are just a devices for writing a novel or summarizing it's main parts. They’re not the only way to go about doing things, but either method can help a writer break down a story into basic elements.

Your turn! Write a two-sentence summary for your work in progress or a manuscript you've completed.

Next: Beginning Your Novel part one

NOTE: Information in this article is taken from the classic Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain.

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  1. Great site, great info.


  2. Thanks, Camy, for the reminders of what works. I hate writing these - but it's like flossing. So important for the health of the MS. Thanks again for the prod.
    ~Katie V.

  3. Thanks. This is a wonderful way to breakdown the components of a pitch. It's still soooo hard to limit it to 50 words. I have a scheduled five minute pitch appointment with an agent in a few days. Any other words of advice?

  4. This will be hard to do, but really try to make yourself relax. The more tense you are, the worse things end up coming out of your mouth. :)

  5. Thanks for using ALIAS as the example, I loved that show :)

  6. Great tips! I'm printing them now. Hope to use them at the ACFW conference this year.


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