Wednesday, September 30, 2015

PitchWars - On Winning and the First Week's New Writing Tools

This is what it felt like, the night the PitchWars list was released.

In the first week we mentees were high-fiving all around, and the haze of celebration was thick and heady plus infused with disbelief. Me? My MS? The one I have sweated blood and tears for? You chose me?

**Breaks down sobbing grateful tears of relief that someone has seen beauty where so many before have seen dreck**

We, the 2015 PitchWars Mentees, introduced ourselves, started a secret-squirrel Facebook group and pinched ourselves because now WE were UP IN DA CLUB. (I don't often speak like 50Cent, but somehow that seemed appropriate here, go figure)

And then the work began.

My mentor, the incredible Kendra Young, began by sending me a spreadsheet.

I am a plotter by nature and I love outlines, but had never considered the spreadsheet because they're for bean counters, AmIright? They're rife with numbers and data and other inscrutable things.

But yanno what? It was a beautiful thing.

Because I was beset, bedeviled even, by structural problems I didn't know how to fix. And Kendra, with her laser vision, saw that right away. And she also saw, because she is a  teacher, that the best way for me to fix my problems was to engineer the solution myself.

In other words, working through her spreadsheet allowed me to excavate the weaknesses in a way I could never have seen just by copious re-reads of my ms.


This spreadsheet helped me gauge not just the goal of each chapter but also the tension and action levels. And there it was in column form - places where the tension level was too low for too long. Chapters whose goals were too similar or repetitive or unclear.

Boom again.

From that spreadsheet, we went to yet another, one some of you may already know but I was unfamiliar with - from Larry Brooks's Story Engineering. This lovely little Excel allowed me to enter my total word and page count, and then spit out an exact blueprint of where I was supposed to hit milestones - plot and pinch points, etc.

Armed with spreadsheet data and new ideas for tightening plot, strengthening and clarifying my antagonist, and streamlining the number of flat characters, I was off to the races. And Kendra was right by my side the whole time, offering insight, asking all the right questions, and suggesting some of the key ideas that ultimately shaped where SPOOKY JANE is today.

So - perhaps it's been said a few thousand times, perhaps it gets old. But Pitch Wars DOES change lives. Within one week of learning I'd been chosen, I was already a stronger, more educated writer with more powerful tools at my disposal.

Thank you doesn't begin to cover it. Thank you Kendra, thank you Brenda Drake. And thank you to the data which has given my creativity a new lease on life.

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