Monday, 14 March 2011

The Twitter Query

There are plenty of great articles out there on writing a pitch, but in this article I’m talking about pitching Twitter-style.

The set-up

Agent Jennifer Laughran (@literatictat on Twitter) hosted a challenge asking followers to tweet their query. It turned out to be ridiculously difficult. And with my alarm clock still buzzing in my ears, my groggy brain came up with slop instead of a real pitch. First lesson: have your 140-character queries written and ready, in case you need to tweet it!

Laughran retweeted queries she liked, for example this one by Jo Hart (@gracefuldoe): Geek girl moves school, changes image & becomes popular. Only problem: at this school popular kids are turning up dead. YA.

Breaking it down

What works about this? Let’s look at each part.

We have the character: Geek girl.

We have the setting: New school

We have her initial goal: To be popular. (And I know it’s her goal, rather than something that just happened to her, because she changed her image. It was a deliberate action. This tells us popularity was something she aimed for.)

So far, the story’s looking pretty cliché – a riches to rags kind of tale that’s been retold a thousand times.

But here comes the catch: At this school popular kids are turning up dead. The stakes are implied – the protagonist’s life is at risk. Following on from this, the protagonist’s new goal is also implied – she will have to find out why the popular kids are turning up dead. Implied motivation? So she doesn’t die herself.

Try it out

With tweeted queries, it’s impossible to give a good idea of your character or plot, and you’ll have to use short, descriptive words. Pare the story down to its core. What is the main objective of your protagonist? What are the stakes? (And whatever you do, don’t use words like “to protect” or “to survive”, because they’re not solid goals).

I’ll use my current WiP as an example:

My protagonist: Teenage girl

The setting: Heart of Shadowglen city

Her initial goal: Find her runaway sister

Catch: Cursed by princess who wants her to kill a beast, and says doing so will lead her to her sister

New goal: Kill a beast

So: A teenage girl is cursed by a mysterious princess, who claims she must use the curse to kill a beast and find her runaway sister.

Right length, but the set up looks awkward, and it probably still has too many elements. It’s no good trying to explain how the curse can help the protagonist kill a beast (or how killing the beast will lead her to her sister) in 140 characters. I could expand more on the mood, go into less description about her sister, and get rid of the princess altogether.

To save her runaway sister, a teenage girl must kill the beast that lurks in the dark streets of Shadowglen city.

Checklist: Character, setting (not always necessary), stakes, goals.

Much, much harder than it sounds! Have a go in the comments, and make sure it can fit into a tweet!

Jo Hart doesn’t just write a great Twitter-Pitch, she also has a fabulous website, which can be found here. Make sure you drop by!

The follow up article on the Tweet-a-Query challenge by Jennifer Laughran can be found here.


  1. Young girl is scheduled to die in a society where life is on a Countdown. She lives and learns the truth about the Countdowns.

    wah, my story sounds so boring like that D:

  2. Keep at it, Meg! Your premise is fantastic, you just need to work on the wording. (Told you it was hard...)

  3. It sure is! You should try it.

  4. OK, I'll try. Recovering from rape with the help of her friends, tomboy DJ finds herself pregnant and falling in love for the first time.

  5. Wow, Vicki, that promises to be an emotional rollercoaster of a book!

  6. Well, that's unbelievably hard! Hmmm. Here goes....
    Girl watches a murderer marry her sister; then watches him kill her too. Little sister + souls of his victims ensure he won’t kill again.

  7. A teenage girl who is part-machine must unveil her past and risk her life to keep the prince out of a marriage alliance with an evil queen.

    Hahaha, that is hard!! Although mine is so concept-based, I'm tempted to just say "It's a futuristic retelling of Cinderella, in which Cinderella is a cyborg." It just seems to get the point across so well. ^_^

  8. Verbenabeth - Oh goodness! Sounds like I'd be crying through that book!

    Marissa - yup, always the easiest way to go. But I do like your first attempt :)

  9. Fascinating. Ok, let's see now...

    Ghost enlists help of BF so that she may RIP. They hate everything about each other. And someone is out for both living and dead.

  10. Katya -

    So let me get this straight. There's a ghost. She's asking her boyfriend (or best friend?) for help so she can rest in peace. But she and her boyfriend hate each other? And something wants to kill them both?

    Did I understand that correctly?

  11. LOVED this post! Great breakdown/analysis of the (micro-)query, very useful. I'm a little too shy to post my own though :")

  12. Aw, don't be shy, Jen! I promise I won't bite :)

  13. Another helpful post! I used to think a Twitter-lengthed summary would be easy to make. But then when you broke it down, it sounded really fun. And then when I tried it, it was uber hard and the end product sounds stupid.

    Female teen espionage agent and parter infiltrate boarding school to ascertain possible teen millionaire behind parents' disappearance. YA.

    Um, boring and bland and yuck much?

    What about....

    17 year old female spy infiltrates local boarding school to uncover information regarding missing millionaires... from their daughter. YA.

    Eh. Like it better than the last one, but doesn't mention the boy so how are people supposed to know about Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabe??

  14. Well, that's the thing. The first story isn't about Gabe, is it? The romance in E1 is more of a subplot, or maybe even non-existent. The bare minimum of your story is about Isla and Erin, so I think Gabe doesn't need to be in the twitter-query.

  15. Oooh good point! I am SO going to be spending all day doing this excercise again and again. On the bus, in class, during recess and lunch, in academic tutorials, in my free periods, on the toilet... lol jks. Someone else can do it while I dicate then.


  16. Wow, typos much? *all day tomorrow and *dictate to them

    Sorry, it's late :S