The SCQA of pitching

baseball pitcherRegular visitors will know I am a big fan of structure and the simplicity (yet power) of Barbara Minto’s SCQA. I was recently asked to pitch some short stories by a publisher (more later if any sell!) and the point was made they need only be a few sentences, the sort of thing you’d see on an advert.

This got me thinking about the essence of distilling a story to a hook. Cue SCQA!

Example summary of a book in SCQA

All writers should be lazy (more another day). If you write something, make sure it has plenty of uses. If you write a pitch, why can’t it also be the advert text or the beginning of the blurb on the back of your book? If you’ve condensed an idea down to essentials once, that is the heart of the story!

Let’s take a Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles:

The Baskerville family is haunted by a phantom beast “with blazing eyes and dripping jaws” which roams the mist-enshrouded moors around the isolated Baskerville Hall on Dartmoor. Now the hound seems to be stalking young Sir Henry, the new master of the Baskerville estate. Is this devilish spectre the manifestation of the family curse? Or is Sir Henry the victim of a vile and scheming murderer? Only Sherlock Holmes can solve this devilish affair.

Let’s decompose:

Situation: A family curse

Complication: the hound is stalking young Sir Henry

Question: What’s to be done?

Answer: Send for Sherlock Holmes!

Now Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had the advantage of a popular and distinct character, but the pattern is there. The SC part of SCQA sets us up and the aim of the writer should be for the would-be reader to think What happens? (the Q) and I’d better read it (the A). Note the Q&A here are ours as the writer. The story needs its own Q&A, which should be similar in terms of the the Q and the A should be this story.

This is all about hooking first the publisher, then the reader.

Real life

As to me I pitched four short story ideas, two I have been asked to outline, a third was OK but someone else had pitched something similar. The fourth didn’t appeal to the publisher (not everybody likes everything). It may be a single experiment but I like the results!


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