THE FIVE FINGER PITCH
A story has five elements: Setting, Protagonist, Goal, Obstacles and Resolution.
If you miss any one of these elements, you will not have a complete, or satisfying story to tell. They are the ‘bare bones’ of any story and if you had to ‘pitch’ your story idea to someone in just a single paragraph, these elements would succinctly tell them what your story is about.
For example, my teen novel FREEN: The First Truth is set in (setting) Eastbourne and is the story of fourteen-year-old (protagonist) Gem, who discovers that her necklace is the key to an ancient secret. She and her friends (goal) want to reveal the truth to the world, however, (obstacle) Government agents are after them and they must (resolution) decide if the truth is worth telling.
SETTING (time period and/or location) – is the story set in a specific or recognisable time period, geographical location or other world? This should be clear and will affect the direction, style of writing and possibly, the word-count.
PROTAGONIST (the main character) – every story needs a main character, i.e. the character whose point of view (PoV) is most prevalent and that your readers can become emotionally invested in.
GOAL – What is your protagonist trying to do? They need a goal, a wish, a desire or a need that makes the ‘story’. This could be; escaping from a bad relationship, finding a lost treasure, discovering their true identity or, even simply getting through year five at school – but that goal should be clear because the reader needs to be rooting for them to succeed.
OBSTACLES (or events) – Who or what is stopping, or making it difficult for the protagonist to achieve their goal? Obstacles can come from a single or multiple sources and can even be some aspect of the protagonists’ character that becomes the obstacle. Without an obstacle, a story would not be much of a story.
The RESOLUTION – How does your protagonist achieve their goal, despite the obstacles? Perhaps they don’t achieve their goal but, the resolution is their acceptance of this fact.
Pretty much every story can be summarised using the ‘five finger pitch’.
Test this theory out: consider a few books and/or films you have recently read or watched and see if you can identify your own answers to the following questions (in bold). Remember to think about the overall picture, rather than the specific details:
Film/Novel title: ET (science fiction film by Steven Spielberg)
Setting: Suburban California
Protagonist: the story is from the point of view of Elliot, the young boy who finds the alien.
Goal: Elliot is trying to get the alien (ET) back home
Obstacles: The government agencies who want to capture the alien
Satisfactory resolution: ET goes home
Children’s stories still have all the same five key elements, but without the complexity that an adult story/novel might have.
Novel title: Mog, The forgetful Cat (a children’s story by the much loved Judith Kerr)
Setting: Mog lives with Mr and Mrs Thomas and their children in an ordinary house England.
Protagonist: Mog The Forgetful Cat
Goal: For everyone to love and appreciate her.
Obstacles: Mog is forgetful, and that gets her into all sorts of trouble with her owners.
Satisfactory resolution: Mog alerts the family to a burglar and becomes a hero, which makes everyone appreciate her and love her more.
You are going to use a Five Finger Pitch to plot and then write your own short story of around 500 words, using one of the improbable scenarios listed 1 to 5 below. Remember to describe what you see, how you feel and any smells, sounds or sensations you might experience too.
PROTAGONIST You are the main character.
GOAL You have an important meeting that you must attend, this afternoon – your future depends on it.
SETTING When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t in my bedroom…..
Now select an OBSTACLE from numbers 1 to 5 below. You could randomise your selection by throwing a dice (create your own scenario if you throw a 6).
1 … I was clinging to the branch of a tree, in a jungle full of dangerous creatures and poisonous plants.
2 … My bed was a boat and I was in the middle of a choppy ocean, surrounded by sharks.
3 … I was on the moon with a broken spacecraft and a rather angry alien.
4 … I was trapped in a cage, hanging from the ceiling of a castle, surrounded by guards shouting, “Off with their head”.
5 … I was running through a network of underground tunnels, being chased by angry trolls.
RESOLUTION How will you get out of your predicament and arrive at your meeting on time?
Remember, this is your story and you can write your way out using absolutely any escape plan you can think of – be imaginative – crazy even – push yourself to be as daft and inventive as possible.
I would love to hear your stories, please do feel free to post them in the comments below.
So let’s see some of your examples of your exercise 2 stories below.
Ok here’s my attempt. Just under 500 words – I threw a 4. When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t in my bedroom, I was trapped in a cage, hanging from the ceiling of a castle, surrounded by guards shouting, “Off with her head”. It was entirely my fault I know; I should never have attempted it – what was I thinking. So many before had lost their lives trying to steal the secret recipe, but as usual I let my greed get the better of me. What’s more even if I survive this day; it’ll be for nothing.… Read more »
Thank you. Love it! You made me fear for your character, it seemed like a life and death situation, but the delicious twist was that it was all for a spaghetti bolognese recipe, which she didn’t get, although she did get to the meeting in time. Great fun. One erroneous word – you left in either ‘the’ or ‘his’ by mistake in 4th paragraph: ‘taken the secret tunnel from the his’.
Thank you for the opportunity. I have always wanted to write my own book but fear and life got in the way so I am finally taking the next step. My story is rough and I am just starting out but here goes; Was this really happening as I could swear that someone just shouted off with their heads. Where am I and why does everything smell so horrible? What was that smell and what am I wearing? My thoughts were interrupted by a surly looking character. “Your Highness these two have been found fornicating in the woods behind the… Read more »
You story did me laugh, the poor girl allegedly caught ‘fornicating’ in the woods with a man she has never met. The dialogue was great fun and you can feel the frustration as Sage tries to work out where she is, what has happened and how to extricate herself from the situation all at once. Lovely twist at the end when she wakes up in the middle of the meeting she has to get to.
Typo 8 paragraphs up from the bottom, ‘I can provide safe carriage for the price of cause‘ ….should be ‘of course‘
Thank you for the feedback, really appreciate it. I did not see my story going in that direction at all. I have fixed the typo.
I never would have believed in a zillion years I would be running around like a headless chicken in a darkened maze trying to get to my destination like Poppy from Disney’s Trolls movie. What in blue blazers am I doing? Is this an alternate universe or some kind of hypnotic dream? I can’t make heads or tails of what this is about, all I know is I have a video call meeting later today and I have to get my behind looking presentable before that happens. Our lives literally depend on it. The smell of the wet sand reminds… Read more »
I really like the way your character has reminisced about her Gran in her moment of need and that has given her a way to get through the maze. It works to endear the reader to your character and gives them an insight into her personality. (I am assuming the character is a ‘she’, but I may be wrong).
1st paragraph, second sentence ‘blue blazers‘ should be ‘blue blazes‘ (no ‘r’)
Thank you so much Diny for the opportunity. I am excited to learn more and grow more. Blessings to you always
Hi Diny and others. Here is my attempt at the ocean scenario. Not very creative, but I am so rusty! A little over 500, sorry. When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t in my bed. I was in a boat, in the middle of the choppy ocean surrounded by sharks. Well at least that’s what it felt like! Where was I and what day was it! Lock down had become my ocean of uncertainty and my family had become the sharks, craving my attention and ripping me to shreds! My dream was so vivid! I love my family, before… Read more »
Hi Tash, this is great – I really like how you have used the circling sharks as a metaphor, rather than a ‘Jaws’ scene (and, oh my goodness, do I understand how your character feels!). You have turned the mundane daily routine into a dire situation, but then turned it on its head, at the end when your littlest shark (referring to them as ‘Sharky’ really works well in the context of this story), says the thing you, as a sensible and cautious adult, dare not say. Very poignant and entertaining. Also, struck a chord with me because my youngest… Read more »
Hi Diny. Thanks so much for your positive feedback! Yes, I initially thought to do that, but wasn’t sure of the ways and procedures. (Rusty Nut) Thanks for the feedback! I really appreciate this so much. Just for me as a person, to have my own thoughts seen as something to enjoy, is immensely satisfying. Huge Thanks!
Hi , here is my attempt. I threw a five , I went just a little over five hundred words , I got a little carried away. I was running through a network of tunnels , being chased by angry trolls. How did I end up here ? this is how it started . Nothing more peaceful than a quiet walk through the forest. I know I’m not supposed to be here but it is the only place I can get away from my brat siblings. Fire flies? It is not night yet , it is still mid-afternoon . Weird… Read more »
Hi Ethan, thank you. Your story really drew me into a fantasy realm and the constant action made it an exhilarating read – I love that you took the reader on a ‘roller coaster’ of emotion, ramping up the fear factor as the story neared it’s end. There was a nice moment when the main character appreciates the brave sentiment of the small boy who wants them to enter the Enchanted Forest to get away from the trolls – it serves to remind the reader of the frailty of the villagers against the trolls. A really good action piece. One… Read more »
Hi,Diny.I have done another story called creature I just sent it in now . It is called creature.
Apologies for not getting back to you with your story – I will look at it this weekend and get some feedback to you.
Beep! Beep! My alarm wastes no time, its 06:30, my alarm clocking sounding to far from me. I try to it with my eyes closed but no success. Wait! I can’t reach my alarm! Something is strange. I didn’t have much to drink last night, just two glasses nothing major. I quickly open my eyes and be my amazement my hands and feet are tied up. Where I am? How did I get here? Am I dreaming? I must be dreaming. I quickly shut my eyes and slowly reopen them. This is no dream. I woke up this morning and… Read more »
Hi Boitumelo, thank you. You have some fantastically vivid descriptions, such as, ‘I could taste the vomit ready to décor the tunnel floor and detox me from the wine I had last night’ and I was really intrigued by the fact that one of the trolls seems gentle and possibly empathetic as your character jumps into the sewage (you really produce a ‘yuk’ factor with that!) – it makes a story richer if all the ‘bad’ characters are not necessarily as ‘bad’ as each other. A good ending too, with the whole horrible event causing your character to have a… Read more »
Thank you so much. I will definitely looking at the typos and correct them.