Perfecting Your Story Pitch with Lil Chase

I was lucky enough to attend a SCBWI workshop a few weeks ago given by Lil Chase, entitled ‘Books that Sell Well’. I was so impressed with what Lil had to say, I asked if she could share the essence of her workshop with you guys.

I’m grateful to her for not only saying ‘yes’, but also offering a prize for the best pitch.

The Importance of the Word ‘But’


The word ‘but’ is the most important word in your pitch.

If you’re about to submit to an agent or publisher, and the document doesn’t contain the word ‘but’, you might be missing something. ‘but’ describes your story’s conflict. And a story is not a story without conflict.

Imagine a hungry mouse looking for an acorn. A lovely image maybe, but it’s not a story. Now imagine that same hungry mouse looking for an acorn BUT he is stopped by a fox who wants to eat him. Now we have a story on our hands! (The Gruffalo) Suddenly the reader of this sentence wants to know what will happen: will the mouse survive this fox encounter? If so, how? You have piqued their interest and they want to know more.


…a girl falls in love with a boy.

…four siblings walk through wardrobe into a magical world.

…an indestructible superhero wants to protect the people of earth.

Even a boy training to be a wizard is not very interesting until you give him something to butt up against. Add a but and the above becomes…

A girl falls in love with a boy but he is a vampire. [Twilight]

Four siblings walk through wardrobe into a magical world, but the world is ruled by a white witch who wants to kill them. [The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe]

An indestructible superhero wants to protect the people of earth but an evil mastermind has obtained the only substance that renders him powerless. [Superman]

Conflict can be external – your protagonist taking on a bully, a foreign spy, fighting in an intergalactic, or very real world war.

BOYS FOR BEGINNERS - single title page - FINAL     SecretsLiesLocker62 - not final

Or internal – character battling their inner demons as conscious and unconscious desires battle for control. For example, in my first book – Boys For Beginners – tomboy Gywnnie falls for the new boy at school and wants to go out with him. But when he starts thinking of her as a friend (the most offensive f-word in the English language!) Gwynnie has to change her ways and become a girlie girl to try and win his affections. Gwynnie’s conflict is internal: the pull of being true to herself versus the pull of her heart.

I found my second book – Secrets Lies & Locker 62 – much more difficult to write than my first. I’d thought of a premise; an old, abandoned, permanently locked locker in a school where everyone hides their secrets. The book is about what happens when Maya joins the school and is accidently allocated that locker, gaining access to everyone’s innermost desires.

It’s a good premise… desperately lacking a ‘but’.

Once I gave my character a goal – that she wants to join the popular group at school – the book became a lot easer to write.

So here’s the pitch:

New girl Maya wants to use the secrets she finds in locker 62 to join the popular group at Mount Selwyn High. Knowing everyone’s deepest darkests gives her a lot of power, but will she use her powers for good? Or will power corrupt her?

Can your novel be described in this rather nifty formula?

[character trait] [character name] wants to [goal] BUT…[conflict]

How you complete the sentence is up to you – it’s what makes your story unique. But this is the neatest way to describe the most important elements of a book: character, goal and conflict. And conflict is the most important of all these important elements – for children’s books especially, where story rules all.

Are you willing to show off your ‘but’s below? If not for your own book, try pitching a book that’s already published.

Go on, be brave, enter your pitch in the comments below by 12 May 2013 and the best one will win signed copies of Boys For Beginners and Secrets Lies & Locker 62.

Related Links

Review of Boys for Beginners on A Dream of Books.

More great advice from Lil over at Lime Bird Writers

About the Author


Lil Chase has a first class degree in Creative Writing from London Metropolitan University and works as an Editor in London.

Having been a pub cook and even suffered a brief stint in Disneyland Paris, she settled on a career in her first love – telling stories.

Her first novel, Boys For Beginners, started its life as a novel, written in pencil, complete with drawings, when Lil was just 11. Her writing has improved since then but her spelling has not.

Secrets Lies & Locker 62 is her second novel. Click here for a sneak peak at the book trailer.

Lil will be offering more wonderful advice at a workshop on dialogue, Talking About Talking, at the Winchester Writer’s Conference in June.

Lil lives with Stella – a fox crossed with a rat, who masquerades as a dog.

14 thoughts on “Perfecting Your Story Pitch with Lil Chase

  1. Mark says:

    Go on then…

    Professor Ejit has created the world’s first hamster tank but still needs to find the hamsters to power it. After a dastardly raid on the town pet shop it looks like nothing can stop him. But orphans Megan and Barry have other ideas. With an amazing plan involving stuffing forks into their pants they track down Professor Ejit. But can they stop him and his insane plans?


  2. catherinelumb says:

    This sounds easy…(so said I who took at least 10m crafting this pitch using Lil’s brilliant formula!)

    Pitch for my first novel – That which is left is lost
    Palliative Care Physician Dr Whalley wants to help his patient, Madeline, die with dignity but when she confesses that she deserves to die he delves into her past to try and bring together those who were most important in her life. In trying to prove to Madeline that her life was worth something he hears the stories of those she betrayed and uncovers a secret as yet untold.

    Thanks – this was a really useful exercise: I’m going to try it for ALL my stories from now on!

  3. Just a hit on my head, this is true. The word “but” is stronger in built emotions. It transforms the spirit of arguments. Thanks for your share!!

  4. Lil Chase says:

    Glad you like the post, thanks. I’m loving looking at your buts(!). Any more?

  5. Mine is a simple but…Freedom is a right but you’re not always given the choice.
    Fascinating post. Thank you

  6. First time writing a real pitch – this is for the novel I am currently working on.

    Young magical, Rafe, suddenly and unexpectedly becomes the holder of ‘The Emerald Athame’; an object used to lock away the evil Queen Zanarta who destroyed the Magicals almost 1000 years ago. Rafe’s job is to protect the Athame but, when one day he loses it, it is picked up by a Magical who wants the Queen to return.
    With his help the Queen is born again and now Rafe must find the Athame and lock away the Queen before she destroys his world for good.

    Thanks for such a great post-it was really helpful.

  7. George Kirk says:

    The worlds worst witch cat Manfred must cure his witch of her magical cold before his brother Fallacious, the world’s mast fabulous feline familiar arrives. But the witch’s magical mucus transforms everything it collides with including Manfred into a hapless, hopeless prince.

  8. Nikki Bielinski says:

    Mariah is a Witch who wants revenge for the death of her Grandmother, who was burned alive by the Witch Finder. Secretly, she has the support of friends who will help her find him. But will the Witch Finder get Mariah first?

  9. Sue Barnard says:

    The story of Romeo and Juliet is one of the world’s best-known tragedies. But was this what really happened? The chance discovery of an old manuscript suggests that their story might in fact have had a very different ending. And what exactly was the relationship between the lovers and the Friar?

  10. […] Thanks to everyone who entered the pitch competition inspired by Lil Chase’s guest post Perfecting Your Story Pitch. […]

  11. jfernando1 says:

    Nice I found your blog while looking on how to construct a workable premise for a novel I have in mind. Your idea would sure help me. Thanks.p

  12. Melvina says:

    I was suggested this website via my cousin. I’m no longer certain whether or not this post is written via
    him as nobody else know such designated about my difficulty.
    You are incredible! Thank you!

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