20 April 2010

Old Adventures Lead to New Insights

My creative writing students have been working in the school's library the past few weeks.  As I was working on my grading and such, I noticed a small plastic container with several scraps of paper next to my computer. Always curious, I pulled out the scraps. Most of the scraps were old cards from the library card catalog.

Intrigued, I flipped through the cards. Most were duplicates.

Card CatalogOur high school library still has a card catalog, but it's in a dark corner where few students dare to venture. Most people just use an electronic database to find the books for which they are looking.

For many of us, the card catalog was where we began our adventures in literature and research, spending hours flipping through the cards looking for a subject or a particular author, writing down the book number, and then searching through the stacks to hunt down the books we were seeking.

And we would be quite disappointed once we found the spot at which the book was supposed to be and discovered it was missing.

Now, we just sit at a computer, type in an author and/or subject name, and the computer gives us instant feedback with suggestions, even telling us if the book is checked in or out and what other libraries in the area has a copy of the book we seek.

Well, as I read the discarded cards, I noticed something interesting about the section our high school librarian calls the "annotation".

Card with annotation
The "annotation" is the "pitch"--that buzz word du jour for the editor/agent meetings at conference and the opening line of that ever-important query letter.

The "pitch" is also referred to as the "log line" and the "elevator pitch".
Here are three annotations. See if they don't fit the "pitch", "long line", "elevator pitch" formula.

The Rookie Arrives by Thomas J. Byard, Puffin Books, 1989:

Cocky Ted Bell moves from being star of his high school baseball team directly into playing in the major leagues and finds that he was a lot to learn before becoming the world's greatest third baseman.

Kisses by Judith Caseley, Knopf, 1992:

Eleventh-grader Hannah, talented in music but lacking in self-confidence, comes to realize, after several unsuccessful encounters with boys, the importance of being true to oneself and of looking beyond outward appearance.

Handsome as Anything by Merrill Joan Gerber, Scholastic, 1990:

Pulled in different directions by her sisters and the three men in whom she is interested, fifteen-year-old Rachel struggles to find her own identity.

They all fit Donald Maas's requirement (and all the other editors' and agents' requirements) for the pitch line he likes to read at the beginning of query.
I've told the high school librarian to save me a few discarded card catalog cards so I can study them.

Card CatalogCollecting the discarded cards and studying them is a lot cheaper than buying a book about how to write a pitch line.

Plus, I've got a souvenir of a bygone era when the card catalog was the beginning of a library adventure and not just some dusty forgotten relic sitting in a dark and lonely forgotten corner of library.

See you on the bookshelves.

Larry Mike Garmon

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