Last time, I talked about character, who your protagonist is at the start of the story and the world they live in. Now, though, the pitch has to address the catalyst.
Superstar agent Kristin Nelson defines the catalyst as the one single plot event that sets the rest of the story in motion. This is the thing that breaks your main character’s status quo and lets everything else unfold. Every novel has one, though some are easier to find than others.
The Hunger Games really begins with Katniss’s sister Prim being selected as tribute. This prompts Katniss to volunteer in her place. Harry Potter starts when his parents are murdered (you could probably make an argument for other events, too, but looking specifically at the events of book one, this fits). Divergent begins when Tris’s tests come back abnormal.
So, how do you clearly communicate your catalyst in your pitch? Here’s how the couple of authors we’ve been looking at did it:
For STEERING TOWARD NORMAL:
Diggy’s life may not be typical, but he’s content. He hangs out with Pop and the county’s farmers, raises steers to compete, and daydreams about July Johnston, high school senior and girl of his dreams. Hardly anyone teases him anymore about how his mom abandoned him on Pop’s doorstep and skipped town on a tractor.
Then Wayne gets dumped at Pop’s, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half brother messing things up.
For THE MIDNIGHT THIEF:
To Kyra, high walls and locked doors are not obstacles, but invitations. She specializes in nighttime raids, using her sharp senses and extraordinary agility to break into Forge’s most well-guarded homes.
Then she meets James, the deadly but intriguing Head of the Assassin’s Guild. He has a job for Kyra: infiltrate the supposedly impenetrable Palace compound. The pay is good, and the challenge appealing. It’s the perfect job for someone of her talents.
In both cases, the protagonist’s life changes when someone new enters the picture and shakes things up. Your catalyst doesn’t have to be the introduction of a new person. It could be a death, the arrival of a letter, the outbreak of a war. In one to two sentences, what happens to shake your protagonist’s world and get the story rolling?