I have been struggling to write a novel I’ve had in the works, for coming on about 20 years. I’ve tried a zillion different angles, bunches of false starts, thought of even trying it entirely in haiku at one point, but I kept wanting to go back and set up an even cooler foreshadowing, or having something specific happen for a really awesome callback, surprise twist, better dramatic motive later on by having someone die early on so having to change the dynamics of mourning early on instead of happy hobbiton-like beginning, etc.
I had gotten so bogged down in trying to figure out the way that I wanted to tell it, and recalling how I had set up with so many other people to read over it to see what they thought, that I really most enjoyed pitching the story itself to people in summary, rather than the writing of the story itself.
One day I came up with a completely separate idea, of a fictional race whose existence hinged on a not-quite-scientifically-accurate premise, and I pitched the idea to Ask Metafilter in 2006.
Years later (appx October 2015), after trying to think of a way to tell that story in a way that worked to my liking, I decided that I liked the discussion about the future written work more than the actual writing of the written work, that I created an extremely short story based on the discussion itself: a writer and an editor are discussing the writer’s idea for a story, with its potential greatness or potential flaws, and the story is told within that framework of a narrator and an observer of the narrator.
“I can’t figure out how to write this story. The physics of it are highly questionable.”
“There’s a creature that makes first contact with mankind in present day, but they’re not aliens necessarily.”
“Do they live underground?”
“No, they travel by temperature degrees, like how we travel second by second forward through time.”
“I don’t think that’s possible.”
“And the creature didn’t think that time travelers like us could exist either, because since it defies all boundaries his science understands. He artificially extended his temperature age to reach one we can comprehend.”
“Well, there’s at least one way to tell this story.”
“Oh yeah? How?”
(and the answer to the final question, is the story itself)
Think a little how the film The Princess Bride is framed around a grandfather reading a story to a grandson, where the grandson periodically interjects questions about the story. Or, consider how the film The NeverEnding Story is centered on a boy reading a book, also observing his responses to what happens.
I was satisfied by this short discussion-of-the-story being the actual story, also partly because I had written another short story called Apology, in which the narrator describes the plight of someone who kept coming up with great ideas for a story, only to discover that someone else had beaten them to it and published/filmed/etc their version, and that he decided to write his own autobiography reasoning that surely no one else could beat him to that story — except I, the writer who invented him, beat him to it.
So, a pit-fic, or pitch-fiction, is a story that is framed within critique, troubleshooting, or otherwise discussion of a yet-non-existent story, but the discussion itself of the story is the story. It could be a great exercise to build how you want to write your story, by writing out the actual brainstorming process of the story as if it were dialogue between characters, and expressing doubts of the story’s coherence, addressing continuity issues, and other damage-control topics about the writing of the story, as an outer orbital launch vehicle transporting the payload of the story idea itself.
I would like to imagine that a publishing company could make a contest for submissions of actual novelized versions of a given pit-fic’s discussed story, and then choose, say, 1-4 winners, and publish all of those winners, with each being their own distinct universe that the original pit-fic established, using the discussion within the pit-fic as the official canon, embellishing otherwise as desired but staying true to the original pit-fic.
This pitch-fiction method is what sets the stage for my best example of one, and a set-in-stone version of the novel concept I had been agonizing over for so long — Pitching Vanguard.