Your Book in One Sentence.

Monday, June 6, 2011

We’ve all heard it before. Writing manuals, experts, and most importantly, agents and editors, insist if you can’t describe your novel in once sentence, you don’t have a good grip on it. Between the keyboard and your creative mind, something’s muddled.

A small part of me believes this is a bit extreme, but I understand the premise. When querying, we’ve got about a nanosecond (maybe two) to grab an agent’s attention. The one-sentence rule is not only a way for them to judge your concept but also your writing ability. Effectively jamming a 100K(ish) book into one sentence takes skill.

It dawned on me that while we all support each other’s writing, most of us don’t know much about what we’re all working on. We talk about word count and plot issues on Twitter, but always in generic terms. So I thought it would be fun to put our skills to the test and share our novels – in one sentence.

Of course as I write this, I’m already wondering if I’m supposed to include the title and genre in that one sentence. A lot to learn before querying time, obviously.

Here’s my first attempt:
Psychological thriller Light and Dark follows Emilie Davis, the victim of an attempted kidnapping, as she fights the demons of her past while searching for her stalker, a man known only as ‘The Taker.’

This sentence shows the gist of the story but leaves a lot of the meat out. There’s no mention of my co-protag or the Taker’s outstanding escape. The sub-plot of Emilie’s past issues and her big secret are barely touched. This one sentence thing is even harder than it looks. I know my book. I know it’s a plot that works. Maybe I’m over thinking as usual. What is Light and Dark really about? That’s a working title, by the way.

Second attempt:

After a strange and frightening stalker bungles a kidnapping attempt and makes one of the most daring escapes in modern Las Vegas history, Emilie Davis must face the darkness of her past to outwit the man known only as ‘The Taker.’

I like this better. I still wonder if the title and genre should be in the sentence, but this tells more about the book than my first attempt. There’s still no mention of the second protag, but Emilie is the driving force of the book. It’s her experiences that shape the second protag’s thoughts and actions.

I could have included more about where the Taker escaped two and talked about the underground world he visits, but that’s a subplot. It’s a definite point of interest and makes for a great twist, but it’s not really what the book is about.

What do you guys think? I would love feedback and constructive criticism, and I definitely want to read your one-sentence novels. Let’s help each other!

Happy Monday!

18 comments:

khashway said...

I like the second one better too. I've seen contests online where you enter your Twitter pitch. Those are tough because you only have 140 characters to work with. They're fun though!

Jen J. Danna said...

Ah, loglines... we spend so much time fretting over them! For starters, you want to sum it up the plot in one line; the title and genre are not needed here. But there's no way to do it without leaving a lot of the meat out (and that's going to include your second protagonist, for sure). Of the two attempts, the second one is definitely the stronger one in my mind. But it did leave me with a question (and you don't want that in a logline) - the stalker made one of the most daring escapes... from what? A Houdini water tank (it is Las Vegas after all)? Jail? The location of the kidnapping?

If it helps, here's the log line for my manuscript that's currently on submission, and this was how I started off many of my query letters as the hook to get the agent interested (this is also the opening to the blurb of the book as listed on my website): When a single human bone is found on a lonely stretch of coastline, a determined homicide detective and a reluctant scientist risk their lives when they join forces to bring a serial killer to justice. As you see, no title or genre. That comes in a separate section/sentence in your query letter.

Good luck with it! This is really tough stuff, no question about it...

Stacy said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. K, the contest sounds like great practice.

Jen. Duh, loglines! I could not think of the name this morning, lol. Thanks for the advice. I never thought about the question - of course you'd want to know where he escaped from.

Your logline is very good and definitely gives me something to think about.

Thanks!

Annette Gendler said...

Yes, that elevator pitch is crucial! I spent a few brainstorming sessions coming up with mine but I must say it helped tremendously in shaing the book - in my case, a memoir. A friend who has published a memoir told me it took her six months to come up with hers, so be patient!

Patrick Thunstrom said...

Randy Ingermason suggests the logline should be less than 15 words if you can manage. I hate them, but I'm getting more and more practice with them since I use a modified snowflake method for planning.

Stacy said...

Annette - I'm sure sharing the book and bouncing ideas off someone you trust is a tremendous help. I'm fortunate enough to have an amazing critique partner that's brutally honest and helpful. Thanks for the advice!

Patrick- 15 words?! Holy cow, that's a challenge. And dumb question, but what is a modified snowflake method?
Thanks!

warriorwriters said...

You need protag, antag, goal and stakes. I don't see a goal or stakes. Also, Emilie Davis means nothing to me. Who is she and why do I care?

For instance:

A fraidy cat romance author must brave the jungles of South America to rescue her kidnapped sister from murdering thieves.

That was Romancing the Stone.

Protag--fraidy cat romance author. Gives us a picture of WHO she is. We can envision her.

Antag--Murdering thieves.

Stakes--used the word "murdering" so gives a ticking clock and stakes. This is life and death.

Goal--Rescue sister

What is the goal of your protag? When anyone mentions "facing a past" that preps me to expect a lot of backstory, flashbacks and info dump which are all bad.

But if she must face the past in order to solve a future problem that is well-defined with clear objectives, that is different.

Good start. Keep refining.

Kristen Lamb

warriorwriters said...

Oh and what happens if she fails? We need a sense of that (part of stakes).

Kristen Lamb

Stacy said...

Kristen, thanks so much for taking the time to stop by. I don't have a lot of experience with loglines, so I really appreciate your breaking things down.

I know I have to cut out some back story, but learning to understand and accept her past enables my MC to outwit the antagonist. I just need to work on implementing that into the logline.

Thanks again!

Brenda said...

Thanks .. I am in the same place with my own work, the pitch. I enjoy and learn, have learned from others who are steps ahead of me. Many thanks to Kristen, as well.

Stacy said...

You're welcome, Brenda. The resources social media provides us are so amazing, aren't they?

Raising Marshmallows said...

I like the first one better. It's a cleaner more high concept description. I would remove the title and genre and follow Kristen advice above.

Stacy said...

I will definitely be following Kristen's advice. Thanks for the comment:)

Beverly Diehl said...

Hi Stacy - I think what threw me off is your link was to your blog, in general, not to the specific post. That, and it being a Monday.

"After a strange and frightening stalker bungles a kidnapping attempt and makes one of the most ... "

My problem with the above is it's almost all about the bad guy. I agree with Kristen, it's got to be about Emile, who she is, what she's trying to do.

Stacy said...

Hi Beverly! That makes sense - sorry for the confusion.

You're right, it is almost all about the bad guy. I need to work on that. Thanks for the advice!

Stacy S. Jensen said...

It's always fun trying to boil it down to one sentence. You've got a great start and great info in the comments. I recently found myself drawn to the one-sentence summary in picture books. Good luck.

Robin Lythgoe said...

Lots of good advice here -- and I need it. LOL Gotta agree with you about the amazing resources social media provides us.

Stacy said...

Thanks, Robin. I'm not sure which is harder: loglines or synopsis. GLad you liked the post.

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