I sometimes have difficulty describing my WIP novel in just a few sentences and feel satisfied I have really captured and expressed what it is about.
So I would love to know how you go about summarising your story into just one sentence (two at most).
And, of course, I would love to know, in one or two sentences, what your story is about. Whether it's a book you've written, a short story or a WIP I'd love to know what you've worked on or what you're currently working on.
1. Because I'm interested to know what stories people here love to write.
2. I'd like to see how people describe their stories in such a succinct way.
Elevator pitches can be hell but you get used to them. Here's a couple:
"A seasoned pastor and youthful pagan are forced to team up to defend a small town under seige."
Good Sex, Great Prayers
"In the world of pageants, no one girl can beat Alaska Scott."
Ultimate Grand Supreme Super Sexy Baby
I think next time I write a book, I'm gonna start with the logline, and then flesh it out from there. The last two I never felt comfortable summarizing thusly because the aspects that made them compelling or unique were too closely tied to their twists, and I didn't want to give those away, so they sound mediocre (readers routinely comment on how much better the books were than expected). That's a tough lesson.
The short story descriptions I added to my site links were much easier, because those usually happen to be their original sparks/concepts, such as "A life insurance salesman faces his own mortality as planes of the multiverse collide" or "Social media for the criminal set" or "Terminally ill actor tries to make some quick cash while amending his assholic legacy."
Gordon: "The last two I never felt comfortable summarizing thusly because the aspects that made them compelling or unique were too closely tied to their twists, and I didn't want to give those away, so they sound mediocre"
That exactly is what I'm currently struggling with when trying to write a blurb for my current project for the pre-release hype machine. I'm on the verge of folding and just writing "this book has lots of twists and surprises... and it totally comes with a free 6-pack of beer. Buy it. I'll blow you."
It seems like trying to sell 50,000 words with 50 is harder than writing the damned thing itself.
Personally, I like very short descriptions and am better at them than longer ones, like when cable providers give one for movies (except, you know...better than those). Something that gives away nothing but is interesting.
I always approach it with this: [Subject of the story] [verb, then whatever he does] [situation]
For instance, for a story I wrote called Everything Outside of the Silence, the description goes: A bagman begins to panic when he loses contact with his accomplices.
Longer stuff is tougher to truncate, but try to go to the least common denominator. What is the nucleus of the story, the plot element that's in every part of it?
Wish I had some advice for you there, but I was similarly afflicted. One of my novels was in first-person, so I wrote the synopsis in second-person to try to give it some immediacy and put the reader in his shoes. You could try the ever-popular speculative method: "What if ____?" and ramp up the intrigue over plot details. I probably would mention it's got twists, but be careful with hyperbolic claims about how much they'll be blown away by them.
Speaking of, let's not discount the effectiveness of promotional blowjobs, especially when selling books in person at an event. "Why's this guy's line taking so long?"
A few twisted favorites found online:
A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES: Social deviants make life difficult for genius.
LOLITA: Man encourages step-daughter to take chances.
TWILIGHT: Girl gives up college for stalker.
THE WIZARD OF OZ: Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.
The best, though, was for a movie rather than a book.
TITANIC - Elderly widow disregards lifelong memories of husband, children, and grandchildren in favor of that one time she fucked a bum.
Samantha's Gambit -- A soap opera in a distant future civil war, a family of kids find the meaning of music to take the pain away. -- Dystopia
Song Of Lost Youth -- A soap opera in the near future United States, a group of teenagers form a family amist the loss of their parents due to an unspecified illness from the dreamspace expansion. -- Dystopia
I was able to summarize in one sentence, but that should give you an idea of why I can't seem to pick wether I'm closer to contemporary fiction or science fiction.
Both of these I'm wanting to later expand to novelettes, to see if such a "slice of life" story framework would work for something longer.
I have found any story can fit into the same mold.
PLOT: In the land of __________, during __________, X attempts Y because __________. This meets/met with (success, no success, mixed results, or similar phrase) because __________. A reacts by __________/No one (else) reacted. (Repeat this sentence with A Beta, A Gamma, etc. as needed). This results in __________.
SUBPLOT: (Also/Meanwhile/Some such phrase), in the land of __________, during __________, X2 attempts Y2 because __________. This meets/met with (success, no success, or mixed results) because __________. A2 reacts by __________/No one (else) reacted. (Repeat this sentence with A2 Beta, A2 Gamma, etc. as needed.)
(Repeat Subplots with 2, 3, etc. as needed). This results/resulted in __________.
THEME: This is complicated/changed/simplified/tinted by __________. (Repeat Theme Beta, Theme Gamma, etc. as needed.)
STAR WARS original trilogy and expanded universe.
In a far away galaxy, during a long ago civil war, Darth Vadar attempts to put down the rebellion because it is the only way to protect thousands of worlds. He failed because his children betrayed him. When it becomes obvious he can't save the innocent, he saves his son from just retribution. This results in decades of civil war and a religious cult making huge gains in territory.
Meanwhile, his daughter must decide between incest and dating a criminal. She dates the criminal.
This is all complicated by an unavoidable mystical energy that encourages extremism.
"A teenager meets a troubled young woman and the two embark on a life affirming journey of discovery, trust and genital mutilation in this charming Chicago based love story."
That's the best I could come up with off the top of my head. I think I have the same problem as some other people here in that the story depends too much on little twists and turns throughout. Maybe after I finally get up the nerve to rewrite the damn thing I'll figure out a better way to describe it. It doesn't help that the tone of the actual novel is radically different from that description which really is, like someone else said, the "nucleus". It's dark and abrasive as fuck but the core is still technically a love story and there isn't really a strong way to present that that I can figure out. If I wanted to do one that conveyed the actual tone it'd be something closer to this:
"In a stream of consciousness narrative, a teenager verbally assaults an unknown third party, describing the series of events that led her and her female companion down a dark path of murder and psychosis."
Man, if I ever try to get published, I'm gonna have to suck some serious dick too. God dammit.
How do you summarize yours, Sarah?
Other Sarah: Oh something that helps, is thinking of it in terms of character + conflict + setting. I'm interested in your summaries too.
"X occurs, and Y." ----> "The main character enters a locale and engages with the situation." ----> "A freelance detective leaves his homeland under mysterious circumstances, returning to a distant land long since his last visit. Shit is afoot." ----> "The faithless crucible of your innuendo brings relish to the undead partygoers. The needle is too dull, and all music is reduced to the sound of the ocean."
@Gordon - love these twisted plots. Seen a few before. There's also a Romeo and Juliet one I believe, which I can't find right now.
@Aud - you know I love that first summary. To me, it's intriguing and a little bit Natural Born Killers. I'd buy the book. (Have you posted an excerpts here?)
The advice here you all are giving is great. I must confess though I haven't tried to rewrite the summary for mine since posting this (have been working on the actual novel itself :) )
I have been thinking about this though - Imagine if the only way we all were able to 'market' our books was via twitter. We had to come up with a 140 character blurb describing the book in a way that was intriguing enough that it didn't get lost amongst the other tweets. Just something to think about.
Ok, so for my summary (which I admit needs a lot of work. It is, I guess, the underlying structure of the story, but since it is a dark humor piece, mixed with some mystery and drugs, sex and rocknroll - not to mention the many other elements, plots and twists to it, I'm not sure if it really portrays the story?) Anyway...
"In a town known for it's morbid past, it is revealed that the dark secrets Scar's family has tried years to conceal, are intertwined with the town's sinister history in such a way that they may haunt her forever."
Feedback of course welcome, if you wish.
I also would like to mention that I love reading what everyone else is working on. There is nothing better than a great story!!!
I think you have to be a little more specific, or at least use terms or plot points that make this particular story unique. For example, family secrets and creepy towns are family common devices. Nothing wrong with using them, but what can you reveal to disntinguish them from all the others? Given the limited info, this is the most concise version I could come up with, eliminating redundancy (may not be accurate, but you get the idea):
"A town's sinister history converges with exposed family secrets for a hedonist who'll be forever Scarred."
But getting more specific, I'd prefer something like:
"After six bodies are exhumed from a former school playground, indie-rock darling Scar Nicolette must cancel her tour to track down the estranged father who once taught there, opening old wounds and digging fresh graves."
You're right. I think I tried to summarise without specifics and it could be about anything. Way too generic.
Thanks for the tips!
Thanks so much, man. It's funny you bring up NBK 'cause there are actually a bunch of refrefences to it peppered throughout. I love that movie. I haven't, no. I'm not a member of the workshop yet.
I agree with Gordon about your summary. It's a straight up tease. I'm interested, yeah, but is this story gonna get naked for me? I'd love to hear a more specific version whenever you get around to writing one.
By the by... your last name is my favorite alcoholic bevereage. Just sayin'.