Whether you’re in a checkout line, at the ball game or a writing conference, people ask, “What’s your novel about?” You’ve learned enough to know one thing: When people ask–and they always do–the writer had better be able to give a brief, exciting and concise answer. How do you arrive at that answer?
Writing Tip for Today: Especially as you draft a novel, the answer to “what it’s about” can be elusive. You’re discovering along with your character, especially if you don’t tend to plot or outline in advance. And the last thing you want to say is, “Well, it’s about a lot of things.” Here are some ways to help you formulate the crucial “one line” pitch.
- Think in terms of a tripod: Your character (first leg) has a want or goal (second leg) but encounters conflict or obstacles (third leg).
- If you’re having trouble expressing this central story line, ask yourself, “If my character doesn’t achieve the goal, so what? If the answer isn’t something dire, consider increasing the stakes of the novel. High stakes generate interest.
- Use those one sentence TV guide and movie blurbs to help you identify the central story.
- Back cover or book jacket blurbs can sometimes help, but concentrate on the first few and last few sentences.
- Try thinking of your story in terms of an adage, fairy tale or other classic story. It’s probably true that there are only a few really different stories and all others are the endless variations of those few.
- If your story feels too similar to others out there, try turning the character, the situation or the goal on its head. The reluctant or accidental hero, an unexpected setting or an uncommon goal might help your story stand out.
- Ask yourself “What if?”
- Instead of grinding out that 1-2 page synopsis, crafting a separate query letter and cover letter, work on creating a 100-150 word summary (synopsis), a back cover blurb (can be more of a teaser) and the one or two sentence pitch.
Try This! Write a 150 word summary of your novel as it is today. Name the main character, setting/time, goal and obstacle(s) in the first couple of sentences. Do not include subplots, other viewpoint characters or minor details.