View Full Version : Summarize Your Story in One Sentence
10-17-2008, 01:14 AM
It seems that the prevailing thought these days is that good novels have a one-sentence tagline, something you can insert as a hook at the beginning of your query letter, something you can say when a friend asks, "what's your novel about?" or simply something to have in your mind so you never get off track.
It also seems that the prevailing thought is that if you are unable to summarize your story in one sentence, either you fail, or your story fails. Most likely both. One stems from the other.
The prevailing thought is that I fail.
For those of you who follow EC, you know I have a lovely summary in the beginning, but it's three paragraphs long. I have never been able to condense it into one sentence. A girl befriends a flesh-eating horse and ... and has an adventure? How am I supposed to say more without giving it away? She doesn't have a precise goal, like defeating an evil dude, rescuing her father, escaping from people who don't like her, redefining her relationship wiht her fiance, or avoiding interspecies war. Rather, she has a bunch of mini sub-plots that are supposed to develop character, but really don't because I wimped out on my story. Anyway, I don't know how I expect to get help on that, but you all are magical.
For the story that I want to write this November, I am less confused, but still utterly incapable. This time I'm ambitious enough to write from the viewpoints of four people, but each of the four have a different plotline. Three of these plotlines are closely related, since they stem from one event and one plotline is somewhat related, since it stems from the same event but happens on another landmass (no, I'm not copying Dany - it happened entirely by accident). Do I come up with something like Character A, Character B, Character C, and Character D face [general problem]?
These questions are a vague, since I never want to spoil, but I am confident that someone will suggest something that makes me no longer a failure. At this point, the best suggestion would be, "The prevailing thought is wrong!" A suggestion with the same intent but negative effect would be, "You got the prevailing thought wrong! Do some research, missy!"
Heh heh, yeah.
Prevailing thought's wrong. Assuming it is the prevailing thought.
I'm currently reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Takes place in 12th century England. And it's got several main characters, each of whom have their own plot lines which are EXTREMELY related. There's a mason looking for work, a crazy young lord, a monk, and plenty of other major characters. They all cross paths numerous times, but the author doesn't feel controlling at all.
The story's impossible to summarize, but it's told very well. I recommend reading it.
Did I mention it's a bestseller?
Let's see...my series in a nutshell would be: "When wizards come to a desperate land with gifts of peace and prosperity, a curious young swordsman who discovers their hidden agenda leaves his home in search of two things: a power capable of matching their corruptive magic, and people who, despite their own conflicting beliefs and agendas, can be called on for aid.
Long, but meh. :)
Nikara summary: A girl befriends almost nobody and ... and has an adventure? (Sorry, Imelda. My mind did that on its own).
EDIT: Anything can be summarized in a sentence. Just use semicolons, like Jonathan Swift!
10-17-2008, 02:01 AM
You got me curious enough to try this with my story. I had like a three-sentence type summary before I had really developed my plot (I still haven't really developed my plot, but whatever). Hmmm, let me see...
Uprooted from their average, country life, three siblings find themselves caught in a whirlwind of politics, magic, faith, and danger as they try to find their places in their new lives; but when Estara goes too far and endangers the entire known world, will her baby siblings be strong enough to stop her?
Ok, so I cheated and used a semicolon. Give me a break, I have three separate intertwining plotlines! I see what you mean about having to be able to have a one-sentence tagline, though. If you can't come up with anything, your plot is probably too complicated.
Given your ridiculously vague little description there, I would say something like [General problem] occurs, and Character A, Character B, Character C, and Character D have to [semi-spoiler-or-at-least-vague-ish plot point] to [General Goal] or something of that nature.
10-17-2008, 02:44 AM
I suppose I assumed it was prevailing thought, mostly because I've seen it about five to six times, both on the 'net and in published material. And I've never seen arguments against it, but then again, I've never gone to look.
I started Pillars of Earth once and loved the first three pages (I even loved the introductory forward, or whatever it was), but then I had to leave the bookstore, and never got around to finishing it. I think that book's summary would have something do with the building of a church, but since I haven't read it, I'm just going to assume that you're right.
From what I've seen though, the sentences are supposed to be shorter, with no character names. Maybe:
A young swordsman leaves his home to fight against the corruptive magic of wizards.
Three siblings are uprooted from a country life and caught in a whirlwind of politics, magic, faith, and danger.
and for Nikara (correct me, Meldi):
A [some adjective - (blonde? xP)] girl searches for the third, missing part of her soul/essence/thing that will allow her to perform magic.
I haven't read any of the Stephen King novels you mentioned, so I can't attempt a summary of them.
Now that I've practiced on everyone else's, I'll attempt mine again.
When a girl befriends a flesh-eating horse, she is forced to reevaluate long-held ideals on the definition of evil.
That seems almost passable. Almost.
War breaks out again between two races, and people on both sides must decide whether to bridge the opposing sides or further widen the gap.
I feel like less of a failure now, whether or not the prevailing thought is prevailing. You guys really did help, even though I have no idea how!
Now you can move this thread to the Exercises forum, and everyone else can write one-sentence summaries of their novels if it strikes their fancy.
10-18-2008, 04:49 AM
Well, this is an interesting discussion. I think one sentence tags are hard to do or make interesting. I'm assuming you mean those really short sentences on book covers here rather than actual coherent sentences. Generally book cover taglines are short, vague, and useless :P.
I don't know how I'd summarize "The Lies of Venicia" or "The White" (whatever I'm calling it these days).
Imelda, help me!
vBulletin® v3.8.4, Copyright ©2000-2013, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.