Thursday, December 7, 2017

What Is Your Book's One-Sentence Summary?

Brevity is the soul of wit, as someone far more famous than me once said. Unfortunately, a lot of us seem to believe that our books are so special, and our ideas so unique, that in order to fully appreciate them someone needs to have the entire context of the world history, the verbatim prophecy given to the protagonist at the start of the journey, and a crash course in the current political climate.

Everything can be boiled down to its simplest, core elements, though. That includes your book. If you think you can't simplify it, then you may not know your own book as well as you think you do.

If it's more than one sentence, keep working on it.

Why Simpler Is Better

Every story has a simple through-line that anyone can follow. From complicated spy thrillers, to trilogy-spanning epic fantasy, there is an A to Z line you need to know. As a quick for-instance, take the First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. While it might be a little spoilery, a simple explanation is, "Duplicitous wizard recruits a team to help him defeat an ancient foe, and to prevent a cataclysmic shift in the world's power balance." Now, the series is obviously more convoluted than that, with a dozen different characters whose perspectives we follow, curses, redemption, damnation, and a thousand shades of gray. However, that basic explanation provides a toe-hold for any potential reader to quickly get a grip on what's going on.

So what is your book about?

For example, Blood and Rubies might follow Captain Shellain "Red Mane" Waters as she takes leadership of the Brothers of the Red Sails, tracks down and recruits Bertrand "The Black" Henderthrane, formerly the captain of the royal guard and the deadliest swordsman in a generation, and wins the allegiance of the mad sorcerer Hethrader. She might slay sea serpents, lead royal shipments of supplies into ambushes, and execute the governors of towns who don't swear loyalty to her and her cause. The story might have dozens of betrayals, spies whose allegiance we're never sure of, and at least one bittersweet romantic subplot, but the core of the story is still, "Outcast pirate princess finds allies, and fights to take back the throne of her nation from those who usurped it."

The simplification serves a few functions. The first is that it keeps clear in your own mind what your book is actually about. That way no matter how many kidnappings, new characters, explosive gun fights, and back-alley knife duels you have, you never lose sight of where your story is supposed to be going. The second is that when it comes time to pitch your book to someone, whether it's a publisher or a potential reader, reviewer, etc., you can sum up what they're in for in a single breath before giving their attention time to wander.

Because it's hard enough to capture someone's attention, and if you are fortunate to have it for a moment, don't squander it with an aside to explain the history of Choana's elected monarchy or by waxing about the magic system used by your wizarding spies. Hook the reader hard, and make them want to know about all that other stuff. In short, get to the point, and see if they bite.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing. Hopefully some folks find it helpful for putting their big ideas into a small, easily digestible hook. If you want to keep up on all my latest posts, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. If you're like to help me keep doing what I do, then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to leave a little love in my tip jar. And if you pledge at least $1 per month, I'll even send you a free book as a thank you!

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