Monday, August 18, 2014

Can You Tell Your Story In One Sentence?



I was asked recently why I became a publisher.  I talked and talked and talked as I watched eyes glaze over. In my enthusiasm about a job I love, I never realized I was boring the hell out of everyone.

When someone asks you about your book, do you notice the polite smiles and glazed over eyes, or do you do, as I did, keep on talking; trying to cram years of joy into what should be a one minute conversation. 

Since I’ve bored enough people with my story, let’s talk about writing instead. I can do this because I love both. Also, I’ve listened to about a thousand people try to cram a 90,000 word novel into a 10 minute pitch session at writer’s conferences.

Okay Mr. Big, tell me how I can tell people about my book and not bore people to tears? The answers not easy but let me try without boring you too.

Do you know what you’ve written?  No, I’m not trying to insult your intelligence, but that’s the reason most of us can’t tell our story in a moment or two.  We know, of course we know, but can we tell anyone else?  
Actually, you should be able to express your book or profession, in one sentence.  Can’t be done you say.  Not easy I say, but it can and must be done.

To begin, write a chapter by chapter outline. What’s that and how do I write one of those things? It’s done by breaking each chapter into one paragraph. Go through your story and write down only the important stuff. Stick to only what’s moving the story forward.  Remember, only one paragraph and that’s it. No cheating.
Now you have maybe 30 paragraphs—a couple of pages instead of 350. What’s neat about this is you as faults in your writing pop right out as you’re doing this exercise.   

Next break each paragraph down into one sentence—one sentence that expresses only the importance of that paragraph. Said another way, could the story have survived without that one important factor.
There are now less than 30 sentences. Why? Because, as has happened with almost everyone, he or she has found a chapter, or more, that did nothing to promote their story. Those sentences that are left, with a little work, can become your novel’s synopsis.

You now have less than one page that expresses your whole novel.  Now you can easily reduce this small amount of writing into one paragraph. If you don’t include how the story ends, you have what’s known as your jacket blurb.

Now comes the part I always like: You can now see clearly what’s going on in your story. You can now express what your story is about in one paragraph and, with a little concentration, that one sentence you’re looking for should pop right out. You have in front of you just over a minute of conversation that expresses your entire novel, so tell whoever asks, “What’s your novel about?” that one sentence you’ve now found, then follow it up with your blurb.

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