Saturday, March 27, 2010

Boiling it Down

Awesome, awesome post I found at A Dead Man Fell from the Sky called What's Your Story About. (Thanks, Bane, 'cuz I saw the link on your blog.)

This is one of those eternal struggles... how to boil a 100,000 word novel into a sentence or two. Check out his post - and the story of how he got Janet Reid to represent him. Yes, Janet Reid. THE Janet Reid.

The closest I've been able to get so far is this:

"A Ranger and a lady's maid try to stop a renegade prince with magical powers from murdering his older brother in order to gain the kingdom for himself."

P.S. After I posted this, I turned on the TV and looked up a few movie blurbs on the cable guide. Here are a couple of examples:

Monsters Vs. Aliens - After being struck by a meteorite, a woman develops a unique ability and is taken to a secret underground facility where she meets a group of monsters and is later commissioned by the President to ward off evil aliens attacking the planet.

City of Ember - A generator that has been providing power to an underground city for 200 years is beginning to fail as two teenagers try to discover clues about their city's existence so they can find a way out, but the mayor wants things to keep things the way they are.

So mine seems a little too lean.

How about this?

The Golden Gryphon - An emotionally-repressed Ranger and a shy young gentlewoman try to stop a renegade prince with magical powers from murdering his older brother and gaining control of the kingdom, and discover the unseen forces working behind the throne.


  1. I like it... I'm not sure if you want to provide a bit more about the love story (though it is quasi-implicit by the 'emotionally-repressed' part). You could also probably get away w/o the 'and discover...' though it obviously adds a layer to the background.

  2. PS - these things are really hard to do; I'm impressed by how quickly you came up w/ one that flows/sounds as smooth as it does.

  3. Uh, well, um, I've been working on this behind the scenes for like six months. Yeah, I'm not sure how much to put in / leave out. You want to be concise, and yet totally different from every other pitch out there.

    I had thought about adding "gentlewoman, who is secretly in love with him," but thought that might be too obvious. Perhaps not.

  4. I think it can be inferred, but I might be biased since I know some of the story.

  5. I'm impressed by your second version - way better than your first. It would certainly arouse my interest (mark you, I have a leaning towards emotionally-repressed heroes). I'm not quite sure about the 'and discover' part, possibly because it seems like an add-on.

  6. Christine, if this is meant to be a logline, they are generally around 25 words and meant to be the first line in your query. Kind of like the hook but not. The agent will use it when she shops your book to a publisher. (you have to come up with one so she doesn't.)

    As far as your second example goes, it's excellent, perfect as a matter of fact, if you take off the last phrase, "and discover the unseen forces working behind the throne."

    Good job.

  7. Great post. Thanks for the link. And I agree with Anne about your second example. :)

  8. The thing is that there is a lot of supernatural stuff (both good and evil) driving the story that the heroes learn about along the way. (i.e. the bad guy isn't really who you think it is at first.) But perhaps that doesn't need to be mentioned.

    Anyone have any of their own to share?

  9. Anne, I'm thinking of this as a pitch, which I understand to be one or two sentences describing the story. There was a YA contest a couple of months ago where people were allowed to pitch their books to real agents. All you were allowed was the pitch (up to 100 words) and the first 250 words of Chapter 1.

    But of course this could be used as part of a query letter, too.

  10. (Do you think I should mention that the characters aren't human?)

  11. Personally, I think you can leave it pretty minimal -- just give the main thrust, which it does.

  12. I like that second version, without the "and discover . ." also. You're giving the Agent an reference, not the entire story. The body of the query will give the rest of the info.

    I'm still working on mine. Especially after visiting Garys comments section again. Here it is:

    A young woman finds love with a man too much like her alcholic father, and must confront the dysfunction of her childhood in order to make healthy decisions for her future.


  13. That's pretty good, Donna.

    Thanks, everyone, for the kind words.

  14. I'm with everyone else on prefering the second.

    May I be critical for a moment?

    Could you replace "emotionally repressed" with something like "taciturn"? The former is a modern psychological term and verges on anachronism.

    Replace "try to" with the stronger "must", or equivalent.

    Two present particples in the same clause isn't wrong, but it's not strong, IMHO. I have this disease myself and must constantly weed them out.

    "A taciturn Ranger and a shy young gentlewoman must stop a renegade prince with magical powers, who plans to murder his older brother and gain control of the kingdom."

    It's important to keep in mind when reading my comments that I am famous for my disastrously bad query technique, so everything I've said is probably wrong.

  15. Logline, blurb, about, pitch, elevator pitch...

    You'd really need to ask an agent if there's any significant difference. Some agents talk about an elevator pitch: you're in the elevator at a conference, going up 17 floors. You have that long to pitch the agent.

    I think logline is a more technical term, meaning the one liner used in TV guides and suchlike.

    Blurb clearly is what goes on the back of the book.

    Personally, I think of the about as what you say when someone asks, "So, what's your book about?" Which is why I call it "the about". I'm sure there's a better sounding industry name for it!

    I recall Rachel Gardner talking about this sort of thing in the past on her excellent blog. She'd be a great person to ask.

  16. Of course, if I spelt her name right, it would probably help. Try Rachelle Gardner. Sorry Rachelle!

  17. Good suggestions, Gary. I wasn't totally happy with "emotionally repressed" either but didn't have time to consult my thesaurus over the weekend.

    "Taciturn" just implies that he doesn't talk much, I think. I need something stronger. He's actually in love with the girl but refuses to admit it, for fear it would affect his ability to perform his duties.

  18. How about this:

    A duty-driven Ranger becomes reluctantly involved with his dead captain's daughter, as the two of them stop a magically-gifted prince from murdering his brother and seizing the throne.

  19. I'm a high school English teacher, and I went to a workshop once where this very issue was addressed. The "work of literature" they had us try to summarize in one sentence? The Bible ...

    Thank you so much for taking part in the lit crit of my novel excerpt over on Roni's blog. I really appreciate your input :)

  20. Dear KLo,
    You're welcome. Best of luck with your book!
    So, how DID you summarize the Bible?


I apologize for the word verification. I hate it, but the spammers made me do it.