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The Horror of Summing up your Novel in a Sentence

“So you write? What is your story about?”

I can type out over 100,00 words to a novel, develop a complicated plot, flesh out my characters, etc. I love to talk about my work. But ask me what my plot is and I panic.

Deer in headlights, panic.

I mumble a few incoherent sentences while my brain screams at me “think about your plot!” and I try and sound intelligent. I fail. Sometimes I try and think first about my shortest pitches.

I still sound like an illiterate hack.

The reason being: we writers are great at drawing things out. I loved essays in school. I still remember fondly that A I got in college on a book where I read only the first and last chapter. Give me a blank piece of paper and I could bluff my way into something intelligent.

Ask me to sum up my 97,000 word novel in a few sentences and I am stumped. It’s impossible. Because as the author I know all the little twists and turns in the book, all the quirks that make it special. To sum it up in a sentence is equivalent to asking me why I love my son. It can’t be done.

Unless I say: because he’s mine. But that tells you nothing about his personality.

Besides people in real life asking for short blurbs on what a book is about, this is something that happens as an author markets their book. Twitter has become a great place for authors to reach out to agents. There are pitch contests where you sum up your work in 150 characters or less, including a hashtag and genre.

It’s brutal. 97,000 words boiled down to 150 characters. And you need to make it interesting. Cue instant sweating and shaking hands.

This is where the writing community is great. Writers and agents plan the pitch parties. They post places for authors to post their pitches. Authors come and critique each other’s works. We hold hands and sing kumbaya… Well, maybe not the last part.

Perspective is key. I have written two 150 word pitches for two of my novels. Sadly I still can’t remember them to sprout off to someone in real life.

“Umm, so, yeah, it’s a story, about… (stalling while I think) a woman who’s friend visits and, ummm, uncovers some hidden feelings.”

Well, that sucks, you interested? Thought not.

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3 thoughts on “The Horror of Summing up your Novel in a Sentence

  1. I has the same problem with the first couple of novels I wrote. I found that it’s easy to build a summary off of a question.

    Say for example it’s a love story. I ask a question the reader can relate to while at the same time feeding the question from my story.

    Do you ever feel as if your life is motionless, dull? An empty canvas waiting to be splashed and flourished with paint? The things you want in life aren’t foreign to you but they do seem unattainable, a mere fairy tale.

    That would be the hook, then you tell how your characters relate to this and how it leads into the plot. This way the readers see themselves as the characters, it makes them curious about them since they can relate.

    That’s what works for me so far. I’m publishing in February and back covers just stumped me until I sat down and just thought. Questions came up to mind because I write romance. I know a lot of people can relate to the my characters feel so I went from there.

    And I’d be interested in checking your work out 🙂 follow me, I’m following you. You’ve got my support. Let me know if you come up with more ways to make a summary and don’t stop writing!

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