I’m continuing to critique one-sentence summaries that my loyal blog readers posted last week. I think we’ve all learned a few things from this exercise. I certainly have — trying to explain why something works or doesn’t work forces me to translate my intuition into analysis.
Elizabeth posted this one:
A gay Air Force officer and a Catholic lesbian get married, and then she leaves him for her best friend.
Randy sez: My first question is this — at what point does she leave him? If that’s the ending, then your one-sentence summary has a major spoiler in it.
If her leaving him is near the beginning of the story, then my second question is this — does he care? I’m not quite sure what the attraction would be in a marriage like this, but (pardon me if I’m wrong) I would think it’s less than with a straight man and a straight woman. If he doesn’t care, then there’s no story here. If he cares, then you have a story.
I think your one-sentence summary would be stronger if you could find a way to make the answers to these two questions clear, since I’m pretty sure most editors would also want to know the answer.
Emory Chance refuses to take the blame for her daughter’s death, but the guilt keeps slapping her every time she remembers Daisy’s face.
Randy sez: I usually recommend against using the name of a character in a one-sentence summary, because I prefer to give some descriptive nouns and adjectives that tell us who the character is. However, Mary is a multi-published author, so I’m going to give her the freedom to do whatever she wants on that score. The issue I’ll focus on, Mary, is whether you can focus that guilt thing up a bit.
How often does Emory remember Daisy’s face? What’s the occasion for these memories? Is there anything in particular that raises the memory? Is there more to the story than this guilt thing? (Guilt is a pretty interior conflict, so I’m really asking if there’s some exterior conflict to help carry the story.)
A bitter indentured servant strives for freedom while facing persecution and the loss of love and life.
Randy sez: OK, this is screaming for some specifics: What year are we talking about? What country? In what way is he (or she–we need to know the gender) “striving”? What sort of persecution? What does it mean to face the loss of love and life?
One common thread I’ve seen in a LOT of the one-sentence summaries that have been posted here is abstraction. I suspect the purpose of this is to broaden the reader appeal by raising the “big issues” but the real effect is that it narrows appeal, since nobody has any idea what the story is about.
Amanda searches for the reincarnation of her murdered lover from their previous life.
Randy sez: This certainly would generate interest for a certain niche of reader, but I’ll repeat here how important it is to get specific. Where and when does Amanda live (at least in her current incarnation)? Let’s face it–if she’s an MIT professor of physics, then this is a very different story than if she’s a Hollywood palm reader. And where and when did she live before?
With that, I’ll leave off for today. Tomorrow, I’ll pick up with some more critiques. Let me know if you have some specific issues with one-sentence summaries that you’d like me to explain.