It’s a whole new year, and I hope my loyal blog readers have staggered through the holidays without damage. 2008 was in many ways an awful, terrible, no-good, very bad year. And in other ways it was perfectly fine. But that was then; this is now. Whether 2008 was a good year or a bad year for you, we can choose to make 2009 better. We can take action to make it better.
For the past few months, we’ve been looking at some tactical issues in the craft of writing fiction. I’d now like to switch gears and spend some time talking about how to analyze your novel.
Sooner or later, you’ll need to do exactly that. Some writers prefer to do the analysis before they write the first draft, and that’s fine. Some writers prefer to do the analysis after the first draft, and that’s also fine. You need to find what works for you and work that way. There are many roads to publishing nirvana. Find yours.
As an example of how to do this, let’s look at a story that I think we’re all familiar with: Star Wars. If you haven’t seen this movie, rent it and watch it. It’s part of the lexicon of virtually all writers. It’s a fine example of the Hero’s Journey. And it’s just plain fun, even if you don’t like science fiction.
The first step I take in analyzing any story is to try to summarize it in one sentence. The goal here is to get the Big Picture. What’s the story really about? A one-sentence summary is what some people call the “elevator pitch”–it’s what you’d tell an editor or agent if you were both going up one floor and she asked you, “What’s your novel about?”
You have five seconds to make an elevator pitch, so it needs to be good. It needs to capture the essence of your story. It needs to give the editor or agent enough information to make one of two decisions:
1) This isn’t for me.
2) I’d like to know more.
Door Number 1 is more common. Let’s face it–no story is going to appeal to every reader, and it won’t appeal to every editor or agent either. But every story will appeal to some reader. Your goal is to get published, and so you need to find one agent and then one editor who choose Door Number 2. Just one.
So here’s your assignment for today: Summarize Star Wars in one sentence. (Just Episode 4, not the entire series. Episode 4 was the first Star Wars movie made, and if it hadn’t been good, there would have been no others.)
Post your one-sentence summary of Star Wars here as a comment. Tomorrow, I’ll choose the best of the lot and compare it to the one I’ve already cooked up. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of you has a better summary than mine, because my loyal blog readers are well known to be among the most intelligent people on the planet.
Here are some example one-sentence summaries to get you started:
Harry Potter And The Sorcere’s Stone: A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents.
The Lord of the Rings: A hobbit learns that his magic ring is the key to saving Middle Earth from the Dark Lord.
The Clan of the Cave Bear: A young human girl in Ice Age Europe struggles to survive in her adoptive clan of Neanderthals.
The Pillars of the Earth: A stonemason in 12th century England battles to build his life’s dream, a cathedral.
Outlander: A young nurse searches for the way home after time-traveling from 1945 to 1743 Scotland.
The Time Traveler’s Wife: A young girl grows up in the company of a strange time-traveling visitor who appears and disappears at random.
Pride and Prejudice: A young English woman from a peculiar family is pursued by an arrogant and wealthy young man.
Ender’s Game: A young boy is brutally trained in Battle School to be the general who will save humanity from alien invaders.
The DaVinci Code: A Harvard symbologist and a female French cryptographer solve the puzzle of the Holy Grail in a race against death across Europe.
The Firm: A brilliant young lawyer gets a fabulous job at a firm that is a cover for a Mafia money-laundering operation.
The Man From St. Petersburg: In 1914, a Russian anarchist tries to assassinate the aristocrat who is negotiating his country’s entrance into World War I.
The Hunt For Red October: A Russian sub captain leads the Soviet navy on a merry chase while he tries to hand over the latest Soviet submarine to the Americans.
* Shorter is better
* Tell only the most important piece of the story
* Focus on one or two characters
* Don’t name the characters
OK, now it’s your turn. Post your one-sentence summary of Star Wars here and earn eternal fame and glory!