We’re currently analyzing the one-sentence Storylines submitted by my loyal blog readers. Today, we consider the curious case of Carrie’s characters. Carrie has two Storylines, each focusing on a different character:
Here’s the first one:
A demon-banisher must save a young oracle from kidnappers, possibly including her own fiancee.
Here’s the second one:
A man who watched his sister’s murder must battle her killers to save a young girl.
Randy sez: Let’s analyze each of these in turn.
The term “demon-banisher” is a bit awkward. It doesn’t carry much emotive punch, and it’s definitely not a common term. The usual term is “exorcist” and this does carry some emotive punch, especially if the words “Linda Blair” mean anything to you. Since it’s only one word, Carrie could then afford to add an adjective or two to give us more information on this exorcist. There are all sorts of ways to do so: “A witch doctor exorcist” is very different from “A mathematician exorcist” who is in turn very different from “A five-year-old girl exorcist.” There is room here to make this character unique.
As for those pesky kidnappers, what do they want? If they are holding the oracle hostage for release of their fellow freedom fighters, that’s one thing. If they want a million ounces of gold bullion, that’s another. If they want safe passage to Mars, well, now you’re talking real loonies. In any event, telling us what the bad guys want is an inexpensive way to get us to invest emotionally in the story.
I think the word “possibly” here is leeching the very life out of this Storyline, so kill it if you possibly can. On second thought, kill it, kill it, kill it. If the fiance is one of the kidnappers, then say so. If it’s really not clear, then leave it out. The Storyline is not the place to fool your readers.
I don’t know the story well enough to fill out this Storyline the way it needs to be. Only Carrie can do that.
In the second Storyline we’ve got a lead character who is “A man.” Those two words are pretty bare. Tell us more about him. Is he an accountant? A professional wrestler? An Elvis impersonator? In any suspense story, it’s very helpful to give us some idea what skills our hero might bring to the table.
This man, however, “watched his sister’s murder.” That’s pretty potent stuff, and this Storyline would be stronger if you backloaded it so that this phrase is at the very end.
The murderers are also threatening a young girl about whom we know nothing. We need to know more. How is this young girl related to the man? What reason might he have for wanting to get involved in a kidnapping (rather than calling in the FBI)? What do the kidnappers want? What are the stakes here–are they personal, city-wide, national, global, or cosmic?
It’s not clear to me if the “young girl” of Storyline 2 is the same as the “oracle” of Storyline 1, but if so, then Storyline 2 might work better as follows:
“A xxx man tries to rescue yyy who has been kidnapped for zzz by the men who murdered his sister.”
Here, you’d need to fill in xxx with something that tells us more about our hero, and you’d want to fill in yyy with something that explains the emotive bond between our hero and the kidnappee. ZZZ tells the reason the men kidnapped the girl, and it may or may not be necessary, depending on what the reason is. If it’s for ransom, that’s not all that exciting and you might want to leave it out. If it’s to bring nuclear ruin to Washington D.C., the stakes are a bit higher and you could definitely stand to leave it in.
When writing a one-sentence Storyline, you want to push whatever emotive buttons you can to arouse fear, desire, rage, empathy, or whatever powerful emotional experience that you can. You also want to arouse curiosity in the prospective reader. You also want to use as few words as possible. That’s not easy. It’s hard, in fact. But it’s worth doing.