Today I’ll critique another one-sentence summary. I’ll do Alie because she’s first on the list and because she took two shots at it:
My original one was: Running from his past brought him straight back to his future.
I just came up with an alternative: Ten years; two murders; one suspect racing to clear his name.
Randy sez: Both of these are problematic. Let’s look at the first one. We have a single character mentioned, but all we know about him is that he’s a man. That’s too vague. A key part of any one-sentence summary is the two or three word description of the main character that gets you interested in him. This is an art form. Remember how Chris grabbed our attention? His character was “A retired marine.”
By the way, I like the idea here. It just needs to be better in focus. The other main issue is that we need to know more about what “Running from his past” actually means. What did he do? Rob a bank? Kick the dog? Inquiring minds need to know!
A one-sentence summary needs to be quite specific, but not too specific. So tell us who he is, what he did, and what trouble he’s in now. All in 15 words. Not easy.
The second version is quite a bit better. It tells us that murder is involved, which is always good in a novel, even if it’s not so nice in real life. And we have a much clearer goal–one suspect racing to clear his name.
But it needs to be even more sharply in focus. What sort of person is this suspect? A Buddhist monk? A diesel mechanic? A one-armed trapeze artist?
And what exactly is he accused of? Murder, apparently, but murder of whom? His best friend? His worst enemy? His accountant?
Here is the one-sentence summary for my first published novel, TRANSGRESSION: “A physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.” That sentence helped me sell a lot of copies at book-signings and in general conversation. You only have to hear that one sentence to know if you want to read the book or you don’t. This is another example of a sentence where the kicker comes at the end. Traveling back in time is cool. Killing is always an attention getter. Bit the apostle Paul is what makes this into a “high concept” story, because if you kill Paul, then you might in principle really screw up history.
So that one sentence of 11 words had almost everything: weird science, violence, and religion. The only thing missing is romance, and as it turned out, the book had a bit of that too.