We’ve been discussing for the last week how to write a one-sentence summary of your novel, as I advise in my article on the Snowflake method.
Barbara emailed me with this very long one-sentence summary of her novel:
Three disgruntled scientists are hired by a biogenetic research laboratory — run by a clandestine government agency — to evaluate possible modifications to lower life forms, never realizing their results will be used to alter the human genome.
As Barbara noted, it’s too long, at 36 words. The question is how to shorten it. I believe in making it as short as possible, but no shorter. Let’s see what we can do here.
One thing we can do is to change the subject of the sentence. There is no rule that the subject has to be your protagonist. Why not make it the government agency? Let’s try this:
A secret government agency manipulates three disgruntled biotech scientists into research that can be used to alter the human genome.
That’s 20 words and I don’t think it’s lost anything. By being shorter, it may even have gained. Less is more in this game.
Can anyone improve on this? You folks are getting quite good at this!
Let’s do another contest, shall we? Whoever comes up with the best revision by Friday night at midnight, PST, wins a free one-page critique from me. This is Barbara’s novel, so she gets to decide which version is best.
Go to it!
Tami Meyers says
This one’s 16 words, but when I tried to make it shorter it lost the feel of the original.
A secret government agency manipulates three scientists into research that will ultimately alter the human genome.
The best I managed was 15 words. It was almost word for word with Tami’s, except I used “clandestine” instead of “secret” and deleted “ultimately.”
David Benedict says
Here’s a thought:
Three biogeneticists discover and foil a corrupt government agency’s plan to trick them into altering the human genome.
It seems to me that the story is how the scientists overcome the deception of the agency, not how the agency tricks them.
I have some other observational questions about the summary: why 3 scientists? and what are they disgrutled about? How does disgruntlement matter– is it that it makes them more susceptible to being duped by the agency?
Three scientists are unwittingly embroiled in a clandestine governmental plot to alter the human genome.
Caprice Hokstad says
A secret government agency manipulates unsuspecting biotechnologists into altering human DNA.
Addition of “unsuspecting” tells us the “never realizing” part and I cut the “can be used to” because this tells us succinctly what the agency intends (whether they succeed or not). “Scientists” would be implied in “biotechnologists”, saving another word. And using “DNA” instead of “genome” is simply an attempt to be less obscure. More people are familiar with DNA than the word “genomes”. I agree that “disgruntled” is probably not critical to the summary, even if it is a main point in the novel.
If you want to add a few more words, I would like to see a little of the secret agency’s motive tacked onto the end of the sentence, like “…to rid the world of red-heads” or “to render Christians sterile” or whatever. In other words, why is altering the human genome a bad thing unless it puts targets on innocent heads?
Jenny McLeod Carlisle says
“While researching lower life forms, three scientists are unwittingly helping the government tamper with the human genome.”
Without knowing the “point” of the story, I think this summarizes what was said into 17 words. I’m not comfortable enough with the human genome/DNA thing, but changing that would bring it to 16!
Thanks for the exercise this morning!
Rachel Brown says
I don’t know that this is an entry in its own right as I feel I’ve mostly just rearranged what everyone else has said, but here is my version:
Three cynical biogeneticists discover the government intends to misuse their research – to alter the human genome. (16 Words)
(I haven’t worked this hard counting words since I used to enter 25-words-or-less supermarket competitions on “why I like canned food etc…” .
Though I did win a tinned food hamper once. Eight years on and I’ve still got a tin of chickpeas lurking in the pantry.)
J.R. Turner says
This is 15 words:
Three scientists unwittingly give a clandestine government agency the power to alter the human genome.
I couldn’t offer more without knowing more, but I would follow the end of this sentence with a phrase about the conslusion. Maybe something along the lines of: …power to alter the human genome and must race against time to stop their evil plan. Bwahahaha. 🙂 It’s hard to say without knowing the story!
Also, I wanted to use “mutate the human genome” as it sounds much more powerful, but again, not knowing the story, I didn’t want to go where the book may not.
As to the reference to the laboratory–I don’t think it’s necessary. Where else do scientists work? 🙂 I think that can be inferred.
As to “disgruntled”–I too didn’t believe this was a necessary word. If she chooses, she can imply the character of the scientists in any added phrase at the end of the sentence, such as saying they will fight to save the day (if they do.)
Thanks for letting me try my hand at this!
Judith Robl says
A secret government agency manipulates three disgruntled biotech scientists into potentially genome altering research.
How important is it that the scientists are disgruntled? Are they all disgruntled for the same reasons? I might lose the adjective disgruntled as well.
I did this before reading everyone else’s take on it — ooops!
Carrie Stuart Parks says
Three biogenetic scientists become unwitting puppets in a plot to mutate human DNA.
Does the winner get a tin of chickpeas?
Clandestine government agents dupe three scientists into human genome alteration experiments.
Dr. Ron Erkert says
I have to agree with David that the scientists should be the focus. Think I’ve spent more time trying to reduce my research down to 15 words or less for grant proposals, then actually writing the proposals.
Here’s my shot at it using the information given:
Three disgruntled biogeneticists in a covert government laboratory have their research unwittingly used to alter the human genome (18 words)
Alternately, making the same assumption as David and Rachel regarding the story:
Three disgruntled biogeneticists in a covert government laboratory discover their research is being used to alter the human genome (19 words)
Ernie Wenk says
Three mad scientists experiment to alter human DNA.
Andra M. says
Secret government agency, three clueless scientists, bad genetic combination.
I’m kidding! Heck, it’s not even a complete sentence. Unable to come up with anything better (obviously), and if we’re going for the shortest sentence that relays all relevant information, I like Carrie Stewart Parks’ submission most.
Andra M. says
Looks like Ernie beat me with his comment, and by one word!
Colleen Shine says
Up to now, I haven’t thrown my hat into the ring. But, why not? I have learned tons by reading other entries. Barbara, my suggestion for your one-sentence summary is: “Three disgruntled biotech scientists undertake a secret, government-instigated research that could alter the human genome forever.”
Your book sounds very interesting…
C.J. Darlington says
Three disgruntled scientists. One biogenetic research lab. The human genome forever changed.
“Three scientists agree to study lower life-form modifications – not alter the human genome for secret governmental research.”
I love this online banter – I’m learning a lot. A couple comments: We could delete the word “lower” without great loss, and do we care that the scientists are disgruntled? We can also assume they are biotech or they wouldn’t be recruited. But, then again, after all this reading and commenting, I feel I’m half-way into the story!
ML Eqatin says
Disaffected scientists work on genetics, unaware that they have joined a state-run plot to mutate humans.
Q: What do you call a pig with laryingitis?
Don’t mind if I join in the fun and here goes …
A secret government agency exploited three disgruntled biotech scientists into altering the human genome.
Carrie Stuart Parks says
Three biogeneticists battle a corrupt agency that is perverting their research by altering the human genome.
I’m not sure this is really what happens, but it seems disgruntled may indicate an active antagonism to the unintended use of their research.
Heather Goodman says
I need to find this Barbara person – her book has some commonalities with one I’ve been wanting to write.
Oh, and I agree that the word mutate would be far better than alter, if it fits.
*grin* This is fascinating.
I like to try again …
Secret government agency exploited three disgruntled biotech scientists into altering human genome research.
… sorry for the inconvenience.
Story Hack (Bryce Beattie) says
Three malcontent researchers entangle themselves in a clandestine plot to mutate DNA.
or perhaps a haiku?
A top secret group
dupes three angry scientists
to mutating genes
Steve Lewis says
I came up with two versions. One with the disgruntled scientists angle and one without because I wasn’t sure how important it was to include it. Here goes:
“Three biotech researchers discover the government is using their work to alter human DNA.”
“Three disgruntled scientists discover the government is using their work to alter human DNA.”
You could also replace “to alter human DNA” with “for illegal genetic experiments” depending on which you feel captures the emotional core of the idea. Those are just off the top of my head without more knowledge of the material. Sounds like a great story.
Jason Epperson says
Two similar options:
A close-knit team of geneticists shatters the dark secret lurking behind their human genome research.
A close-knit team of geneticists unleashes the dark secret lurking behind their human genome research.
Barb Haley says
Unaware of a covert governmental scheme to alter human DNA, three scientists agree to research modification of lower life forms.
I went back and forth about including the word covert. By using “unaware”, I’ve already stated that the plan is hidden to the scientists. But I think the word is important to cast a dishonest, suspicious shadow on the whole situation. It informs the reader that it wasn’t just a matter of not yet informing the scientists, but that the information was purposely and wrongly kept from them.
Chawna Schroeder says
A secret agency twists the research of three unwitting biotechs to modify human genomes.
Three unwitting biotechs, one secret agency, and a genome that could modify the world forever.
Personally, I like the second one better. But it reads closer to what I’ve heard called a tag line. What’s the difference (if any) between a tag line and a one-sentence summary? And when and how is it best to use each of them?
Doraine Bennett says
Disgruntled scientists must stop a secret government agency from using their research to alter the human genome.
Joleena Thomas says
My version focuses on the moral dilemma and the dangers of playing with nature.
I didn’t use disgruntled because I thought that could be left for the story. After giving it some thought, it seemed to me that the word created a focus to the idea of anger and discontent rather than the larger story idea.
Also, I used the word traps to emphasize the situation human kind finds themselves in when they cross over moral lines.
There are many excellent ways to do this one liner. I wanted to do something a little different. Because it’s often a given that the work is secret, I left that out. I thought by including the word modification, the idea of _changing nature_, weighs harder in our minds.
The crooked path of genetic modification traps uninformed scientists whose manipulations are intended for humans.
Angie Farnworth says
Okay, Barbara, you already have tons of great choices. Here are a couple more to throw into the mix:
Government agency cons biogeneticists into altering the genome and threatening the human race.
OR same thing shorter:
Government agency cons biogeneticists into developing research that threatens the human race.
George Donnelly says
Took some liberties, far from perfect, but here you go:
Three disgraced scientists are hired by a leading biogenetic research foundation to engineer a new mouse DNA genome, only to discover their CIA bosses putting their work to an unexpected, and disturbing use.
Pauine Youd says
Mine is like Barb’s except I changed “research” to “evaluate” to match the the original sentence, and “of” to “to.”
Unaware of a covert governmental scheme to altar human DNA, three scientists agree to evaluate modifications to lower life forms.
Bad guys do bad stuff.
Teresa Haugh says
Three scientists become pawns in a shadow agency’s deadly game to alter the human race.
It’s amazing how varied the entries are. Way to go Groovyoldlady! Here is my best shot.
Three biogeneticists unwittingly aid a secret government agency seeking to use their research to modify the human genome.
Lois Hudson says
I’m not going to try to rewrite this one (trying to concentrate energy on my own overly verbose sentence). There are many good examples here, and seeing how people work through the process is helpful to us all.
I think some use of adjectives is necessary to flavor the sentence enough to pique the interest. Randy’s initiaol rewrite does keep the flavor. I think “disgruntled” provides a bit of mystery that adds to rather than detracts from the sentence. Disgruntled could mean that they knowingly participated in the covert operations. Only Barbara knows for sure.
Eliminating too many of the descriptors might leave a flat skeleton that no one wants to read.
Thanks, everybody, for being willing to share.
Karen D'Amato says
Giving credit to Double Vision:
Three scientists, One government, BAD DNA.
MLE: Good pig joke. I’ll use it next time I’m in Tennessee. Blessings, K.
This is fun. I’ve whittled the summary down to 16 words.
Three disgruntled, biogenetic scientists unwittingly give a clandestine government agency the means to alter human genome.
Paulette Harris says
Wow! There were a lot of good catchy sentences here.
I liked Andre M’s but I thought perhaps I would give it a try.
Clandestine agents use scientsts to experiement with DNA.
Eight words, not too exciting maybe, however, one wonders with this sentence….what were they doing and how did they do it???. Sounds sinister.
My critique friends and I try hard to use what we call an elevator speech or 9-11 seconds. It helps to go up and down on an elevator and practice with one another!.
Hope I win.
Paulette Harris says
It is late, don’t know what I did wrong, but this is too fun, Thanks Randy for your fun site.
Good luck and good night.