Most of you will have noticed that I got my e-zine sent out a couple of days ago. I’m now recovered enough from that to blog again. 🙂
I’m reading through the comments of the last couple of days. Several of you have noticed that writing a one-sentence summary is hard. Yes, it is. That is the beauty and the curse of it.
A great one-sentence summary is like a great haiku or a great limerick. When you nail it, you know it. And people remember it. OK, here is a haiku for today. Remember that the only rule is that you have 3 lines, with 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Here’s a really bad haiku:
Haiku doesn’t rhyme
At least, not most of the time
It’s five, seven, five
Here’s a really bad limerick:
There once was a writer named Ran
Whose limericks never would scan.
He said, “I try hard,
But I guess I’m no Bard,
Because I always cram as many words into the last line as I possibly can!”
Writing a bad haiku or a bad limerick gives you some serious appreciation for good ones. Ditto with one-sentence summaries.
Let’s look at those rules I laid down for you:
1) As few words as possible.
2) Focus on one or two characters.
3) Focus on one plot thread.
4) Be specific!
5) Capture the conflict.
The reasons for each of those rules comes from the purpose of your one-sentence summary — it is a marketing tool. In order to be useful, a marketing tool needs to be both memorable and interesting. Let’s see how this purpose drives the rules:
1) You want a sentence people can remember. Fewer words are easier to remember than many words.
2) 1 or 2 characters are easier to remember than 3 or 4.
3) 1 plot thread is easier to remember than 2 or 3.
4) The more specific, the more interesting.
5) The more conflict, the more interesting.
What makes all this hard is that pesky word constraint. Anybody can create an interesting marketing message in 500 words. But when you restrict to 15 words or less, that’s when the art enters.
And this is why YOU are responsible for writing your one-sentence summary — because it’s hard. Your editor probably won’t do as a good a job as you will. Neither will your marketing director. Neither will your sales force, the bookstore staff, or your readers.
If you don’t do it well, then somebody else will do it badly. Your mission, and you really don’t have any choice but to accept it, is to make compromises among the conflicting requirements to produce the best one-sentence summary you can.
Now let’s look at Camille’s updated one-sentence summary:
A bitter widower’s second chance at love means marrying a dying woman.
Randy sez: Yes! That’s so much better than before. Let’s look at what makes this work. First of all, only 12 words. Camille has a good shot at memorizing that. So does everybody else. Now we’ve got 2 characters and 1 plot line, so we score again.
Let’s look at those characters and the plot. We’ve got “A bitter widower”. That’s pretty good. We’ve got a “second chance at love.” That’s good too. We’re rooting for him already. Then we’ve got the kicker, and notice how well it’s backloaded onto the last two words: “marrying a dying woman.” Yow! That kicks.
Yes, Camille, I think you nailed this one. It may be possible to tighten it a little more, but I personally don’t see how. If I was an editor at a writing conference and you tossed this at me at dinner, I’d say, “Camille, we need to talk. Have you got time in your busy schedule for an appointment with me? Please????”