I’m jazzed! Yesterday, I challenged my loyal blog readers to critique Laura’s one-sentence summary of her novel. We’ve been obsessing on one-sentence summaries for two full weeks now. (If you’re going to obsess on something, it might as well be important, and this topic is.)
To refresh your memory, here is Laura’s first cut at a one-sentence summary:
A savy businesswoman dumps it all for aspirations to be a groom on a dude ranch.
The sentence is a fine start, but it needs fine-tuning. Here are the points that many of you picked up on:
1) “Savvy” is spelled with two “v”s.
2) “Groom” makes you think she’s a guy getting married.
3) “aspirations” is really a needless word here.
4) The story as given lacks conflict. We don’t know what problem she faces at the dude ranch that makes her life worse than it was before.
5) “A savvy businesswoman” is good, but it could be sharpened into something with more intrinsic conflict that explains the flight from Fortune Five-hundred in favor of feisty fillies. It would be very helpful to know our heroine’s reason for leaving, but it’s even more important to know what genre we’re working with. The one-sentence summary should always tell you what the genre is, some way or another.
So let’s consider some options. Here are some possible genres, and some possible ways to tweak Laura’s sentence. These are a bit wordy, because I’m whipping them out quickly without taking time to really sharpen them up.
Comedy: A corporate bigwig dumps her job to work on a dude ranch, but discovers she’s allergic to horses.
Romance: A love-starved CFO leaves her Fortune 500 company to pursue a John Wayne lookalike on his dude ranch.
Suspense: After a deal with the Mafia goes awry, a female CEO goes incognito at a dude ranch.
Horror Spoof: After attempting suicide at corporate headquarters, a zombie woman cannot be released until she mucks out 1000 stalls on a dude ranch.
Spiritual: A newly widowed businesswoman seeks meaning by leaving corporate America for the simple life on a dude ranch.
Laura, the ball’s in your court. I think we have more work to do, but we’ll need you to fill us in on the story a little bit more. What’s the genre and what is our heroine’s conflict once she starts mucking those stalls out?
We have time for one more today. I’ll take Gerhi’s comment/question, since he contributed significantly to critiquing Laura. Gerhi wrote his latest one-sentence summary here:
A disengaged father steal back his three year old son from a mirror dimension.
My question: How do I put into that one line a sense that I hope a lot of the book will be humorous even though the concept is serious? In other words, when do you indicate the style of writing?
Randy sez: Put in some humor, absolutely! That proves you can, which is something you have to show the editor. You can’t just tell the editor, “I’m so funny, people fall on the floor laughing when they hear my jokes.” So if your story is humorous, it really would be a fine idea to make the one-sentence summary funny. This isn’t always easy, since there are different types of humor. If you are good at one-liners, then your one-sentence summary is a great place to show it off. If your humor is more the “build the joke slowly, get it rolling, and milk the audience for laugh after laugh,” then that’s VERY hard to show in a one-sentence summary.
I happen to be pretty decent at one-liners. However, I won’t contribute one here, for two reasons:
1) I don’t know the story well enough.
2) The humor in a one-sentence summary is an advertisement for what you can do, and so it might be considered deceptive if an editor found out that your hilarious sentence came from me.
So Gerhi, I would challenge you to write a one-sentence summary that tells your essential conflict and has a humorous kicker at the end. I have no idea how best to do that, but if you can pull it off, you’ll likely have a winner. Let us know if you come up with one. I think we’ll all be interested to hear it.