We’ve been discussing one-sentence summaries for the last couple of weeks, and I think we’ll be drawing this topic to a close in the next few days.
Today, I’d like to finish critiquing Laura’s summary sentence, which I started last week (but was unable to finish because I didn’t know the genre). Here is Laura’s latest comment over the weekend:
This will be a Women’s Fiction novel. She is the Controller (Head accountant) of an up and coming “hip” fashion accessory company. When she finds out the charismatic owner is basically a crook and confronts him, he gives her the choice to leave or be fired. She’s bought into the American Dream, not to mention the So. Ca. lifestyle, and finds herself on the street with a tarnished career and major burnout. Chucks it all and decides ambition is way overrated. Decides to go find something to do that she loves instead.
She doesn’t go looking for the job as a groom, just kind of falls into it. As you can imagine, the ranch owner becomes the hero.
Sorry to go on and on, but want everyone to have an idea of the plot.
Please continue to tear up the sentence!
Randy sez: OK, that gives me enough to go on. Here is my suggestion:
“Fired by her crooked boss, an accountant meets her dream man at a dude ranch.”
15 words, 3 characters, 2 plotlines, 1 dude ranch, 1 ranch dude. I think it’ll work. The focus here is on the future–the guy. What do you all think?
Now, let’s look at Gerhi’s one-sentence summary, which we discussed last week also. Gerhi wrote:
“A dorky dad does a gender bender to steal his toddler son from a deranged dimension.”
Randy sez: You do NOT want your lead character to be “dorky”. That’s a non-starter. In another post, Gerhi explained that in going to the mirror dimension, the dad becomes a woman. This has a lot of potential, so let’s backload that at the end of the sentence. I would recommend we make the adjectives on the dad less interesting so as to focus on the gender switch. Here is my suggestion:
“After chasing his toddler son into a mirror universe, a young father discovers that he has become a woman.”
19 words, 2 characters, 2 universes, and 2 crossovers. You might think we’re over the word limit, but 3 of those words are “a” and 8 of those words are 4 letters or less.
An operational issue: Probably 80 to 100 of my loyal blog readers posted one-sentence summaries, and it should be clear that we are never going to get through all of these, especially since new ones keep coming in daily. And the larger problem is that there’s a limit to how much I can improve a sentence in 5 minutes of work. Normally, I spend at least an hour writing a one-sentence summary for my own novels.
I was mulling this problem over the weekend and hit on an idea. For those of you who REALLY need a strong one-sentence summary, maybe I could offer a paid service: one hour of my time to buff up your one-sentence summary to a high polish for a suitable fee. I would have to set the fee high enough to drag me away from my many other worthwhile projects.
Let me know what you think of this idea. I would probably not advertise this service outside the blog for awhile, if ever. For one thing, my loyal blog readers deserve first shot at my limited time. For another, I’m not sure how many one-sentence summaries I can do before becoming completely deranged. I might end up wandering off into some mirror dimension, with consequences that could only be described as tragic.
Thank you for the one-sentence tutorial, Randy. Stopping short of completely deranged is a wise—although less entertaining—choice.
You’ve given us a good variety and plenty of examples to show us (for free) how it’s done.
All this one sentance discussion is great, but of course had to come to an end at some point. Paying for Randy’s time would be an excellent option for people looking for the pro touch.
Although we’ve also had some great constructive critisism from readers as well. Is there somewhere we could discuss and critique our efforts amongst ourselves, the readers, without Randy’s blog being clogged?
There’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, waiting for you to wrap up this pesky one-sentence summaries before I make the suggestion:
Critic of first paragraphs!
Personally I have been trying to find a compromise between getting straight into the story right from the first paragraph and maintaining suspense while letting out the conflict little by little.
I know it’s quite cumbersome to do this for everyone, but you may select few so everyone can learn from them if you don’t have the time. I’m sure many of your loyal blog readers would vote for this 🙂
The paid service could combine the one sentence and the first paragraph . . . hoping that does not take Randy completly across the border of sanity. Remember, he’s already a mad professor!
Fellow blog readers, what do you think?
I was soooooo close! Only a few more to go before he did mine. Now I’m the one going insane!
Randy, the exercise was great. I don’t mind paying for your service. I do like the idea of combining the one sentence and the first paragraph. I think the opinion I’m most interested in is: do you think it’s a good concept? Is the idea solid or does it need a new “hook”?
Just my two cents. Please let us know when you wtart this service.
Whoops. I mean *start* this service.
(I’d never make a good editor…)
Yeah, somewhere where we could hash out our sentences among ourselves would be great. I learned so much just from all of your readers that responded to me – thank you! – and from thinking up one-liners for everyone else. These sentence-summaries really are their own language with their own syntax and reason…not to be tackled in a vacuum.
It wouldn’t take long to put something together, make sure it links back to the Snowflake method and slap it online.
*** time passes ***
Something like this?
Parker Haynes says
These two weeks you’ve given so generously of your time, experience, and expertise on one sentence summaries is invaluable. THANX!! You have a special (and very desirable) talent for getting right to the point.
An hour of your time for a dynamite one sentence summary? Hmmm… what are the numbers? Fifty bucks? A hundred?
Personally I tend toward the “Teach a man to fish… school, thus the proposals by Iain and Cate for forming an online group are very intriguing. It could be set up on a free blog, but would require someone dedicated enough to administer it. Interesting idea.
Randy, would you have a problem with some of us using your blog as an initial connection point? Perhaps let those who are interested post their email address?
Andra M. says
Setting up a summary service is a good idea, but like you said, you will be inundated with requests.
How about setting up a forum where people can post – well anything – for critique?
Done that, the comment I already made is awaiting moderation while Randy sleeps. Probably as it has a link in it.
Just append /forum to my website.
If that’s the kind of thing people want then I’ll shell out for a domain name for it if you like.
Laura Drake says
Randy – thanks SO much for your invaluable advice on my summary sentence – if you need a recommendation for your services, I’m there!
Joanna Mallory says
This has been a great exercise, and I think we’ve all learned a lot by watching the process and practicing on one another. A forum is a great idea, although it’s one more place to remember to go. Thank you, Randy, for the teaching, and thank you everyone who posted a sentence or offered a variation on someone else’s sentence. Lots of good stories out there!
Thanks for all of the time you’ve put into teaching us to write great one-sentence summaries. This is very useful, free information that we can come back to again and again.
Also, I think a paid service is a wonderful compromise on your part. The author gets a summary that is tailored to the story and you receive the payment due you for your concentrated efforts.
Actually, Orson Scott Card has something like this forum idea on his Hatrack site, so it’s not completely unfounded. They critique the first 13 lines of any work (run by an independent administrator), because that’s what the editor sees first. Huh, I forgot about that. But the kicker there is they all write scifi, fantasy or horror. A neutral-to-anything ground would be nice, as would be someplace to kick around those wonderful one-liners. I’ve belonged to several forums and I’ve never seen anything dedicated to such things as sentence-summaries and first paragraphs. Seems to me that’s mighty important.
Oh, darn! I should have discovered this site earlier and weaseled my summary in during the beginning of these one-sentence summary-related posts 🙂
I’ve learned a ton just from re-reading your posts and seeing you help other with their summaries, Randy, so no sweat. I can’t wait to see what your next blog topic will be!
One a side note to Cate: Thanks for mentioning the Hatrack site! It seems very useful.
Kristi Holl says
You might write another snowflake-type article on writing one-liners. Maybe the blog followers would allow you to use their examples for a free copy of the article–then put it up for sale for everyone else–a kind of “how to do this yourself” article. Just a thought! 😎 I guess it would be a big expansion of the first step of the snowflake article.
Grrr! My parents would never let me pay for something like that over the internet….
Pamela Cosel says
Sure, I’d be willing to pay for the service, depending on the cost. Randy, you’ve offered it here free–it only makes sense to try to get paid for your valuable time, as you do the other products you sell. Why not?
Gerhi Janse van Vuuren says
Boy am I glad I got a critique squeezed in. But even if I didn’t I learned a lot about crafting that one sentence. Especially the idea of flipping it around. It is amazing how much you can do with so little.
As to paying for critiques. I think Randy has the right and privilege to charge for his expertise. He is giving so much away for free that I can never complain.
Ray Rhamey at Flogging the Quill does critiques of first pages. But I have no idea what his backlog is. http://www.floggingthequill.com/
Just reading other people’s submission teaches you a lot though so even a lurker learns spans every time.