It’s a whole new year, and I hope my loyal blog readers have staggered through the holidays without damage. 2008 was in many ways an awful, terrible, no-good, very bad year. And in other ways it was perfectly fine. But that was then; this is now. Whether 2008 was a good year or a bad year for you, we can choose to make 2009 better. We can take action to make it better.
For the past few months, we’ve been looking at some tactical issues in the craft of writing fiction. I’d now like to switch gears and spend some time talking about how to analyze your novel.
Sooner or later, you’ll need to do exactly that. Some writers prefer to do the analysis before they write the first draft, and that’s fine. Some writers prefer to do the analysis after the first draft, and that’s also fine. You need to find what works for you and work that way. There are many roads to publishing nirvana. Find yours.
As an example of how to do this, let’s look at a story that I think we’re all familiar with: Star Wars. If you haven’t seen this movie, rent it and watch it. It’s part of the lexicon of virtually all writers. It’s a fine example of the Hero’s Journey. And it’s just plain fun, even if you don’t like science fiction.
The first step I take in analyzing any story is to try to summarize it in one sentence. The goal here is to get the Big Picture. What’s the story really about? A one-sentence summary is what some people call the “elevator pitch”–it’s what you’d tell an editor or agent if you were both going up one floor and she asked you, “What’s your novel about?”
You have five seconds to make an elevator pitch, so it needs to be good. It needs to capture the essence of your story. It needs to give the editor or agent enough information to make one of two decisions:
1) This isn’t for me.
2) I’d like to know more.
Door Number 1 is more common. Let’s face it–no story is going to appeal to every reader, and it won’t appeal to every editor or agent either. But every story will appeal to some reader. Your goal is to get published, and so you need to find one agent and then one editor who choose Door Number 2. Just one.
So here’s your assignment for today: Summarize Star Wars in one sentence. (Just Episode 4, not the entire series. Episode 4 was the first Star Wars movie made, and if it hadn’t been good, there would have been no others.)
Post your one-sentence summary of Star Wars here as a comment. Tomorrow, I’ll choose the best of the lot and compare it to the one I’ve already cooked up. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of you has a better summary than mine, because my loyal blog readers are well known to be among the most intelligent people on the planet.
Here are some example one-sentence summaries to get you started:
Harry Potter And The Sorcere’s Stone: A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents.
The Lord of the Rings: A hobbit learns that his magic ring is the key to saving Middle Earth from the Dark Lord.
The Clan of the Cave Bear: A young human girl in Ice Age Europe struggles to survive in her adoptive clan of Neanderthals.
The Pillars of the Earth: A stonemason in 12th century England battles to build his life’s dream, a cathedral.
Outlander: A young nurse searches for the way home after time-traveling from 1945 to 1743 Scotland.
The Time Traveler’s Wife: A young girl grows up in the company of a strange time-traveling visitor who appears and disappears at random.
Pride and Prejudice: A young English woman from a peculiar family is pursued by an arrogant and wealthy young man.
Ender’s Game: A young boy is brutally trained in Battle School to be the general who will save humanity from alien invaders.
The DaVinci Code: A Harvard symbologist and a female French cryptographer solve the puzzle of the Holy Grail in a race against death across Europe.
The Firm: A brilliant young lawyer gets a fabulous job at a firm that is a cover for a Mafia money-laundering operation.
The Man From St. Petersburg: In 1914, a Russian anarchist tries to assassinate the aristocrat who is negotiating his country’s entrance into World War I.
The Hunt For Red October: A Russian sub captain leads the Soviet navy on a merry chase while he tries to hand over the latest Soviet submarine to the Americans.
* Shorter is better
* Tell only the most important piece of the story
* Focus on one or two characters
* Don’t name the characters
OK, now it’s your turn. Post your one-sentence summary of Star Wars here and earn eternal fame and glory!
I’ve never posted in here before, so I wanted to offer a quick thanks, Randy. I’ve benefited tremendously from your e-zine and articles.
My one sentence:
A farm boy in a far away galaxy joins a courageous Rebellion against an evil Empire.
Me Hoo says
My version is that one family deals with their issues that we all face at Thanksgiving…on GALACTIC proportions!!
A young man teams up with friends and allies in order to fight the oppression of the evil empire, and discovers part of his own, previously unknown, legacy along the way.
Star Wars: A farm boy crosses the galaxy to rescue a princess from the man who killed his father.
Adam Heine says
A farm boy from a backwater planet learns that he is the galaxy’s last hope against the tyrannical Galactic Empire.
Amy VR says
A young farmer is the galaxy’s only hope to destroy the evil empire’s ulitmate weapon.
A young man from a remote planet discovers that he has undeveloped mystical powers that could help him rescue a princess and defeat a tyrant.
Wow, this is going to be so much fun. (I’m a star wars fan..)
A farm boy journeys with a jedi master to rescue a rebel princess and fight against the empire.
Ok, I’m really, really sorry to double post, but I just thought of this, and thought I should add it (and I can’t find any edit button) One of my personal thoughts is that the word “must” especially in a fantasy story’s one-line summary makes it much, much weaker. Why ‘must’ one do something? You can refuse, you know. Do you agree, or do you believe that if due to some prophecy, history or something, the hero ‘must’ literally do something, you should add it in the one-line synopsis? (Even if you can’t explain it there?)
In an oppressed galaxy, a young farmer joins with the rebels to overturn the evil emperor and find the truth about his father’s death.
An aging hobbyist writer struggles to remember a movie he saw more than thirty years ago.
Oh dear, that’s not quite it, is it?
Let’s face it, that omnistupid creature with the flappy ear things has done some industrial level damage to the whole saga.
Carrie Neuman says
While Luke is the hero of the story, I’d say it’s Vader who has the most to lose. I went a little different with mine.
A dark mystic pursues a farm boy who possesses blueprints of a planet-destroying weapon.
Marcus Goodyear says
A young farm boy joins the rebellion against an evil empire–armed with secret plans, quirky robots, and a mysterious connection to the Force.
First, if you consider Darth Vader is the father of both Luke and the princess, I’d like to submit this tongue-in-cheek response:
A dysfuntional family involves the galaxy in their struggle to control the galaxy.
On a more realistic note, consider:
A young man is drawn into a galactic battle by a Jedi Warrior in which he finds his identity and saves his twin, and the rest of the galaxy.
A battle-orphaned young man becomes the key player in saving the galaxy from the forces of evil, discovering his hidden identity in the process.
Andrea Mock says
When a princess falls into mortal danger, a young man learns to be a fighter to save her and defeat the evil forces of a galactic empire.
A teen boy on a remote world receives a cry for help from a captured rebel princess, learns the ways of ancient warriors, and battles an evil ruler in a daring starfighter attack on a giant Death Star space station.
One more try…
Galactic flyboy want-a-be is suddenly thrust headlong into a furious battle against an evil Force to save not only the galaxy but also a mysterious princess.
Ooh, ooh–I’ll give it a try! I’m a new poster here (I’ve been studying past blogs, though. :-)) And I’m eager to jump in & learn!
Here’s my attempt:
Tragedy forces a frustrated farm boy into a battle to save the galaxy.
A young boy avenges the death of his family and fulfills his destiny by joining the rebellion in a desperate fight to destroy evil and restore peace to the galaxy.
Bigfoot and his human sidekick become embroiled in an intergalactic family feud while trying to eke out a living as traders of black-market goods.
Dad with anger management issues chases his kids, two robots, a felon and a walking carpet across Galaxy, shit explodes and stuff
An old warrior comes out of retirement to train a boy to use latent magic powers to fight an oppressive regime and their giant space laser.