Yesterday, I asked to hear the one-sentence Storylines of my loyal blog readers. Wow! There are a ton of them posted as comments!
I’ll critique these in the order they came in. Today, I’ll critique Heather’s and Katie’s, and then throw out a challenge to my readers to critique Armando’s.
Heather’s one-sentence Storyline goes like this:
The last Dryad searches for a way to heal the forest.
Randy sez: In Heather’s comment, she says she’s not satisfied with it because it doesn’t seem to sum up the storyline. Let’s see if we can figure out why.
A powerful way to analyze a storyline is to ask, “What’s the Story Question?” (A Story Question is the question that your story must answer by the end of the story. Typical Story Questions are: “Will Scarlett get Ashley?” or “Will Luke destroy the Death Star?”)
The Story Question raised by Heather’s storyline is this: “Will the last Dryad heal the forest?”
The issue I see is that this question is a bit abstract. I don’t know what’s wrong with the forest. Is it sick? Sorrowful? Cut down by Al Gore? The actual, specific problem that the forest has will determine what the actual, specific goal the last dryad has.
Now, you don’t want to get too specific, of course–that takes too many words. But I think we need some more concrete details here to understand what’s wrong.
Heather, do you want to add some detail to this and post it as a comment? I just bet it’ll be a better Storyline if you do.
Katie’s Storyline goes like this:
A maid of honor struggles to understand her powers after accidentally transporting herself, the best man, and the flower girl to a deserted island.
Randy sez: This is pretty specific! We have three characters named, and their relationship is all pretty clear. We have a deserted island. We have some sort of magical powers. The Story Question is similar to that on Gilligan’s Island: “Will they get off that pesky island and go home?”
This is a good strong Storyline. It does everything it needs to do. It tells prospective readers instantly if this is the kind of story they want to read.
Here’s Armando’s Storyline:
A man writes and sings an incantation over and over wherever he stands to unravel the prophecy that beckons the next savior of the world.
Randy sez: I have my own thoughts on this Storyline, but I think it’s good for everyone to exercise their analytical powers. So here’s my challenge to my loyal blog readers: Does this Storyline work? Is it perfect, or can it be improved? Post a comment and tell us what you think!
I am intrigued by his statement, but I don’t exactly see what his goal is. To me, this sentence explains an action that he will be performing to bring about an event, but why? Why is this important to him or is it? What does he stand to lose? This seems more like a summary sentence for a scene than an entire book.
Mary Andrews says
The chanting, writing man has a quest but lacks an obstacle to make it sound interesting.
Actually, the line doesn’t seem to be telling me very much about the story at all. If this is a story about the man, I want to know why he cares about the saviour so much that he would be willing to write and chant the incantation so many times. If it is about the hero, then I want to know what is so special about him. The way it is right now, it seems to be all about the incantation and why that is special. (which could work, but I don’t think that’s what is meant…)
So my basic interpretation is that it isn’t human enough. It is about a man (maybe we should have more information about the man?), an incantation and a savior we know nothing about. Too impersonal to get me to buy the story, though it is intriguing.
Melissa Prado says
“A man writes and sings an incantation over and over wherever he stands to unravel the prophecy that beckons the next savior of the world.”
This sentence leaves me with a lot of questions, but would not compel me to open the book. For instance:
“A man” – what sort of man? An aging Catholic priest? A 34-year-old mental institution escapee? A father of four?
“writes and sings an incantation over and over” – why? Is some mysterious power physically forcing his body to do this? Does he just feel compeled to do this and he doesn’t know why? Or has he decided to do this for some reason and he’s in complete control?
“to unravel the prophecy that beckons” – what sort of prophecy? A Biblical one? Something an oracle or soothsayer told him? An ancient legend he stumbled upon?
“the next savior of the world” – what does this mean to him. The next major prophet who will inspire another major world religion, ala Jesus Christ or Mohammad? Or the coming of the Messiah? Why does the world need saving? Being saved from what?
Also, there is no clear indication of what the man stands to lose if he fails. And what might happen to the world if he fails. Or if there is even anyone or anything standing in his way.
Obviously, you can’t (and wouldn’t want to) answer ALL of these questions and make the storyline incredibly long and tedious, but it definitely needs more detail. Since I don’t know what the answers to any of those questions are, I can’t create a new storyline sentence as a suggestion, but maybe this will be helpful for you in crafting a new & improved sentence that will entice potential readers (or at least not leave them scratching their heads). 🙂 Good luck!
Lois Hudson says
I think Mary’s “one-sentence statement” says it best.
The repetition of “over and over” uses up valuable space in the summary without telling anything. I would like to know what the incantation says that makes it valuable to repeat, and why it would beckon the savior. That would intrigue me. That can’t be stated in the summary, but would definitely be a draw (to me) in the blurb on the back of the book.
The first time I read Armando’s storyline I assumed that the man was creating the incantation. On the second read, I wondered if he was simply repeating it in an effort to unlock it. My question is, what/who is he, and what is the setting? (Is that too much to want to know from a storyline?)
I had trouble just parsing the sentence. The man writes and chants. He writes and chants repeatedly. He does this whenever he stands, or whenever he stands to unravel a prophecy. Why does he stand to unravel a prophecy? Why can’t he sit? Why does it need unraveling, or is that a side effect of his standing?
I’m not trying to give you a hard time. I think that if you want your sentence to sell your book, it needs to be crisp and unambiguous.
To me it sounds like the main character spends the entire story repeating an incantation until Something Happens. I don’t get a sense of the conflict, and the only story question I can surmise is “Will the next savior come or not?” But I don’t think that’s really what Armando was after.
Adam Leigh says
I’m completely with Hugh on this logline, the sentence is grammatically dubious.
I suspect that the specific phrasing used here is intended to create suspense or maintain mystery, but that’s not really the objective here. The one sentence summary is primarily used to:
A.) maintain your focus (as Randy sez) while writing, in which case I suggest you do not attempt to confuse or mislead yourself; or
B.) catch the attention of a publisher in your query letter, in which case you want there to be enough information to pose an engaging question only your manuscript can answer.
But while those are the objectives of the logline, there are things it can inadverantly do to damage your story. In this case, I’m so confused from the 25 words in your logline that I’m questioning how effectively you’ll handle the 40,000 words of a novel.
But forgetting all that, and choosing to ignore the more silly interpretations of the sentence, what I read in your summary is that we have a Man who has discovered a prophecy about a Savior. He is trying to fulfill the prophecy in order to find the Savior, but whenever he tries to meet one of the conditions of the prophecy he loses control of his body and cannot proceed.
This is a complex premise, but leaves me with so many questions I’m not sure whether I want to read on.
My biggest question is: Why is the chanting and writing important enough to be mentioned? There is nothing interesting about reading about someone who uncontrollably chants and writes things down. There are so many more interesting questions than the nature of the obstacle that blocks the Man’s way. For instance, WHY does he need a savior? What is the prophecy asking him to do? How did the Man come into possession of the prophecy and is he well suited to dealing with the knowledge?
My suggestion is to pick a more interesting part of your story to use as part of your summary instead of the writing/chanting part. Something that makes me think “Wow! I want to see how he fulfills the prophecy!”
Lisa Keck says
“Over and over wherever he stands” tripped me up. Although still leaving questions I think taking that phrase out would improve the sentence. “A man writes and sings an incantation to unravel the prophecy to beckon the next savior of the world.” I also agree with Adam–wow me.
Hannah L. says
I notice Mr. Ingermanson really liked Katie’s One Sentence Summary, and I find it interesting that the sentence is over 20 words long and yet doesn’t feel drawn out or cluttered with extra information.
I did the exact same thing Lisa did, and took out the words, “over and over wherever he stands.” To me this makes the sentence much more concise and to the point.
Obviously the man has a goal, and it is to capture the savior’s attention. The question is: What’s going on in the world in need of saving? Why does the man feel that act of repetition will get the savior’s attention? Another question: Who is the “savior”? Is it God? Is he some warrior? In addition, the “wherever he stands” stands to much scrutiny.
The premise has a lot of potential if there was more clarity to lead the reader onward.
As you can see, I have more questions than answers.
ML Eqatin says
Am I tho only one who read this as the man trying to BLOCK his discovery? The sentence does not imply that his writing and chanting is to get this savior to come. It might as well be to keep him away.
When boiling things down to one sentence, you have to be sure that words won’t ‘flip’ in the reader’s mind, as in the famous headline snafus: “Giant waves down ocean liner’s smokestack!” or “General Patton flies back to front.”
Lois Hudson says
Yes, Katie’s sentence is concise, clear and without excess baggage. I’m tempted to say it would be more intriguing if it had been the groom instead of the best man that transported with her.
Lois: Unless, while struggling to get back to the groom, the bride realizes she’s really in love with the best man. 🙂
Sheila Deeth says
Just a comment, but I don’t like the phrase “over and over” in the summary – gives a feeling that the book might be too slow.
David Ferretti says
I envision a good plot and action in your novel. However, the words of the tag line do not convey this. Three things make up a one-sentence teaser: Name of the protagonist, goal/conflict (what is at stake) of the protagonist and consequence of not reaching the goal. You can tighten this up with an exercise Randy covered many posts ago. Write a single page synopsis of your story. Reduce it to a single paragraph. Finally, write a single sentence recap of that paragraph. How do you eliminate words from the paragraph? Read aloud each sentence and ask yourself “Why do I care?” If you cannot answer, then cut the sentence. You can merge the remaining words/sentences together to write your tag line.
Heather Hett says
Ok I ended up posting my revised line on the last comments instead of this one (I apologize for my blog ignorance).
The last Dryad seeks to heal the forest from the Fairy King’s Blight.
The story question really helps to focus on how to convey the overarching conflict in a one sentence statement. Thanks for picking me :D.
Heather Hett says
However now I’m considering revising it further, but not sure if this one is to specific/wordy.
while the last Dryad struggles to heal the Fairy King’s tree blight, a man falls in love with her.
God allies a single mother and an ex-journalist, transforming a broken town into a harbor for the hopeless.
(inthekingsgarden.blogspot.com is my personal blog and not connected to my manuscript project)