Can you answer this question in one sentence?
This type of “answer” is often referred to as “your elevator speech” or your “book blurb.” It tells the reader in simple terms what to expect when they read your book.
On March 16 I’m scheduled to present a session at the 2017 Cuenca International Writers Conference in Cuenca, Ecuador. My 50-minute session is entitled: “Getting to the Essential: How to Organize & Write Your Elevator Speech & Your Synopsis.” The focus will be on how and why you need to do this.
It’s easy to break down your novel and say what it’s about if you follow the basics of journalism: who, what, why, when & where? Addressing these questions forms the basis for your elevator speech and your blurb, your description of what your book is about.
Let’s look at two such descriptive sentences and break down what makes them effective.
“The search is on for six million dollars hidden in a Las Vegas Hotel destined for destruction.” (IMPLOSION)
The search (what) is on for six million dollars hidden (why) in a Las Vegas Hotel (where) destined for destruction (when).
“When the world’s most famous magician dies on national television in a Las Vegas roller coaster escape stunt, it’s no accident and all the suspects are magicians with plenty of secret motives for murder.” (MAGICIDE)
“When the world’s most famous magician (who) dies on national television (what) in a Las Vegas roller coaster escape stunt (where), it’s no accident and all the suspects are magicians with plenty of secret motives for murder. (Why)”
Another way to approach this is to describe your character, the inciting incident (what happens to him that triggers the story), what he/she must then do, and why (or else!)
Here’s a formula you can use:
Description of character…must do….verbal action….by…..or…..
To further get a feel for this, read imdb descriptions of movies and tv series:
“Jack Bauer, Director of Field Ops for the Counter-Terrorist Unit of Los Angeles, races against the clock to subvert terrorist plots and save his nation from ultimate disaster.” (24)
“A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.” (Fences)
“A manipulative Southern belle carries on a turbulent affair with a blockade runner during the American Civil War.” (Gone With the Wind)
“Tarzan, having acclimated to life in London, is called back to his former home in the jungle to investigate the activities at a mining encampment.” (The Legend of Tarzan)
“A bipolar CIA operative becomes convinced a prisoner of war has been turned by al-Qaeda and is planning to carry out a terrorist attack on American soil.” (Homeland)
Now, I challenge you to take ten minutes and write one sentence that describes your story, and share it in the comments below.
And why are we so obsessed with it? Is it based in a fear of somehow not being good enough?
Where does this idea that things should never be flawed come from, anyway? Was it something mom said, or a favorite teacher?
Does the challenge to write the perfect book scare the bejeeses out of you?
It’s one thing to have high standards—we should all aspire to something—but to be obsessed with achieving perfection will only hold us back. It will keep us from writing our strongest messages, our strongest dialogue, our strongest characters.
We accept that great literary characters are flawed characters. It’s their quirky flaws that make them memorable.
We should accept that we are not perfect writers, either. We can only do the best we can do. And often, that’s enough. So, I challenge you to just write, and don’t think about whether or not it’s “perfect.”
After all, DONE is better than PERFECT.
I hate how many times I heard this in high school English class. Now I have to admit the teacher was right.
DON’T WRITE WITH CLICHÉS!
Okay, I know all caps indicate yelling. But the teacher yelled at me, so now I get to yell at you.
Certain phrases (two or more words) have become so overused that the expression is no longer either clever or novel. Now they’re just boring and tiresome. They no longer have any strength of meaning. They don’t add any specific details that give the reader a clear picture with which to identify.
They are so generalized they contribute nothing to the story you are writing.
Theodore A. Rees Cheney addressed clichés in GETTING THE WORDS RIGHT: How to Revise, Edit and Rewrite. While he wrote this book in 1984 and revised it in 1990, his advice remains sound.
To help you find places in your manuscript where you may have inadvertently used a cliché, run an EDIT/FIND for the words like and as. These two words often precede a cliché.
A great website that lists the largest collection of clichés ever compiled is clichesite.com. On this site you can search for clichés alphabetically by the first word of the cliché phrase, submit a cliché if you don’t see it listed, and even check on their “Cliché of the Day.”
Googling cliché will bring up a long list of sites where you can explore this subject further.
For more detailed information on CLICHES and the editing process, CLICK HERE.
No doubt you’ve learned a lot so far in your career.
Why not turn it into a book?
Inc.com says, “A book can be a powerful tool for advancing your career and establishing yourself as a brand and as an industry leader.”
Writing a book is a great way to establish yourself as a credible expert. It will impress colleagues and potential employers, make you stand out from competitors, and increase your market value.
But first you want to do your homework. Learn about the publishing business. Research who else has already written a book similar to yours.
Then work with the best. A professional publishing team—which can include a ghostwriter, an editor, a publisher, a distributor and a promoter—will help you present yourself as polished and professional.
Book developer and publisher Lynne Klippel, owner of Business Building Books, offers a free BOOK BUSINESS PLAN to get you started. CLICK HERE to learn more.
Ask yourself: What if you invested $2,000 and got an amazing promotion? Or the new job of your dreams?
Would it be worth it?
Valentine’s Day naturally makes us think of romance. And what could be more fitting than a good romance novel?
When I first decided to write a novel, I decided to write a romance, Hard Amazon Rain. After all, what could be easier?
I discovered that romance is perhaps the most difficult genre to write. Romance readers are…. well…picky.
They have clear expectations, “rules” if you will.
- Boy/girl meets boy/girl
- They fall into attraction,
- Love is thwarted,
- Maybe there’s some danger to the heroine involved,
- They overcome the obstacles,
- And they live happily ever after.
That’s as close to a formula as I can imagine. But there are great love stories that don’t follow this “formula”: Romeo and Juliet and the movie, Love Story.
How boring romance rstories would be if we wrote them all to some imagined “formula!”
In an RWA (Romance Writers of America) critiquing class I learned to ask five questions of my characters:
- What do they want?
- Why do they want it?
- How do they plan to get it?
- What’s standing in the way of their getting it?
- What will happen if they don’t get it?
When those questions are answered, you have Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. This is what makes stories memorable, but it’s by no means a “formula.” These are just the ingredients that make your romantic story memorable.
So, is Goal, Motivation, and Conflict a “rule” that can be broken? I don’t think so—at least I can’t figure out a way to do it, or why I would even want to, when it works so well.
Completed the first draft of your novel? Congratulations!
You think that was work? Get ready for EDITING! This is where your major work begins.
Editing isn’t just about making sure the words are spelled correctly and the grammar is correct. Editing is looking at every aspect of your writing—from your initial story idea, through the telling of your story, to how you craft your sentences.
Well, yes, and spelling and punctuation, too.
I’ve had writers in my classes say, “Oh, I’ll just hire an editor to do all that.”
Really? And what is your budget for that?
So here are 3 reasons why after you master the art of writing you want to master the art of editing:
1 – Professional editing is not cheap. Not only that but, to cover all the bases, you will likely need to hire two people, a Developmental or Content Editor and a Copy or Line Editor.
2 – You can significantly reduce professional editing costs. If you want to hire an editor—and when you feel you are completely finished with your manuscript you should pay a qualified person to look at the work—you will need to budget anywhere from $3/page to $40/hour. And that’s the low end. You only have to google “average editing costs” to verify what I’m talking about.
3 – Presenting a well-edited book to an agent or publishing house makes you look professional. And professionalism increases your chances of being taken seriously as a writer and getting published.
For more detailed information on the editing process and how you can easily master it, CLICK HERE.
“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
Are you addicted to writing? Can you honestly say it’s your passion?
In a career spanning more than seventy years, Ray Bradbury (who died at 91 in 2012) inspired generations of readers to dream, think, and create.
During his career he wrote hundreds of short stories and almost fifty books, as well as poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays, and screenplays.
One of the most celebrated writers of our time, Bradbury won numerous awards and honors and was even nominated for an Academy Award. So if you are serious about writing, you want to know what this man has to say.
In these nine essays on writing and creativity he will entertain you, inspire you and remind you that there is joy to be found in writing.
“I have learned, on my journeys,” says Bradbury, “that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy.”
Learn from the best. Learn from Ray Bradbury.
Because you’re serious about becoming a good writer, I’m going to assume you have acquired a number of books on the subject.
Here are the 7 best books on writing (in my opinion) and why I’ve chosen them.
While this book is targeted to screenwriters, we can learn a lot about story-telling from how movies are structured. A good reference to learn how to take the basic elements of story-telling and make them work in a successful novel.
Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight Swain
Who doesn’t want to be a selling writer? So why not study what kinds of fiction writing sells? Swain’s book is informative, insightful, and to-the-point.
Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maas
I’m a huge fan of Donald Maas since I heard him speak at a writers’ conference and participated in an extra session with him. His focus was on the suspense that keeps us reading. Maas is also a successful New York agent, and the most important thing he said that I have always remembered is, “I want to see conflict on every page.”
The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell
Campbell breaks down what has traditionally made storytelling work. For the wannabe writer just discovering his/her muse, I would say, “Buy and read this book first.”
A traditional and insightful approach to that old devil, punctuation. I don’t know about you, but I admit I didn’t pay that much attention to this subject in my high school creative writing class, so it’s a valuable resource now.
The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters, Christopher Vogler
Along with Joseph Campbell, Vogler is considered a guru of storytelling. His views on the subject are evergreen.
On Writing, Steven King
Besides containing some interesting writing advice, King’s book is full of insights on not just successful writing, but also on the writer’s life.
How many of these are on your shelf? I recommend they all be.