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.
“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.
Sometimes some of the best motivation can be found in the words of famous authors.
Here are 5 great literary quotes to inspire you:
1 – If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write. – Somerset Maugham
2 – A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it to be God. – Sidney Sheldon
3 – It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.– Ernest Hemingway
4 – “I can shake everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
5 – “Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly—they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Onward into 2017: writing, thinking, writing, eating, writing, laughing, writing, living, writing…you get the picture.
Years ago when I was active in the world of “Mad Men”, television commercials that continually won awards were all about emotions.
The Hallmark card company is a master at this. They understand the power of emotions. After all, they’ve built a multi-million dollar business on them.
From their success we can learn what I call the Hallmark way of writing. It’s all about emotions.
— How does your heroine feel the first time she sees the hero? What makes her/him angry? What does that anger feel like? How do they express it?
— Sad, glad, mad—do your characters experience these emotions as a result of what happens to them in your story?
— How do the actions and words of dialogue you set up in your story make your character feel? How do they react?
— Do they suppress their emotions or let it all hang out, no matter the consequences?
Once you’ve identified a feeling, how do you describe it?
In a recent Donald Maas workshop I learned an exercise that helped me do this. He asked us to think of a time in our life when we were most angry at another person, or situation. Then he asked us to take five minutes and write down on paper how that anger made us feel or react, what words we could use to describe our angriest moment.
The words come easily when you’re thinking about your own situation.
He had us do the same exercise with love. Then he asked us to find a place in our story where we can attribute to a character those words we’d written.
Here’s another exercise: the next time you go to a movie, take a few minutes right afterwards to think about how it made you feel.
— Did it make you cry?
— Scare the beejesus out of you?
— Confuse you?
Write down how your body feels as a result of the emotional experience. Was the movie just plain stupid? Write down how you feel about that as well.
Chances are you’ve experienced sad, glad, mad at least once in your life.
I read an interview with author Tess Gerritsen where she said, “When I write my novels, I don’t think my way through them; I feel my way. I’m always stopping to test my gut reaction. Does a scene move me in some way? Am I upset or scared or excited or angry? No? Then I need to dig deeper to find the emotion. We have to ask ourselves again and again: What am I feeling in this scene?”
If it works for Tess Gerritsen, it can work for the rest of us.
Feelings connect us. As humans we are blessed (cursed?) with the ability to empathize with others.
And that can make a good read great.