Your Book In One Sentence
When someone asks you what your book is about, it can be a very difficult thing to sum up in a line or two.
Even after you’ve finished it, capturing the essence in a way that does it justice can be more frustrating than writing it in the first place. I usually end up rambling like I have no idea what I’m talking about.
Not only would it be very handy in social situations, but also professionally. A clear concise way to tell people about the book in a way that lets them know what it’s about, but also hooks their interest in some way.
So how do you do that?
This is one of those things where most advice is fairly generic or you’re presented with a lot of examples of famous books and films that are so well known the title alone grabs people’s attentions. It’s difficult to learn anything from those sorts of examples.
My first thought was to consider how non-fiction books differed in this regard. If I was writing a non-fiction book and you asked me what it was about, I think it would be fairly easy to answer. It’s about how to build your own time machine.
Now, if that was what the book was about, would I need to give you any more information (I mean before you’d consider buying it, or at least having a closer look)?
I would suggest not. You know whether it’s a subject that interests you or not. Whatever the subject, you only need to know that basic information.
If, on the other hand, I was writing a novel and you asked me the same question, and I said it’s about a guy who builds his own time machine, would you need more information?
I would guess yes you would.
The difference, I think, is that in the non-fiction book, once I have the information what I choose to do with it is up to me. Once I build the time machine (and believe me, I’d build it), I may not know where I want to go with it (or when) but that’s okay, I can take it from here.
In fiction, since I don’t get to choose how the guy in the story uses the time machine, I’d like to know a little more about his plans. If I’m going to join him on this journey, I don’t want to find out his goal was to go back 24 hours and stop himself from eating that whole tub of Haagen Dazs.
So it seems to me that what we need to know is what the character’s situation (he builds a time machine) and what he plans to do with it (let’s say he want to go back and kill Hitler).
If you think his intentions are interesting, perhaps you will want to go back with him. If you think it’s predictable and clichéd, perhaps you won’t. You don’t need to reveal how things turn out, just enough information to show the intention.
Having come up with this idea, I thought I should test it a little more. Let’s say the non-fiction version is a book about women who fell in love with the boyfriend or husband of a close friend or family member. A bunch of interviews describing various experiences in this area.
Would people buy that book? I think they will at least know very clearly if it’s their sort of thing, which is after all why they want to know what it’s about.
The fiction version, a woman falls in love with her sister’s husband. And… let’s say she decides to break them up. Is that enough to tell you what it’s about and whether it’s something that would interest you?
I think so. Of course, if you do that and your story doesn’t sound particularly enticing, it may need some tweaking.
Establish the situation, then give the consequence of that situation for the character.
It may take a little fiddling with the wording to capture the tone of the story, but I think you might be able to get across the gist of the story just by doing that.
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