One DAMN Sentence

Posted on 03/29/2010


Lately I’ve been trying to pay it forward and help other people get their stories polished.  Whether that’s through critiquing work, reading their story, or helping with a query letter over on the public query slushpile.

A lot of people don’t know what their story is about. Well, they think they do, until you tell them to explain it in ONE SENTENCE.

They can’t.

They never have been able to.

So, that got me thinking, just where did the “OH MY GAWD I MUST WRITE THIS DAMN STORY!” come from for these people? Did they have one flash in their heads? —

… A woman, standing on the edge of  a cliff, will she jump?

And then they built up the story around that one really trite idea. Okay, I kiiiid, I kiiid.

Look, I am split 50/50 on the whole “One sentence pitch” for your book. You know the old elevator pitch for agents…blah, blah,blah. Your pitch only does so much, it’s your writing that matters. Seriously.  But YOU (Yes, I am talking to the you reading this damn thing) must know your one sentence idea that started the entire insane process of writing 80,000 words.  What was that spark? Think back to the very first idea you ever had about your story. What was it?  That’s a place to start. Begin at the beginning and go from there.  I see so many query letters on the slushpile website that meander all over the damn page.

They write 500 word query letters.  Good luck fitting that bitch on one page! 

As a writer you have to boil your story down to one sentence. Seriously. Wasting time on telling me in detail (making me want to pull my hair out) about your story does not make me want to read it. Telling me succinctly, in one sentence, might. (I say might because your story might really suck. Hey we can’t all be writers, okay.)

This whole one sentence thing will work for you. It will help you focus your story, your synopsis, your query letter, etc.  Just do it and quit bitching about it.

Also, I have been reading a stupid amount of query letters on different sites lately. Um. There’s really not too many original ideas out there. I hate to say it. Most of the query letters I read are the same old drivel. And what’s with the lead character in EVERY DAMN YA book being a GIRL and one snarky bitch. Can’t we make a protag in YA be shy? Not sarcastic and vitriolic? 

Sorry, I got off on a little tangent there.  Sometimes my brain takes over my thoughts. (Try and make sense of that last sentence…if you can–FOOL!)

But seriously, take your long and arduous description of your story, and boil it down to a paragraph. Then boil that paragraph to one sentence. Does that one sentence make you want to read the story? It does?

Hmmm….I am suspicious.

I don’t think you would really want to read it if it was someone else’s sentence. I think you’d laugh it off. Or pat them on the shoulder like a pet.

Okay, for shits and giggles, here’s a few one sentence pitches I am MAKING UP from stories and queries I have read.  Heh.

A snarky young girl finds out the that boy of her dreams is actually a 200 year old guardian sent to protect her when she finally learns that she is THE ONE to stop the evil empire from taking over <insert city>.

A young boy finds out that not everything is as it seems as his life is turned upside down by shapeshifters dead set on stealing his NAME!  (shiver, fools…SHIVER!)

A gay woman who thinks her mother is insane, is instantly transported to another world where she learns she is the queen who has to stop a dread evil!

A girl who is a good swimmer soon has her life turned upside down as she learns her father is part of a secret order of clowns, hell bent on destroying the local circus.

A police detective becomes the center of a homicide investigation when her breast milk is found at the scene of a murder.  

Fuce. I could go on and on.

The point is, your ONE SENTENCE idea will tell you if your story really sucks, or is really good.  Or somewhere in the middle. Toy with it. Change it up so that it is interesting. The sentences above make me want to murder myself in the face. They are limp as my…well…never mind. And they are vague. And they are just not good ideas for stories.

Now stop reading my damn blog and go write that one sentence!!!!

Posted in: Writing