Saturday, November 13, 2010

The art of whittling down

Smaller is sometimes better.

Maybe not better, but sometimes necessary.  And sometimes helpful.

I've been working on my query letter, 2 sentence pitch, and short synopsis for a couple of months now.  Every time I start, I end up with the same thought right before I give up.  "This is ridiculous!  How can ANYone tell what their book is about in two sentences!?  How is it possible to sum up all the nuance and intrigue of your 100,000 page novel in a one page query!?  It's impossible.  No one can do it."

But they can.  And they do.

It seems that getting a novel published is a lot more than just hammering out 80-100,000 words.  After that easy part is done, then you have to condense those words into something much smaller.  Bite-size even.

I know what you're thinking.  "Yeah, yeah, Amanda.  We all already know this.  Why are you telling us again??"

Because, I wanted to tell you there are people out there who write 2 sentence stories.  Beautiful stories that take only one breath of air to read aloud, but that can haunt you for hours after.  A whole world in 25 words.  What if your whole novel were just the 2 sentence pitch?

Take this one, for example:

L. R. Bonehill

There had been rumors from the North for months. None of us believed it, until one night we started to kill our children too.

While, yes, this could just be the first sentence of a (kick-ass!) novel, it also gives you everything your brain needs to go on about it for hours. You can picture the people huddled around their TV, seeing news stories about crazed people killing their own children. You can see the disbelief in their faces. Until one night, the husband wakes up and maybe grabs an ax. Or even just a baseball bat. And starts walking down the hall to his daughters' room. ...I won't go on, but you see my point.

This is the idea behind "Hint Fiction," an anthology of extremely short stories compiled by Robert Swartwood. You can find the NPR story here. (Thanks mom!)

Click on over and check it out. Some of the stories are amazing. I never knew how much information you could convey in 2 sentences or less. I have renewed hope for my 2 sentence pitch. My goal for the end of this week is to have a confident and concise answer to the question, "What's your novel about." ...I'll get back to you on that one.

For now, though, I'll just share with you my own 2 sentence story. I guess I'm in a dark mood.

"Justine pressed the razor to her scar-covered arm. This will be the last time. As it reached her artery, she wondered if she should have sent out funeral invitations to the girls at school beforehand."

Okay, so it's more than 25 words, and it's 3 sentences, but you get the gist. :) I told you I was bad at this brevity thing!

Now it's your turn!

In the comments, add your own 2 sentence story or 2 sentence pitch of your novel. If you comment, please link back to this post in your own blog so we can get more stories going! Why not make this an impromptu blogfest?  Go forth!  Share the love! And have fun!


  1. Wow! After reading your example and your own 2 sentence pitch, I feel unworthy to share mine. Awesome post! Now I'm inspired to write my pitch anew!

    Great post.

  2. Great post, Amanda! That article about hint fiction was so neat!!

    Every time I try to think of how to describe London Calling in one or two sentences, I generally freak out and say 'oh, I don't need to do this yet, so whatever!' That being said, I know I've never REALLY tried, and I know the sooner I do, the better! This is my homework assignment for after work. When I come up with my (probably crappy) first attempt, I will comment again!

  3. Ok ok, so this is just something that popped into my head after reading this post:

    "As Verity sat down, she could sense someone or something was behind her.
    Dare she turn around and look or simply just start running....."

    Ok, that probably sounds pants to anyone reading it now, but I have made a contribution (and now feel a little nervous about it!)

    Big smiles. :D

  4. Nice one, Abz! You're the only one brave enough to post anything! :)

    Here's the pitch I'm working on.

    Scary agent: So, what's your book about?

    Me: Psychic twins, Sam and Elly, are separated when Sam falls through a supernatural Gate into another world. When Elly gathers her strength and follows her sister through, she finds herself in a war torn city on the other side, confronting parts of her past long buried. Elly must come to terms with her past to figure out which side of the war she's on. Otherwise she may never get her sister home.

    It's still probably too long. But it's a start! :)

  5. Hee hee, and now you are brave too, twice!!

    Thanks! when I posted it, I went off to do some of my painting I am working on, and actually couldn't stop thinking about how I could work a story round those sentences. Those sentences were simnple and could have been in any book really.

    when I read your posts, you inspire me to be me, and not just some little chaps mum! don't get me wrong, I love him to bits, but it's also nice to get a bit of me back from time to time too! Which is why I have started up the arts and crafts again!

    Your pitch is great, I want to read your book now!! Not overloading with info, as to spoil the book, but enough info to make you want to read the book! definately a positive start, if not almost complete if you ask me.

    I always thought to myself, that if I were going to pitch a book, I would try and do it like those film teasers you get, does that make any sense?? I could even imagine the deep voiced chap pounding the words out! how lame am I!!

    Thanks for your wonderful posts :)


Leave me a comment! Show the love!