If you had 20 seconds to describe the story you’re currently working on, how would you paint a picture of your masterpiece?
In technical terms, this is called an elevator pitch. But that can sound intimidating to someone who hasn’t even started the process of trying to get something published. So I like to just call it your One Sentence Description of whatever you’re working on. It’s not quite as scary-sounding. And it can help you approach something that’s a lot more beneficial than you think it is.
For our purposes now, I’m not going to get into how to craft the perfect One Sentence, because to be completely honest, I don’t have enough practice myself to be able to guide you along. Don’t ask me to describe the book I’ve been itching to write for six months now, because I don’t know enough about it to be able to describe it to you in full.
THAT is what I want to talk about right now. Why you need One Sentence. Forget about publishers and editors and agents for a second. This is about your characters; your plot; your world. Ask yourself this: do you know your story well enough to be able to tell someone what it’s about in just one sentence?
If the answer is no — it’s either because you’re not far enough along in your story yet, or you’re not writing a very good story.
I cannot tell you just One Sentence for a book I have yet to write. But I can tell you the one I came up with for a book I would love to revise and publish at some point in the next five years: A girl writes letters to her missing sister as she steps out of her shadow and takes her place as the school’s Queen Bee. It’s not perfect, but it tells you just enough about the story’s premise to get you interested.
The problem is, you can’t write a good One Sentence until you know your story’s purpose. You have to know it backwards and forwards — in other words, you have to have written enough of it, or have a detailed enough outline, to know your story’s point of intrigue.
That’s not an easy thing to do. Not at first, anyway. You have to spend a lot of time with a story before you know the message it’s really trying to communicate. Stories evolve as you write them, which is why it’s such a struggle to explain what you’re working on when you honest to god don’t know.
It’s frustrating when writers give vague descriptions of their work. “I’m writing a YA dystopian thriller.” Great — so is everyone else. But many people use genre as a placeholder. That’s fine, as long as you know that’s not a pitch. It’s a starting point — but certainly not an endpoint.
The only way to get to know your story is to immerse yourself fully into it. When I wrote Queen Bee, I literally did nothing else the entire span of writing the first draft. Of course, I also had the luxury to do that, since it was summer, I was 18, and I had surgery and couldn’t really do much else anyway. So completely stopping your life to write a book isn’t usually possible. But at least for an hour or so a few days a week, it is. After awhile, that adds up. And it still matters.
Hang in there. You might not know your One Sentence now. But hopefully you’ll get to that point eventually. I hope you do. And if you have a One Sentence you want to try out, share it below. Hey, I shared mine. It doesn’t have to be perfect (yet)!
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.