This is what I’m grappling with now. A distillation of my second manuscript into one or two sentences that tell another person what it’s about.
A few years ago I did a Carmel Bird* workshop. We went around the class (natch) each saying what we were reading and what it was about. This is how I started:
‘I’m reading Last Night in Twister River by John Irving. It’s about a logging community…’
Carmel politely, and gently, interrupted:
‘I bet it’s not about a logging community.’
She was right. It wasn’t about a logging community, of course it wasn’t. Books are rarely about their setting or the jobs the characters do. They are rarely about anything so ‘surface.’ I never finished the book (not because of that) but I find myself struggling with being able to describe what my stories are about. I don’t think I’m alone. People say writing a synopsis is the hardest; well this is even harder. With a synopsis, even a short one, there are some more words to play around with.
The first novel manuscript, it took me years to come up with ‘it’s about the mess of family.’ What the hell? I’d written the whole thing, revised and revised, for more than three years. And I couldn’t say what it was about? I knew the themes, I knew what it was ‘exploring’ but it was so so hard to write just one sentence that nailed the essence of it.
Now I’m struggling with ms #2. The best I can come up with – after weeks of pondering it – is a couple of words. And before I could come up with those two simple elements, I went through a whole lot of others. But I am circling in on what the ms is about.
I think if I ever had the chance to do a real elevator pitch I’d need to get on at the top of a say 1000-storey building and hope that me and the lucky pitchee were both going to the ground. Cause that’s how long it would take me.
One good thing though, it has made me really think about what it’s about and that means that now when I go back in for the next revisions, I will be shaping it a little more to fit with the main theme. It also means that when people ask ‘what’s it about’ I have something to say instead of bumbling through a mini precis that talks about the characters and what they do rather than what the book is about. There’s a difference, I can see it now.
* Carmel is fab. Once, years before that class, I emailed her via her website with a question about what I could best do, eg in the way of classes etc, to improve my skills and she emailed back a lovely, helpful & supportive reply which I thought was really nice of her. She didn’t have to do that.