The One Sentence Summary

I saw this on Rachelle Gardner’s blog and thought I would continue with my own ideas on crafting the perfect one sentence summary. Notice I said craft and not write. Save for the one in a million shot when the literary gods grease the brass gears of your mind, your sentence will be the product of multiple rewrites and massaging. All writers know that summarizing our work can be the hardest task. After working on it for 250 plus pages to  sum it all up in 25 words is a little like trying to fit a large pizza with the works in a lunch pail.

No matter what your story is about, getting the conflict up front is crucial to catching readers’ attentions. Next up should be your main character or characters. Do not go crazy and gives us a cast list. All that is needed is your central character and the conflict or crisis he, she or it faces. Try to set the location or mood of the piece as well. This is risky and could turn off some readers but it can also attract others. Avoid talking about the theme of the book. Nobody picks up a book for its stellar theme. Also do not think your concept is that unique that is needs to be front and center. Let’s face it there are very few things you could write about that would both be totally unique and still relate to your readers. So without further bombast here are a few of my own.

For my most recent work, The Fourth Prometheus, I largely ignored everything I said above. For readers familiar with this genre this is all the summary needed to grab them. also by comparing it to a classic horror story I convey the core plot and conflict by association.

The Fourth Prometheus, 85,000 words, is a modern Steampunk take on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein combined with the myth of the Golem plus a bit of the Wild West.

My soon to be released YA work, Undead Heart, has a plot with twists and turns that would be difficult if not impossible to cover in 25 words. Still I built the sentence around enough disparate elements that the conflict is obvious, teenagers in love, vampires, werewolves and zombies.   The added twist comes right after the Heavy Metal music. The sentence begins like any other YA romance, but then you get to the vampires and werewolves, still fairly common, but throw in one zombie apocalypse and now it’s a party. So remember you can work in that unique twist that makes your novel stand out, just remember to keep the conflict and characters front and center.

Undead Heart, is a novel about teenagers, love, heavy metal music, werewolves at war with vampires and a zombie apocalypse.

My mythological romance, In the Presence of Gods, presented a unique challenge in that it takes place in the present day but involves the Gods of Ancient Greece. Still, the heart of the story is the love between the two lead characters, Theron and Ariadne. The twist about this being modern day comes on the first page of the book and the very next sentence of the description. I suppose I could work this a little more and get that into one sentence but for this case I like how a short question sets up the description to follow.

Will Theron and Ariadne have to sacrifice their love to save the Gods of Atlantis from oblivion?

The one I am least satisfied with is the description for my Historic Fiction novel, Xristos: Chosen of God. Here I had a hard time clearly indicating the conflict and introducing the characters, who probably need no introduction, but are vastly different form what the readers may be expecting. My problem is I could not get it all into one sentence. I call do over.

At the dawn of the first millennium, the People of Israel are eager for the appearance of their Kingly and Priestly Messiahs. Two cousins from Galilee, Jesus and John, fulfill the prophecy, but when King Herod has John beheaded, Jesus does the unthinkable and assumes the role of both messiahs, only to have his people turn on him.

I hope this has given you some food for thought. Take a look at Rachelle Gardner’s post and follow those guidelines and your summary sentences will be better for it.

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About Vincent A. Alascia

Vincent is the author of, "In the Presence of Gods," "Xristos: Chosen of God," and coming soon, "Undead Heart," available on Kindle and paperback, as well as works that have appeared in anthologies and online. Originally an East Coast native, he makes his home in the Phoenix area of Arizona with his wife and three attention grabbing felines. Vincent is an active member of the West Valley Writers' Workshop and an Adult Services librarian at the Maricopa County Library District Northwest Regional Library in Surprise, Arizona.
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