Wednesday, February 9, 2011

HOW TO TELL A STORY IN TEN WORDS OR LESS

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by George Talbot and Ruby Johnson                                                    


Ernest Hemingway’s buddies bet he couldn’t write a complete story in ten words. Hemingway did it in six-- .probably a tribute to the love of his six-toed poly dactyl cats.

 For sale: baby shoes, never used.

Hemingway is said to have considered the story to be his best work, and it supports a simple idiom offered by John Irving; “Whenever possible tell the whole story in the first sentence.”


What they probably didn’t envision was the use of this technique to pitch ideas to an agent or editor. They didn’t call it high concept but that is what it was. Lori Wilde author of over 50 books, used this technique to sell two novels to Time-Warner books based solely on a 25 word high concept pitch. She says there are several components to the high concept.

• It’s different.
• It’s universal
• You can immediately visualize the entire story
• It can be stated in one sentence.


See how this works with the following:
An arrogant cop must find a way to save the people stranded on a city bus that will explode if it slows below 55 mph- Speed

Using Lori’s example:
It’s different—exploding bus
• It’s universal—almost everyone has ridden a bus
• Emotional appeal—life or death situation
• You can see the entire story—if the bus slows down, it’s blown into a million pieces.


Seems simple doesn’t it? But whoa, it isn’t. Getting a 300 page novel condensed down to 25 words is harder than you might think.

Rosemary Clement Moore, author of Splendor Falls, says If you’re going to pitch to an agent, a sit down pitch should take no more than 2-3 minutes to outline the essentials in your book and a pitch should include the following:

• Genre and target audience
• Character and their most important “hook”
• Internal Goal/Conflict
• External Goal/Conflict


It could also include, briefly:
• Inciting Incident
• One complicating element
• The climactic turning point
• Theme or lesson learned
Know what your main characters want, the external conflict, inciting incident, the stakes, and the ending.

Her tips: Describe as if you're trying to convince your significant other to spend $20+ to go to a movie he/she knows nothing about. What are the themes/bigger message? Is there a particularly interesting setting? Do you have a background relevant to the book?

“But the zinger is the 1-2 sentences that gives the distilled essence of your book. You can lead or conclude with it.


If you can offer more advice on this subject we’d love to have you leave some comments.

 George Talbot and Ruby Johnson are members of Greater Fort Worth Writers.
 George Talbot  writes short stories. He is almost retired and the owner of  2 dogs, 2 horses and father of  2 daughters.

Ruby Johnson, CRNA is published in professional journals, and likes to say her profession in Anesthesia is to put people to sleep  and now she's trying to wake them up with words.

2 comments:

Sara Thompson said...

Such great tips - would love to hear more

Anonymous said...

Hello George and Ruby:
I just finished reading the USA's 150 bestselling books and each one has one sentence description of the book. Here's the link
http://usat.ly/9sm8Kn
Lana J

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