Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quick—What’s your plot?

We had a fun a few weeks ago with the six word plot game, but while we were coming up with our six word plots, cold spears of fear shot through us (you know it did) because we know that our plots really should–and will--be condensed down to a sentence, sometimes called a logline.
The real use of a logline will come when someone asks you what your novel is about. And if it’s an agent whose asking, you’d better know the answer. Picture yourself at a party and you start talking to someone and they ask what your book is about. You’ll say “Oh, it’s about _______.” And then the person turns out to be an agent, and promptly offers to represent you, manuscript unseen. Or something.

So, how do you describe your plot?

I learned from Nathan Bransford’s seminal post on finding the plot. Once I learned, I totally got it. If you didn’t know how, it’s probably not the end of the world. But think of its use in terms of hooking readers/agents/editors. Consider the following that I saw in a recent Publisher’s Marketplace Lunch weekly email:

Anne Stuart's RAZIEL, the first in a series, about fallen angels turned vampires who are sentenced to shepherd the dead to the afterlife after archangel Uriel wins a power struggle against Lucifer, causing him to be cast out of Heaven; when Raziel, one of the Fallen, decides to rescue his newest ward en-route to hell, his actions, and his undeniable attraction to her, set off a chain of events that lead to a wholesale rebellion by the Fallen against Uriel and his minions, as they seek to rescue Lucifer and restore the balance of power among the forces of good and evil, to Abby Zidle at Pocket, in a two-book deal, by Jane Dystel at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management (NA).
That did my head in! I’m sure that RAZIEL is a lovely book, but this “logline” was way, way, way too much. If that’s all I had to go on, I wouldn’t buy the book. Too many names, too many actions, too much description of events that happen. Oh, the plots buried in there somewhere, but I had to work to find it! Not good!

Consider this one in contrast, again from the same Lunch Weekly email:
Therese Stenzel's HIDDEN HEARTS, part of the Christmas Mail-Order Bride Novella Collection - in which a reluctant bride, determined to keep her past from her success-driven new husband, attempts to build a new life but finds it difficult when he's apparently keeping secrets of his own, to JoAnne Simmons at Barbour, in a nice deal, for publication in fall 2010, by Sandra Bishop at MacGregor Literary.
Okay. Now, this one actually describes the plot. A reluctant bride is determined to keep her past a secret—that’s the premise. The husband has secrets of his own, which probably clashes (I’m guessing) with the wife’s attempts at building her life. That’s the complication.

Premise + complication = plot. Done.

In the one for RAZIEL, perhaps it could have said “Fallen angels turned vampires are sentenced to shepherd the dead to the afterlife [premise], but when Raziel, one of the Fallen, struggles with unexpected love for his newest ward en-route to hell, he sets off a chain of events that leads to a rebellion against Lucifer by the Fallen [complication].”

Now that sounds like something I might read. A fallen angel/vampire who falls in love with someone who’s already on their way to hell? Which tips off a revolution against the devil? I’m in! (Although I think it’s overkill that the fallen angel is also a vampire—isn’t it enough for the poor lad that he’s fallen that he has to be a vampire too? But I’m sure it was handled well in this novel.)

It is my opinion that you MUST be clear on these things. Until I read Nathan Bransford’s post on this, I wasn’t clear -- and I definitely couldn’t sum my novel up in a sentence. But you must.
Here’s mine—and notice I didn’t give anything away with specifics (although I would to an agent or in a query):
A woman is dumped by her boyfriend after she tries to embarrass him into marrying her so she moves to a Greek island to recover [premise], where she meets a fellow expat who pushes her in ways she's not sure she wants to go.
This wasn’t easy. I struggled with that for a long time, and it's still not great--it sounds like a crappy romance novel, or a slightly sinister mystery. I didn’t include specifics here, but it would be easier if I did because then I could say “but Greece is overrun with fallen angels-turned-vampires who are absolutely RAGING that they have to be vampires too, and they seriously interfere with her self-realization.” Or something. But at least I could say what the expat actually does.

What’s yours?


Tina Lynn said...

A fourteen-year-old orphan who is down to his last chance discovers an amazing connection with three other orphans his age that turn out to be shape-shifters that were sent to Earth to stop the end of the world.

Whew! I think that is the worst run-on sentence I have ever seen...much less written:)

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

How dare you, a blog post that makes me think? How dare you! ;) I struggle with the whole logline thing for sure.

I just spent like ten minutes thinking about it, still can't do it for either of my novels. I suck.

I like yours though. :)

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

My comments are starting to reflect the fact that i only slept 2 hours last night. Sorry for the repetition...must.get.sleep.

Sierra Godfrey said...

love it guys!

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