Writespiration #94 Condense Your Novel Into 3 Sentences

condense 3One of the most difficult things we have to do as writers, is boil our novels down to write elevator pitches.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s a sentence or two of no more than about 25 words that explains/pitches your novel in the best light. If you met an agent in an elevator and had 2 floors to sell your book, what would you say?

This weeks challenge is in the same ball park as elevator pitches but not quite the same thing.

I listened to a podcast the other day, I think it was this episode from the story grid, and they said that every story should/could be boiled down to just three sentences. It’s a great exercise in getting concise clarity of your plot.

So, your challenge this week is to boil your plot down to its simplest form. This isn’t marketing 101, don’t try an sell me your book like a pitch sentence. This is purely about plot. Tell me your entire novels story in three sentences.

If you want to join in, pop your sentences in the comments, or in a blog post and ping back here so I can find it. You have until 12pm on the 28th August.

Here’s mine:

Eden gets bound to the wrong person. She has to figure out how to fix her binding and save the Netherworld in the process. Eden fixes her binding and saves the world.

Hey look, – I didn’t say it was going to be pretty, in fact I don’t think it can be. It just has to be your whole plot in three sentences. 3 sentences, go…!

To illustrate the difference between pitch and plot sentences, here’s a more interesting marketing type pitch for my book:

Fate’s wrong. Eden’s sure of it. But proving she was bound to the wrong person is going to be harder than she thinks.

Now to last time and your underwater ballrooms:


First in Judy, with a stunning poem that will grab your emotional cords and yank:

He wanted to surprise her

Take her to a special place

She had to look the part though

And was dressed in silk and lace

Her hair was freshly  coiffured

Make-up expertly applied

He asked her to put a blindfold on

Throughout the short car ride

When the journey ended

He led her down some stairs

She could hear some tinkling music

This caught her unawares

The further they descended

The more curious she became

Was this a middle of a nightmare?

Or some weird role paying game!

She shivered in the coolness

And the darkness of the night

Her companion reassured her

Whispering that everything was all right

Nervously she licked her lips

And was surprised at the taste of salt

Suddenly she stumbled

And they shuddered to a halt.

“Now you can talk the blindfold off,

I hope you like what you see”

Tears welled up in her eyes

When she saw all of her family

She was standing in the doorway

Of the most impressive place

Surrounded by her loved ones

Tears rolled down her face

This exquisite ballroom

She thought she’d never see again

It was fifty years since she’d married there

She’d been so in love back then.

The décor still so opulent

And the lights so clear and bright

The laughing, happy faces

Filled her with delight

She turned to face her husband

Still handsome after all those years

What a perfect anniversary present

Thank you all so much my dears…

***

The next morning when they found her

Stiff and cold in her bed

They saw that she was still wearing

The tiara on her head.

She’d asked them to dress her up

To look nice for her Ray

Even though it was twenty years

Since he had passed away

Her diamond anniversary

She so wanted to celebrate

She knew that Ray would come for her

And she really couldn’t wait.


Next in Simon with his first ever entry:

The crushing blackness enveloped him as he struggled what he thought was upwards.His irrational mind telling him he was too deep, a mile down. Even his oxygen starved rational mind dismissed this, he was alive. Whatever had dragged him down hadn’t taken him far.

Each sweep of his arms getting harder, his shut his eyes tightly, hanging on to his breath as his lungs screamed for air. On an on he struggled even as he felt his strength wane. Then in a second he was on the surface as if spat out of the ocean. His mouth and eyes opened, sucking in breath with a rasp as brightness returned again.


Next in Gordon, with a fab historical fiction piece based on the true tale of the first woman diver:

Mrs Bennet’s Dip or The Diving Belle (a tale of 1805)

“Are you sure you want to do it?” The engineer asked nervously.
“You promised me yesterday.” The young widow replied, looking a little nervously up at the massive black machine.
“Very well, follow me.”
As he climbed the ladder, she removed her coat and handed it to her maid. In her bathing dress of stiff brown linen she followed him into the Bell and sat on the bench opposite.
“Haul away,” he called and she had to hold tight as the sailors hoisted the Diving Bell into the air, looking down she saw first the deck of the boat though the opening, then the waves. For a moment she watched the water sparkle, then the bell hit the surface. She gave a little cry as the water splashed on her legs.
Looking down she saw the remains of the sunken ship, that John Braithwaite was salvaging.
“Now if you feel at all faint you must let me know and we will ascend.”
“Why, do you think all women will faint at the first opportunity?”
“No, I don’t know how women will react, you are the first woman ever to dive like this.”
“The first!” Now she felt a little faint.


Ritu up next with a semi autobiographical piece:

Strictly Swim Dancing

They danced. Oh, how they danced.

And to think, I had been too scared to come here.

I would have missed Nature’s beautiful show!

Barely an hour had passed since I had been floundering in the shallow end of a swimming pool, trying to fathom how to use the breathing apparatus on this darned Scuba diving tank. Finally, I was swimming under the water like a boss!… Then they transferred us to the sea, and the sand kicking up in my face was too much. I couldn’t do it.

I told the lovely instructor to continue without me, that I would sit it out on the beach, while the rest of the group continued, but he was having none of it.

He held my hand, and led me onto the boat that was to take us to deeper waters. And he waited for me to fall into the ocean, guiding me every second of the way.

And boy, was I glad he did! Looking out of my goggles, at the myriad of fish waltzing around me was amazing.

It was like watching a thousand dancers in one ballroom, synchronised to the millisecond.

An underwater performance I’d never forget.


Hugh up next with a cracker of a twist at the end:

The Ballroom was the only part of the ship, underwater, where guests could view the world that was the crystal clear ocean.

“Meet us there,” her husband had told her.

She’d spent days looking for the perfect ballgown, and hours getting herself ready. The only question she kept asking herself was why it was all starting so early?

She felt the ‘Belle of the Ball’ as she paraded around the ship, making her way to the underwater ballroom. It never mattered that other guests stood in amazement as she walked passed them, some even snickering and pointing at her.

As she finally reached her destination, her heart slowly sank as if it were The Titanic. Pushing open the doors to the ballroom she was met with words she didn’t want to hear.

“Mum! Over here. We’re just about to start a game of five-a-side football. There’s plenty of other ball games you can try as well, but you’ll have to get changed into something a little more sporty if you wanna join in.”


Geoff in next with a rude ending :p

Dr Josiah Pretty was a mystery man. No one knew his background. His qualifications, while sound, remained unchecked by the authorities. He just appeared one day, setup business behind a brass plate announcing his name and ‘Consultant Urologist’ and began to practice. His client base grew with his reputation for a caring manner and a rapid diagnostic ability. He had been practicing for ten years when a clumsy error led to his being uncovered. The tabloids luxuriated in the gory details of his sinister practice, the many men’s lives ruined by his unethical behaviour. But the worst came fourteen days after his secret was revealed when workmen found hidden preservation tanks in the basement containing trophies of each unnecessary operation. The next day the papers were full of ‘Dr Pretty and his Underwater Ball Room’.


Next in Charli, revisiting our old friend Jen:

The Golden Promise by Charli Mills

Fools look at mountain water and see gold reflected in sunlight. With more greed than common sense, they believe in nuggets trapped beneath millions of strewn boulders. It’s a gambler’s false hope. They believe in gold even when cajoled, “Not yet, Boys, not yet…”

Schnatterly fed on fools. He had a string of investors believing in the golden promise of Boulder River. Since 1914, he’d been turning stones. It disgusted Jen how Schnatterly ordered hydraulic hoses to blast through the river canyon each successive summer only to end each season with another, “Not yet.”

Jen knew his dirty little secret. Schnaterly built his wealth on possibility. He bought his luxury yacht on the great Kootenai River below with investor money. His clothes, pocket watch and ridiculously gleaming shoes, were ill-gotten gains. The hydro- blasting, the logging, the flume – all props of deceit.

Tonight she’d take Wolfric beneath the holding ponds where the Boulder spilled into the Kootenai. She’d found a way into the underwater vault Schnatterly laughingly called his golden ballroom where the ore was stored. No one would believe a woman no matter how tough she was with an ax. She had to convince Wolfric. There was no gold.


Marje in next with a beautiful piece of writing. You should really check her post out that goes with it.

The Non-Binary Prom

I’m underwater, or I might as well be. The sun’s shining but I can’t feel it on my back. All I can hear is everyone whispering, a waterfall of gushing laughter presses against me.  Ed swims through and signs my tee-shirt. Nobody else comes near. I have my back to him but it doesn’t stop me from imagining his face creasing into a confident surfer I know who I am smile. He scribbles something, and his mates laugh. I tear my tee-shirt off, exposing my ripped body, and tiny almost bikini top. He’s written girl and then crossed it out and written boy with this ugly question mark.

‘What you wearing to prom, Les?’ he asks. He’s laughing, because he knows that I can’t make up my mind whether to wear a suit and tie, or a fucking dress.

Non-binary. That’s me. I’m not on the prissy Prom committee but if I was I’d plan an underwater ball with us all swimming, skinny dipping, no clothes, no fancy ball gowns, nowhere to write mean things. Just floating, tattooed skin, splashing I’m human. That’s who we really are. What’s inside counts but Ed can’t see that.  He’s drowning in binary.


Last up, Jane, with a beautifully descriptive post:

So bright, like diamonds, this thick air is alive, and I wonder what ever happened to you. It could have been good; you shouldn’t have given up. I missed you, always. Walking through the pinewood, light falling slantwise and the shrill of cicadas, your arm around me, your breath in my hair, hot and scented like the pines, needles crunching under foot, and the heat, like a presence. Old stones there were and piazzas with churches and fountains, and a silence of calm rather than inactivity. If only I could go back to that moment when everything went black and thick as treacle. If only.

Diamonds. I try to catch them but they slip like quicksilver between my fingers. I call. Call out to you. But my voice is lost in a bubbling vortex. Where did you go, all those years ago, when the dark fell? I’ve been wading in treacle ever since. Something fills my throat, choking. Is it tears or diamonds? I reach back to the dark, embrace it; hope that this time, I will know the right words. Hand, held out, pushing against the dark. My mouth, my head fill with dark diamonds.


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101 comments

  1. Wow, well done to sum your story up! When I am asked about the content of my book it always sounds different. But then again… perhaps it has to in order to meet the needs of the person asking me…. as soon as I can sum it up shortly all is well 😁

    1. And I’m sure on a different day mine would be different. I mean the game isn’t about marketing or making it sound good so much as testing yourself to see if you can get a whole story in three tiny sentences. 🙂

  2. Lots of wonderful underwater writing! Your prompt next week sounds a great idea, but quite a challenge. I’m beginning to regret writing such a complicated plot. How can I nail it in three sentences… I’m having enough trouble writing a blurb.

    1. I felt exactly the same! But three sentences means you can’t include any sub plots – this is just purely the main storyline.

      I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it either. But when I thought about it and took out all the twists and turns and details, it turned out to be kind of simple!! 😂

      1. Well done, good job. I have an idea what might work but it would really cut it down to the barest of bones! I suppose that’s the idea though. Shall definitely be joining in, as this is right up my street what with the blurb writing, etc…

        1. Yay can’t wait – Marje did u ever see the book I recommended on blurbs and synopsis? It’s by Nicola Morgan and only about 50 pages but it was 50 pages of gold dust – changed my life!

  3. Hey!

    Fantastic entries again as usual!!!

    Ok, so my three sentence blurb… For Wedded Stress

    Aashi had her hands full, planning her dream Indian wedding. Until she caught him with his pants down, and not with her! Aashi grows up, and learns the real ways of the world and still gets her happy ending.

    Background

    This is a novel that has been a long time in the writing… Started over 15 years ago, and been written in stops and starts… It’s still nowhere near finished. I wish I could sit with no distractions for a few weeks and get back until it. It’s my little baby! A genre I like to call Chickpea Curry-Lit – Rom Com with an Indian flava!

  4. Some wonderful entries for the underwater ballroom, all of them. Now to my novel in 3 sentences

    A mixed race couple come together with a world of differences between them. Domestic violence, duty, obligation, and culture try to separate them, but sex keeps them together. An unhappy marriage is finally over when his wife joins him from overseas – with their children!

  5. Fia is in a mutually abusive relationship with the dead. Can she overcome her necrophobia and serve the Psychopomp, guardian of the dead, to earn a normal life?

    1. This is awesome – id love to read it

      but it’s definitely a pitch sentence rather than just the plot – maybe I should have added my pitch sentence too a mine looks daft now everyone’s submitting pitch sentences!

  6. Wonderful underwater ballroom stories, Sacha, and always a great variety.
    Interesting challenge too. It seems that the three sentences cover where the protagonist is at the start (1), what he/she accomplishes at the end (3), and the bridge between the two (2). So here’ mine (not pretty at all):
    Conall and Treasa are at odds about the imprisoned dragons. Conall’s wounding and recovery at the Mirror brings a change of heart. Conall and Treasa fall in love and work together to free the dragons.

    1. HURRRRAHHHHH, perfect entry. Love it.

      What this has done, is surprise me at how simply a 300 page novel can be condensed down to. When I first heard of this prompt somewhere else I was indignant that it couldn’t be done. But it can, and it blows my mind. 💖

      1. In screenwriting, we call this a logline, and it’s a crucial component of the outlining process: More than a mere sales tool, it is the conceptual nucleus of the story around which all the other particles organize. You can mix-and-match the details — set pieces, subplots, etc. — but the logline is sacrosanct. Ideally, it should convey the protagonist, the antagonist, the conflict, the setting, the genre, and the tone — all in a single sentence (two at the most). Here’s an example: On the Fourth of July, a resort-island sheriff finds himself in deep water — literally — when his beach is attacked by a great white shark that won’t go away. See that? Tells you everything you need to know.

  7. Late to the party as always but you are ON POINT here, Sis. There is little more important a writer can do BEFORE querying/pitching their book. This is an indispensable skill.

  8. Hey, just want to say that I am loving your blog, a lot of good stuff on it.
    I usually do this when I get board, so here is one of my latest attempts of writing a story:
    New school, new environment, new friends.
    but in the end, he ended up dead.

      1. Lol, not a problem. You deserve the praise for the work you put in.
        Hmmm, it’s a story which I was able to plan out within minutes. Had the plot written down, from beginning to end within 30 minutes, and then I fell off 😛

  9. Jon is bitter resentful and angry with life but mainly with his dad. Dragged into a barbaric parallel world where egocentric bitch fests just get you a slap round the head or dead, he learns that survival means cooperation. He finds a lot of things in the mistlands that help him become a man, and one that breaks his heart.

          1. Haha, that sounds like my washing! I just chuck stuff in a pile and hope the fairies do it – guess that’s the bonus of having married a woman! Knew it must be good for something 😂

  10. A great waltz of ballroom stories from all the writers! This is a great post, Sacha. Wow. Light bulbs went off. Thank you for the comparative pitch versus plot three sentences. One hooks, the other explains. Ahhhh…I get it now! Okay, now to go craft three sentences (often harder than writing the whole enchilada).

  11. Like those underwater ballroom flashes. 🙂

    I know if you can’t tell your story (or pitch it) in a few sentences, you’re done for. I’ve read that so many times. But, the truth is, I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen in my stories. I know many will tell me that I suck and can’t write. But, eh, I really have no idea. My characters surprise me. And I like that.

    1. Huh? Who is going to tell you, you suck and can’t write?

      I don’t outline either. So I don’t know what’s going to happen in my stories either – does that mean I suck too?

  12. Well, having written the synopsis, for my upcoming collection of short stories book, about 52 times before sending it to Esther, this is like a crazy nightmare for me. Three sentences? I think I need a laydown. 😱

  13. Here’s the one I sent to Esther for ‘The Truth App.’

    A group of unsuspecting bloggers become the victims of a terrifying new App which threatens to wipe out humanity from planet Earth. In a rush against time, the son of one of the bloggers does all he can to ensure the App is wiped from the face of the planet. However, somebody is out to stop him and they have a mysterious power helping them.

  14. My 3 sentences…

    The Council of the City Above want to clear out the Underground City. Jyx and the necromancer general need to resurrect an ancient goddess to thwart the plans. The goddess removes the corruption from the Council and the Underground City is saved.

    By contrast the start of a blurb…

    To save his city, Jyx needs to unbreak the heart of a stone goddess. Can he defeat the Crown Prince and halt his schemes before his city is destroyed?

    1. You joined in 😀 😀 yay 😀 haha yeah – for sure the blurb would draw me in – but that’s sort of the fun of just condensing plot – its a test of conciseness rather than marketing ability

  15. After almost 50 years of emotional abuse, a daughter of a narcissist finally breaks the ties that binds and learns forgiveness in the process. 🙂 My new book – P.S. I Forgive you, coming next month! 🙂

  16. I learned to do this (though I’m still a novice) when I partecipated in a few Twitter Pitch Parties last year. You have just 140 characters (well, less than that, because you need a couple hashtags too) to describe your novel.
    Tough? You bet! But apart from the parties results (and I had at least one request on each I took part) it was a great way to lear to recognise the core of the story and to really use every single word at it’s best.

    After doing this, I’ve noticed that my shorter synopsis are more effective than my longer ones 🙂

    This is the pitch for Give in to the Feeling
    “Chicago 1924. Arriving to America, Susie thought she found everything she never dared to dreamed of in China. But only when she meets Blood, she realises the exciting flapper life she’s been living, the speakeasies, the illegal booze and the daring dances are just a little, unimportant part of the true freedom she yearns for”

    And this is one of the most successfull tweets for my novel
    “Chicago 1926 Her bones are ashes, mixed with the mortar of the house they built on her land. She remembers and they’ll regret it”

    1. That’s amazing. I think this is a real skill, and one that I haven’t mastered yet. So impressed you had requests. Not surprised though, what a cracking set of pitches.

      1. Thanks Sacha, I’m so happy you like them 🙂
        Although it’s a pain in the… ehm… I think everybody should try and tweet their book. I think it is really beneficial to our skills as ‘pitchers’.

  17. I’m about 60 000 words or so into my first (handwritten!) draft of my first novel.

    Quiet, withdrawn Charlie finds a book in her library that transports her into the world of her birth, where magic abounds. Torn apart by incredibly powerful twin sisters, Argravia is slowly dying and Charlie sets out on a quest to restore balance to the world. She frees each nation-state in turn and eventually finds out the truth of her birth.

      1. Some days I wish I did less! Especially when I’m trying to transcribe it to my laptop o.O But thank you 🙂 I’ll look you up and let you know when it gets finished 😀

        1. Ha, well I used to edit by hand and then transcribe and in the end I had to force myself to stop because it was extremely laborious and honestly, I couldn’t read my writing! Hahah, but it certainly works for some people so I understand why you do it 😀

          1. Haha you’re putting me off! :p I’m not sure I’m necessarily going to do the next novel by hand, but for this first one, it felt right 🙂

          2. Oh no, I didn’t mean to. Everyone’s process is different. You have to do what works for you. I tried the hand editing it just didn’t work for me.

          3. I’m just joking around 🙂 I’ve decided that I’ll just keep doing whatever I’m doing and see where it takes me! 🙂

  18. I like to practice by reverse-engineering loglines out of my favorite movies/stories: “An off-duty police officer is forced into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a group of terrorists when they seize control of an L.A. skyscraper during his wife’s office Christmas party” (Die Hard); “In 1936, an archaeologist-adventurer is hired by the U.S. government to recover an all-powerful Biblical artifact to before the Nazis can find it and use it to attain world domination” (Raiders of the Lost Ark). You see what I’m saying? With a little practice, you can convey all the necessary information — protagonist, antagonist, conflict, setting, tone — in a single concise sentence.

    1. ooooh, damn, you’re so smart. I love that you do that. Actually, I might have to practice doing that too – maybe it will help with developing a pitch line. Thanks for the tip 😀

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