The dreaded question.  “So, you’re a writer.  What are you writing?”

Because you can’t tell the entire story that you’re writing every time someone asks you that question (especially if you’re not finished yet), you have to give them the short version.  But how do you come up with a short version?

  1. Tell people what type of story it is.  Fantasy, Science Fiction, Adventure, Mystery, Romance, True story, Historical, Current-day, and so on.
  2. Pick one or two main things in the story and say the story is about that: “It’s about dinosaurs.”  “It’s about friendship.”  “It’s about blowing up cars.”  “It’s about two friends who are dinosaurs.”  “It’s about blowing up cars with your friends.”
  3. Give a short description of what makes your story awesome:  “Guinea Pig Apocalypse – guinea pigs destroy the world.”  “The images on TV come to life.”  “Zombies vs. Frankenstein.”
  4. Give a short description of what happens in your story.  This one is more complicated, so I’ll talk more about it below.

Figuring out a short, interesting description of what happens in your story is a good thing to do:  not only can you explain your story more easily (especially if you’re trying to get someone to read it), but it can help you get unstuck and help you get rid of stuff that doesn’t belong, because you have to think very hard about what the story is about.

Here’s how to do it:

Think about your main character and how they see things.  If they’re angry, try to feel the same kind of angry.  If they’re a detective, try to think investigating thoughts.  If they’re romantic and start out the story disappointed in love, try to imagine what that feels like. Try to think like your main character.

Now, imagine that your character is in a movie preview, and someone is describing what’s going to happen in the movie, to try to get people to watch the movie.  The voice is usually very dramatic or funny, depending on what kind of movie it is.

Third, imagine that the voice is describing your story as though it were a movie.  It’s best if you can imagine that the movie voice is almost like your main character’s voice, and cares about the same kinds of things that your character does (example in a second).

Tips:

  • The movie voice description has to be short, three sentences at most, and you have to be able to say those sentences in a few seconds.
  • Don’t give away the very end of your story, but you have to give away what the story is about.  For example, if you were writing a murder mystery, then you have to say who gets killed. It can be a mystery to the characters, but the reader has to know they have a murder to look forward to.
  • Don’t say a character “is” something, like “Harry Potter is a normal boy who becomes a wizard.”  Boring, and you just wasted a sentence!
  • And finally, you’ll know if you have a good description if the people you’re listening to say, “Oooh.”  If they just say, “Oh, well that sounds interesting,” then it probably isn’t.  If someone who likes to read the kind of story you’re writing gets all excited about your story from your description, it’s a good description.

For Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone:

Harry Potter’s unfair aunt and uncle try to hide the truth from him:  his parents didn’t die in a car accident when he was a baby, but in a magical battle with an evil sorcerer, somehow killed by baby Harry.  But Harry finds out about magic anyway and leaves for the magical wizarding school Hogwarts, only to discover that some people hate him for being famous, but other people hate him because they want to bring the evil sorcerer back to life…to kill Harry.

(Not perfect, but I hope you see what I mean.  These are really hard, even for famous movies.  But a very good thing to learn how to do.)