Monday Challenge: Just One Line

Cocktail Party At The Imperial Hotel: March 13...

“I asked her what it was about, but she just muttered something about the essential terror of childhood and robots before bursting into tears.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

October is rapidly drawing to a close. I always know the end is near when my wedding anniversary passes; it’s the 17th, so after that the month becomes an overladen truck rapidly accelerating down a steep hill. Soon it will be November, which means NaNo time for a lot of people. Those of you who are embarking on that journey, I hope you’ve been doing your pre-work. At least, I hope that you have if you have any plans of finishing. Not to say that I don’t know people who’ve just winged the whole goddamned thing and finished, but they’re the exception, not the rule.

Anyway, if you’ve been a busy little writer bee*, you’ve been getting your literary ducks in a row**. You’ve been working on your characters and all the shit that’s going to happen to them. You’ve been laying up plot spackle against the days of the long dark word-storms. You’ve been getting prepared.

I respect that. So, I’m going to make this week’s challenge a short one. Just one sentence long, in fact.

…Those of you who are looking at the screen skeptically, well done. You passed your perception check. +2 to Spot Traps.

The sentence I want you to write for this Monday Challenge? Easy: write the high-concept tag line for your story.

Not sure what that is? It’s the single sentence that tells the reader, 1) what the story is about and 2) why the hell they should give a shit. It’s the line they put on a movie synopsis when it pops up on the TV guide. It’s the line you tell people when they ask what you’re working on.*** For example, the high-concept line for The Lord of the Rings might be: Frodo Baggins has one chance to destroy a terrible weapon before the world is plunged into war, but he must trade his comfortable life for a dangerous road from which he may not return. That’s three novels summed up, people. Sure, not all the detail makes it in, but it does represent the core conflict of the story: bravery versus cowardice, bold yet risky action versus safe but ultimately doomed inaction. All you want is enough plot to get it going, and enough of an emotional hook to get the audience hooked.

You might not think you’re ready for to write this  yet; after all, the story hasn’t been written. But I posit this: if you can’t write that high-concept line yet, then you don’t know what the story is really about. And that’s a great path to the Quagmire of Aimlessness around the 10,000 word mark.

So devote some brain power to this single sentence. It might change as the story changes; they tend to evolve with the writing. But it’s the first stepping stone across the river. In other words, it’s a start.

*Kind of like a worker bee, except instead of making honey they sit in a corner of the hive listing to Pitchfork’s Top 100 and using two of their six legs to tell the story of the colony.
**I just made the mistake of looking that expression up on the internet. I found no less than eight different explanations of the origins, along with the inevitable porn.
***You know, if you don’t want to take the traditional approach and give a rambling, twenty minute explanation that ends with a nervous laugh.

One thought on “Monday Challenge: Just One Line

  1. And because I should be putting up or shutting up, here’s the concept line for The Next Novel:

    A former thief returns home and discovers she has one month to free her oldest friend from a terrible magical binding—or be forced to kill her.

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