Snowflake Step One

Step 1) Take an hour and write a one-sentence summary of your novel. Something like this: “A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.” (This is the summary for my first novel, Transgression.) The sentence will serve you forever as a ten-second selling tool. This is the big picture, the analog of that big starting triangle in the snowflake picture.

Some hints on what makes a good sentence:

  • Shorter is better. Try for fewer than 15 words.
  • No character names, please! Better to say “a handicapped trapeze artist” than “Jane Doe”.
  • Tie together the big picture and the personal picture. Which character has the most to lose in this story? Now tell me what he or she wants to win.
  • Read the one-line blurbs on the New York Times Bestseller list to learn how to do this. Writing a one-sentence description is an art form.

In this case, replace the word “novel” with the word “story” since I’m not quite going for a novel-length idea here (though it might become that – there’s more to this character than this story).

“As he comes of age and learns to kill, an orphan also learns what it is to hate and suffer loss.”

At a glance, that is 21 words – too many according to the Method. I could just cut parts of it, but I’m not sure what I’d want to cut. What are the key things to get across about the story, as it exists now in my mind?

The main character is an orphan and slave. He is coming of age as he learns to be an Imperial assassin in a horrifying situation. He falls in love. His love dies because of a selfish act on his part, killed by his teacher as an object lesson. It sets up a big confrontation which will end his training one way or another.

“An orphan learning to kill finds a reason to when his teacher murders his love.”

That seems a little hotter to me, a little more raw. And, at 15 words, its within the limitations set out. I’m having trouble thinking of a better version, so this’ll stand for now.

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