27 February 2009

Sharpen Your Claws

So, although a lot of you expressed the intent to write Sentences, only one did: many thanks, Anette :D Anette also wrote a fabulous post on her own attempts at the sentence; go read it, it's very informative :)

Here's the sentence Anette offered up for us to crit:

Tonight I Hunt: (short story)
Estranged from her people, Pearl, a predator by nature, adopts an abandoned prey whelp and holds onto this unnatural relationship, despite that it may starve them both to death.

You lot have at it first, and I'll wrap up with my own crit in the comments when you're done :)

I thought it might also be beneficial for you to see the entire process of creating 'The Sentence', which, coincedentally, is just what Liana and I did this week for one of her wips.

It all started with her complaint: [I have] no clue what a tagline or query is for KnK. It's.... grr... um... Enemies become friends to stop a friend from taking over the universe? I have no @%*#$( clue!
*head in hands* Blah. I have a hook for other books. I have tag lines for other books. But the one I'm actually working on? Nada.

Naturally, this was my suggestion: so worry about it after it's, you know, written? *eyebrow*

Alack, this was not satisfactory: Um, it's 3/4 done and soon to be edited. I want to ... query by July so it would help if I had a freakin' clue what the theme was, or who the real MC is *head->desk*

What could I say? It most certainly is a good idea to know things like that before you query, and how could I refuse a friend in distress?

So, a long discussion ensues about who was actually the main character: Kit or Khal. In the end, we voted Kit, because although the POVs are split roughly evenly, Khal's actions are all about Kit - and Kit's actions are all about Kit. So clearly she's our girl.

As Liana so succintly put it: She's the center of my warped universe.

At this point, I take a moment to remind Liana of the basic formula of The Sentence:

Sentence = protag w a need + antag w a need + interesting things, interesting place + twist

Tada! Logline, Sentence, and first line of query :)

So Liana attemps: Kit Marlowe returns to army life in an effort to escape her homocidal uncle only to wind up as a prisoner of war relying on her enemy for survival. When she finally escapes she returns home with thoughts of revenge, only to find the enemy isn't who she thought it was

My utterly charming response: Um, hello? Log LINE? As in, 30 words MAX, dear child!! *presses buzzer* buh bow. Try again.

At which point I felt I might have been just a little mean, so I prompted: Okay. So. Kit is the MC. What's her driving need? Her most pressing compulsion? What makes her tick? One phrase.

Liana: Survival. That's it.
Me: Great! Excellent!
Liana: friendship?
Me, in my own world: Kit, who needs to survive. Right, now, who or what is her main obstacle?
Liana: she cares about other people and wants to survive
The ever-sensitive me: Blah, enough on kit! Obstacle!

Liana: Everyone wants to kill her, because she's first an impediment, and then a witness; she knows who is trying to start a war.
Me: Who is everyone? Everyone is not specific enough. 'Everyone' will not engage ppl and cause them to be interested.
Liana: Everyone is her family, the Troian government, the Dovinian government, the council of worlds, a stalker....

Great, I say. And generally, their pressing need is to have her dead to protect themselves, yes? Great. So. In ONE or TWO phrases, give me the most distinctive aspect/s of your setting.

Liana: um... setting? Space and the Troius Cluster... three planets sharing a single orbit around the sun.
Me: And that's where the whole story takes place?
Liana: um, the majority of it...
M: Oay, good. Right. ONE OR TWO of the MOST interesting things Kit does?

Interesting things about Kit:
* Kit is a special forces pilot, a lyracist (pop star), she falls in love with a guy who is supposed to kill her, and she's a POW at one point

Great. So I ask for Kit's main story arc in one sentence, and Liana gives me:

Rearrange the universe so no one wants to kill her?

I love it :D But it's not terribly specific. So we continue:

Me: and the single biggest action she takes in order to acheive that is...? Give me plot. Give me concrete actions. 'She attacks a naval officer' or something. What does she actually do?
Liana: um... hmmm... She organizes a rebellion against the council of worlds and signs a treaty without them after removing her uncle Edward from power and taking over the Troius Cluster and Dovinia? It's a polite rebellion. She gets people to agree to leave the council and drop the treaty of New Madrid so they can arm their ships. The council is inciting wars, then moving in as a "police action" and taking over planets, so they are no longer ruled autonomously and the council is the only group allowed to have larger than individual fighter plane weapons, and--

Me: okokok!!! The first para was enough :D (remember, folks, if you're still reading, short and snappy is what counts with The Sentence. We Don't Need Background!!)

So we moved on to the last question: What is the single biggest twist in kit's plotline, without giving it away?

I guess that it's that she has to confront the family she's always run from and trust a man who scares her. She doesn't like big males, she was abused, although it doesn't come out until later the how and why. That and yeah, she's supposed to be dead

Me: That's pretty twisty %-)
Liana: Everyone thinks she's an idiot. No one knows anything but her public persona, and it's kind of like Paris Hilton joining Mensa or something for her to step out of her playgirl persona and become a real person... that's difficult.

At this point I'm shouting for joy. We have all the elements, and we have the potential for a really great sentence here.

Let's quickly recap:

* A protagonist with a compelling need: Kit, who needs to survive. Check.
* An antagonist with a compelling need: Her family, the Troian government, the Dovinian government, the council of worlds, a stalker - everyone who wants her dead. Check.
* Interesting things: special forces pilot, pop star, falls in love with the guy who's supposed to kill her. Check.
* Setting: The Troius Cluster. Check.
* Twist: Various, but there's definitely stuff to work with here.

So, I pull out all these pieces, and start playing with them. And here's what I came up with. Yes, I cheated a little in that most of them are two sentences, not one, but they are all between 30 and 40 words - short, snappy (heh, hopefully!), and succint.

1) A special forces pilot in the Troius Cluster, Kit Marlowe falls in love with the man who's supposed to kill her as she organizes a rebellion against the council of worlds - who also want her dead. (36)

2) Her family, the government, the council of worlds - everyone wants Kit Marlowe dead. Everyone except Kit herself, special forces pilot and pop star, who is determined to disappoint everyone. Again. (30)

3) It's hard to organize an interplanetary rebellion when you're supposed to be dead, but for Kit Marlowe, leading a double life comes naturally. Finding out who she really is, and falling in love - that's hard. (35)

4) Kit Marlowe, special forces pilot and famous pop star, is desperate to survive, even if that means confronting the family she's always run from, trusting the man who scares her most, and starting an interplanetary rebellion. (36)

5) A special forces pilot who needs to survive confronts the family who want her dead, and organizes a rebellion against the governments and council who also want her dead - and falls in love with the man supposed to kill her. (40)

6) Although everyone wants pop singer and special forces pilot Kit Marlowe dead, she's determined to disappoint - even if it means interplanetary rebellion, and trusting the man she fears most. (29)

7) Special forces pilot and pop star Kit Marlowe has her work cut out for her: not only must she confront the family she's always run from and raise an interplanetary rebellion, she has to trust the man she fears most - and do it all while playing dead. (47)

Note that you can either go the dry, formulaic approach (number 5), which is not recommended, or you can spice things up by adding in that magic quality: voice. Numbers 2 and 6 got Liana's and my votes for that reason: they have voice. They show Kit's attitude.

Note also that you don't need to mention everything in the sentence. Not all the sentences include all the elements you have to work with - and that's okay! Your sentence, your query, and even your synopsis are not a promise to the agent or editor that this is absolutely everything that happens in the book: they're a teaser designed to get them interested in the book - or, in the case of a synopsis, purely and simply to prove that you can bring your main storyline to a satisfactory and logical conclusion.

You never, ever, ever have to include everything. Not even in the book itself ;)

Now, go! Shred Anette's sentence, and I shall sharpen my claws to do the same! Bwa ha ha ha!!


Just_Me said...

I think it works, but I'm quite obviously terrible with log lines, tag lines, and sentence structure in general.

Krispy said...

This Sentence thing does indeed sound very useful. I think Anette's works too, but like Just_Me, I suck at this sort of summarizing, snippy and cute thing. -__-'

Loved your retelling of Sentence creation with Liana though. I also like "rearrange the universe so no one wants to kill her?". LOL. Easier said than done, alas.

Kerryn Angell said...

#2 is my favourite. It's got voice and reads directly like the bold, eye-catching lines of back cover copy.

So, the new formula is... (The Sentence) + Voice. :)

Inkblot said...

Stop complaining that you suck, and get to practicing! I used to suck at this, too!

Kerryn - absolutely. I hadn't consciously thought of it like that before, but you're absolutely right. And voice is definitely what makes the two I liked in the post stand out.

I'll have a look at Anette's sentence in the next post :)

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