What’s my novel about? Hell if I know…

I spent the day hanging out with a friend and we had a few hours of time to kill in the car, so she asked me to tell her what my novel was about.  You’d think after three drafts and countless hours spent writing, reading, and thinking about the novel that this would be a pretty easy question to answer.  (Especially since my thoughts have started to turn toward querying the darned thing.)

Unfortunately, it’s not.

I have the milieu aspect – the society in which the whole tale is set.  In this book that setting matters and it drove the way I structured the book.  It’s the reason the character who starts the book starts it and the reason he ends it.

But it’s not a story about a society.  It’s a story about people.  There are three main characters, each with his own personal struggle.  There are at least three secondary characters with a strong enough story to matter to the overall novel.  There are even a few tertiary characters with fairly strong stories.

Each of these stories matter, but they don’t fit neatly into a one or two paragraph description.  When I had to write the two page synopsis a couple months ago that was kind of fun (and I just focused on the three main characters), but now I’m thinking in terms of query letters and cover blurbs and I’m stuck.

I’m thinking I may wait for my betas to read the novel and then ask them what they thought it was about.  It may be cheating, but it’ll let me know what they took away from it.  Did they focus on the society underlying the stories?  Did they see a pattern in the stories of the three main characters?

Maybe they’ll see some theme in the writing I didn’t even know was there?

Let’s hope so…

Or let’s hope my brain finally figures out what it was trying to do and throws an answer my way by the time my betas get back to me.  Because if I can’t find a way to summarize the novel in a catchy paragraph or two, it may never get off the ground.

And let’s not even go into the “is it a young adult novel” question my friend asked.  Maybe?  Maybe not?  (This is the drawback to writing the story you want to write and not paying attention to genre lines or categories.  It gets a little messy after the fact.  I think the novel is stronger for it, but now I have to put the sales hat on and the salesperson in my head is none too pleased with the artiste in my head.)

Good news (because I’ll take any I get) is that I had my tarot cards read today and the woman told me that I could make money at this writing thing, that what I’ve done so far is better than I think it is, and that I still need to sort all the logistics to make it work.  Probably a crock of shit, but I’ll take it.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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5 Responses to What’s my novel about? Hell if I know…

  1. So, this may be obvious, but I have heard the term “Elevator Pitch” being used to talk about what you are talking about- the thing that you would tell someone in an elevator who asked “What is your book about?”
    Maybe that will help you find more information on how to formulate it…
    For me, it is much easier to picture a stranger in an elevator asking me about the book than some agent on the other end of an email reading a query letter. Good luck! 🙂

    • mhleewriter says:

      Thanks, Jennifer. The concept of what I need to do isn’t so much the problem as what to focus on. Here’s a good thread on Absolute Write where people are giving a one line description of their novels: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=204853

      I just can’t seem to do that at the moment.

      My problem is, do I go with “it’s about a seeming utopia that turns out to be a dystopia” or “it’s about a man who could change a world, but just wants to be left alone” or “it’s about a little boy who’s all alone and finally finds a real friend” or “it’s about a man who had cut himself off from caring about anyone who now must protect two children from harm.”

      All of those are true about the novel, but they each set different expectations for a potential reader.

      I’d been using the utopia/dystopia description for a while, but then when people asked follow-up
      questions I realized that the real story was more about the people than the society.

      I think there may be a unifying theme lurking under the surface that I’m just not seeing because I’m too close to it. Hopefully my betas will tease it out for me.

  2. Keri Peardon says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only person who has this problem! Even with my book going to print August 31st (nearly 3 years after I started writing it), I STILL haven’t figured out how to answer this question! I think it’s because people want a one-sentence reply, and it’s really hard to summarize a 109,000 words in one sentence. Especially if you have multiple themes, or it’s part of a series.

    I suppose I could say my trilogy is a good-versus-evil, coming-of-age epic romance, featuring Jewish vampires. That more or less sums up all the themes. It also makes it sound a lot more convoluted than it really is. When you spread all of that out over 300,000 words, it works quite smoothly. I promise.

    • mhleewriter says:

      Sounds like you nailed the description to me! (But glad to know I’m not alone in the struggle.) And good luck with your upcoming publication. How exciting!

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