Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The most dreaded question

We've all got one. The one that is asked when people find out you are/have writing/written a book. It's the one that makes us cringe, and makes us wish we were elsewhere. The one that makes us wish we'd never brought it up in the first place.


"So what's your book about?"

It's exponentially worse when you know the person you're talking to doesn't read the genre you've written in. Exponentially worse than that is when the person you're talking to doesn't even really read at all.

And if you write fantasy like me? Well, might as well just go ahead and take off your hat and take the shame like a man. Err, woman. Because even science fiction gets more respect than fantasy.

My mother broke my heart the other day when she said "Why don't you write something other than that fantasy stuff? Like something about your dad."

Mom, I love you (And I can say this because I know she'll never read this), but no one wants to read about my dad. He was an amazing man... but his story is not remarkable, and it's unlikely it would ever sell. Not as a debut novel, anyway. I'll think about it one day, but I prefer my life to stay out of my writing, at least on the surface.

When I mention that my current work in progress is about an assassin hunting for a demon, I can see their eyes glaze over. They don't get it. And usually, they spout out the usual "I keep meaning to write a book one day." No one ever says "I keep meaning to paint a portrait one day."

There's always this sense that writing isn't a difficult art, that anyone can do it, regardless of actual writing ability, and regardless of the fact that they've never written a word that wasn't for a grade in their lives. And they always think their life story would be interesting to someone else.

But that's a rant for another day.

So tell me, dear readers. What is your most dreaded question?


Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

That's pretty much it in a nutshell: "What's Your Book About?"

I try to write complex non-derivative, and layered stories. I bristle at a two sentence cocktail party summary.

My pat answer: "Oh, it's about four hundred pages, thanks."

I recently hired a writing doctor to help me with my query. She was obsessed with forcing me to come up with a two sentence log line. This drove me nuts. Then I read somewhere (online) that your log line doesn't even have to have anything to do with the plot of your story. It only has to hook the reader's interest.

My story is about two brothers battling for paternity of a young girl. Incidental to the story is the fact that the protagonist is a Mississippi River construction diver.

YAWN: "It's a story about two construction worker brothers fighting for the soul of a little girl who may or may not be their daughter."

HOOK: "There are over 350 living Americans who have been into outer space, but there are less than 20 who have crawled along the bottom of the Mississippi."

Hardly ANYTHING to do with the plot of my story, but it keeps the slitty-eyed nods away and really piques interest.

My two cents. You don't have to really explain what it's about. Just come over to the dark side and think up a hook.

My SECOND least favorite question: "You can't get an agent? Well why don't you just self-publish?"


Heather said...

That's an excellent hook. :) And you're right, the hook doesn't actually have to have much to do with the story, as long as it HOOKS the reader.

And man, I haven't gotten your other question (about the agent/self publishing) but if I do? I'm gonna choke a bitch.

Well maybe not. But you get the idea.

Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

HEY! Along this same line, I was listening to the latest Dean Koontz podcast (The one titled/focused on his new book "The Good Guy.") and Dean talks about this exact same phenomenon. He talks about the books he has been able to encapsulate, and those he can't.

He calls the two sentence hook books "High Concept."

Sure, the podcast is more commercial than writing lesson, but there are lessons to gleen.

Check it out. Very informative.

Ink Johnson said...

I don't mind "what's it about?" so much, because it's good practice for writing query letter hooks and such. What bothers me is when people (namely: my father) tell me what to write next, or when I pitch an idea, tell me what to do with it. I'm like, "Um, no. It's my idea. Get your own."