How do you boil down genius into a pithy phrase?!
One of the toughest parts of the writing process for many of us is describing the stories we’ve written. “Just read the story,” we plead. But no, we need to tempt readers with a hook, a tagline, that will make them want to buy the book or at least read the longer description.
Sure, you’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months, maybe even years writing that fabulous story, but your agent/editor/publisher/best friend says, “Sum it up in a sentence for me.”
How to reduce the nuance, excitement and vibrant characters to a mere sentence?! And that’s not even the hard part. The hard part comes with making that sentence irresistible. When you find yourself on that elevator with a big time editor or the hottest agent around, you want them to say, “Send it to me!” with enthusiasm, because they can’t wait to read your book. But it’s not easy.
You have to get at the heart of the appeal. Stop thinking about the plot. Picture a pivotal scene. What does it tell you about the story? Think about this tagline for the movie Bonnie and Clyde: “They’re young…they’re in love…and they kill people.” That’s just about perfect. Even if you don’t know the story of the real duo, you have all the essentials you need to be hooked into their “Romeo & Juliet with guns” story.
Likewise the iconic tag for the original summer blockbuster, Jaws: “Don’t go into the water.” I know a lot of people who obeyed that injunction for the rest of their lives once they saw Bruce the shark in action. Coupled with the simple imagery of the movie poster, it certainly offered a good chill. Okay, but what about the other kind of chill? The happy one that you get from romance?
A good one that comes to mind is the tagline for Bull Durham: “Romance is a lot like baseball. It’s not whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.” Now there’s a short description that tells you what you need to know: the setting and the stakes. You know there’s romance against a baseball background, so your interest is likely to be piqued if you have any interest in the game.
Another one that works so very well is for the film Somewhere in Time, based on Richard Matheson’s novel Bid Time Return and filmed on Mackinac Island in my home state (a gorgeous location). Matheson’s time travel story and its yearning romance gets telegraphed instantly: “Beyond fantasy. Beyond obsession. Beyond time itself…he will find her.”
Isn’t that just lovely? There’s a knack to these quick and punchy summations, but you can work on them and improve your ability. Like everything else we do, practice practice practice helps. What are some of your favourite taglines for books or movies? You’ll be able to remember them right off the top of your head!