You’ve all heard them, and many of you have written them. Describing the story of your book in one line. “The Elevator Pitch”—so you can describe it to an editor you just happen to meet during a brief encounter. (Not an exaggeration. I once wound up in an elevator with Tom Doherty of TOR Books. Unfortunately I didn’t have a book to pitch.)
“High concept” is often part of it, taking a well-known idea, like the story of a popular film or novel, and marrying it to another idea. Like “Lawrence of Arabia on another planet” (Dune); “Marines in space” (Aliens); “a Disneyland where the visitors get eaten” (Jurassic Park); “Lord of the Rings from the Orcs’ point of view” (The Black Company).
And then there’s “the blurb.” The short-paragraph description that goes on the back cover or that's used for publicity. Not quite as hard to write as the synopsis, but close. Every word really counts.
And finally,there are just the cute little quickie summaries that one plays with, maybe for fun, but good gems for conversation and interviews, and a creative way to come up with a new angle on a work you’re becoming too familiar with.
So, here goes.
The novel is In a Suspect Universe, releasing on Aug. 15:
The high concept: “Adam Strange meets The English Patient, meets H. P. Lovecraft, meets Philip K. Dick.”
(Okay, that’s going overboard, but it’s darn accurate.)
The elevator pitch:
“A space adventure of mystery and romance becomes a dark planetary noir.”
(Clever, but people might not understand what “planetary noir” means.)
“A jaded spaceman finds the world of his dreams but it then fades out of his reach.”
(More to the point, but too much a downer, and not representative of the pace and feeling of the story, which is more thriller than elegiac tragedy.)
“A solitary explorer of alien worlds has a dark secret in his past. It’s now revealed.”
(Not too informative, but I love the mood and the hook that's hanging at the end.)
“In this planetary adventure of mystery and romance, Mykol Ranglen, the space-wanderer from The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, finds the planet of his dreams and the future he desires. But he learns they come at too high a price. The terrors of a mysterious alien ‘Blight,’ the plots of ancient galactic civilizations, and the hidden surprises of a ‘suspect’ universe, conspire to stop him. From out of this buried tale in his past, the secrets revealed, and the chances lost, will haunt Mykol Ranglen forever.”
I liked this, and it does have good specifics. But, darn, it’s never the exact experience of reading the novel itself. It’s only a snapshot, of a preview of a preface.
Here’s an alternate approach, breaking it down into the characteristics of fiction, but keeping things simple and not too explanatory:
The setting: two exotic alien worlds, with many glimpses of more.
The plot: in this order—a meeting, a suspicion, an escape, an adventure, a romance, a quest, a chase, a confrontation, and then a conclusion (slightly ambiguous).
The characters: a man, a woman, another woman, another man, and one more woman.
The theme: so many, but I’ll pick the most lyrical—“saudade,” the deep yearning for wonders past.
The emotions: great hope, great disappointment, great longing, great loss.
The style: clipped, lush, accelerated, ominous, descriptive, terse, poetic, ironic—not all in the same paragraph but usually in the same chapter.
I’m not sure if that helped much. So here are some quickie descriptions, a bit of play, but not entirely tongue-in-cheek:
· Pulp adventure gets serious.
· John Carter loses his way, but then finds it.
· A planetary romance becomes interstellar tragedy, becomes . . . something more.
· A happy life on another planet demands the loss of a reassuring universe.
· Classic SF (the human colony on a distant world) confronts a multiple postmodern reality, or unreality, where Dreams walk, where the Dragon, the Spider, and the Serpent live, but only to torment the people who believe in them.
Okay, that’s enough. I think I’m getting too extreme now. As we used to say at the desperate endings to old high school “book reports,” where we just gave plot-summaries and ended half-way through the story, “You’ll just have to read the book.”
Sorry about that. But I do think you’ll enjoy it!