Whenever someone learns I’ve written a novel, usually the next question out of their mouth is, “So, what’s your book about?” I have met that question with much trepidation and fear. Don’t get me wrong—I’m delighted that potential readers want to hear more, but I find it so hard to sum up “what it’s about” in the course of a casual exchange.
And that is exactly what we are asked to do as writers—to provide a one-sentence synopsis of the story, to boil down all the themes into a tag line or a pitch. So, I go for the obvious and throw out a few bare bones facts concerning the plot: “There’s this girl who wants to qualify for a prestigious, big horse show against incredible odds.” With this, the literary agents, small publishers and maybe even a few readers stifle a yawn and think, “Girl and her horse story. It’s been done to death.”
We might all have faced that dilemma—striving for a fresh way to tell an old tale. Seeing that I’m losing them, I quickly add, “But this girl’s horse may have at one time been a world class show horse that ends up in a cheap auction’s kill pen.” Perhaps a few readers prick up their ears with some interest. “But more than that. It’s really about the girl facing her own limitations, her fears, her insecurities.” I see some lights come on in my listeners’ eyes, which encourages me to press on. “You see, it’s really about the nature of desire. How what you want in life can either twist you up and make you miserable, or liberate you and fill the void in your life.” The thing is, the book is about many more things: family dynamics and how wounds perpetuate themselves, its about fear of failure, its about finding one’s calling, it’s about how to let go without giving up.
Now, how do I get that all into one catchy line?