By Elizabeth MS Flynn, w/a Eilis Flynn
We’ve all had that experience of stepping into an elevator or other confined space, realizing you’re in there with an editor or an agent, and en lieu of pointless small talk, he or she asks you what you’re working on. As you stammer out your longwinded answer, the moment ends (i.e., the elevator door opens) and said editor or agent goes on his or her way. Could you have made use of that opportunity by blurting out the hot premise version of your synopsis? You betcha!
This is for everyone who’s been asked to boil down their story idea into one sentence, ten words or less. This is for everyone who’s had a hard time boiling their stories down into the simplest terms, a necessity in today’s short-attention-span era.
First of all, what’s a hot premise, anyway? You’ve heard of the term “high concept.” It’s the term that Hollywood types are known to use to mean a movie or TV show idea that can be summed up in just a few words. It’s a premise (a hot one!) that can impart as much as a paragraph or even a book could, but just hitting the highlights that take people aback and make ‘em blink (Hollywood types not being known for their enjoyment of reading more than a few words at a time. Are they literate? One wonders).
That “what-if” thing is the very essence of fiction, but in the case of the hot premise, it’s everything. In just a few words, it has to intrigue and inspire, and most challenging, no matter how old the idea, it has to be made fresh. The idea could be an old one, but it has to be translated for the modern age. The best way to be able to do this is to know your own plot and story very, very well and give it a twist that rejuvenates it.
Okay, by now you might have gotten the idea about what a hot premise is and how you can go about boiling down your story idea into a few words. One of the most frustrating things you may have learned in school is that too often teachers don’t want short and simple, they want complex and high-falutin’. So instead of the simple answer you were about to give, you find yourself having to make it sound way more complicated than you think it needs to be. This sticks to you through school, through college, through graduate school and your doctoral dissertation…but it doesn’t work when you’re trying to sell your story. Because people who’re going to be buying your story don’t care about how high-falutin’ you can make it, they care about how your story makes them feel. And that’s as basic as you’re going to get.
Now look at your story. Can you tell people what it is in ten words or fewer, using a twist you want your readers to focus on?
I’m breaking this all down into its basic elements in an online workshop for the Carolina Romance Writers this February. Come on over and see if you can be succinct!
Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at emsflynn.com and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re curious about her books, check out eilisflynn.com. In any case, she can be reached at email@example.com.