You know how the most common question a writer is supposed to get is: Where do you get your ideas?
I actually don’t mind this question because I can usually answer it, more or less. Pretty often I actually do know what image sparked a book, what secondary plotline in somebody else’s book I borrowed to create a major plot in mine, what minor character in ditto led to a protagonist of mine. I don’t even have to refer to Schenectady, usually.
But in fact, this question is not at all as common as the one above. And the question, “So, what’s your book about?” is really much more difficult to answer. This is because you want a one-sentence answer which might make the questioner want to buy your book, and explaining what you’re book’s about in one sentence is really, really hard.
Now, Nathan Bransford, an agent who has a great blog, is the guy who posted about this in the way that was most helpful to me (http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05/one-sentence-one-paragraph-and-two.html).
What Bransford suggested is that you structure your answer this way: When OPENING CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER, he OVERCOMES CONFLICT to COMPLETE QUEST.
Turns out it is actually more or less possible to use this structure! So here are my attempts to do this for my books:
1. THE CITY IN THE LAKE
“When a curse falls across the Kingdom so that all babies are stillborn, Timou must find the courage to discover and defeat the source of the curse — even when she finds that she herself is intimately tied to the Kingdom’s greatest enemy.”
2a) LORD OF THE CHANGING WINDS
“When the beautiful but terrible fire-griffins are driven out of their desert, both Kes and Bertaud find themselves torn between the desperate need of the griffins and the safety of their own people and country.”
2b) LAND OF THE BURNING SANDS
“The conflict with the griffins allowed Gereint to escape from servitude, but now he finds himself a pawn of the last cold mage — and poised either to save the country that enslaved him or allow it to be destroyed.”
2c) LAW OF THE BROKEN EARTH
“After a stranger arrives in Mienthe’s home, she comes to suspect he may be the key to protecting her country from the griffins — but only if she can harness her own emerging gifts to protect him from his enemies.”
3) THE FLOATING ISLANDS — coming in Feb. 2011
“After Trei’s family is destroyed in a natural disaster, he finds his way to the dragon-haunted Floating Islands — but when war threatens to erupt between the country of his birth and his new home, Trei must decide where his final loyalty lies . . . and what he will risk to prevent disaster to both.”
Wow, does that leave a lot out. This one sentence thing is a killer. Here’s a two-sentence version I like better:
“After Trei’s family is destroyed in a natural disaster, he finds his way to his mother’s kin in the magical, dragon-haunted Floating Islands. But although he wins a coveted place amont the elite corps that uses dragon magic to fly, when war threatens to erupt between his father’s people and the Floating Islands, Trei must decide where his final loyalty lies — and what he will be willing to risk to prevent disaster.”
There, is that cheating?
4) HOUSE OF SHADOWS — coming in 2011, probably.
“After their father dies unexpectedly, Nemienne and her seven sisters must find some way to survive — but Nemienne never guessed that she wuld apprentice herself to a mage, nor that her new master might prove to be a deadly enemy to everything she loves.”
And that also leaves out a lot. A LOT. Also, maybe it gives too much away? Although the reader finds out that the mage is maybe not a good guy pretty early, so this isn’t too much of a spoiler.
Okay, as first drafts go . . . not terrible? Now just gotta commit these to memory so they’ll be there when somebody asks . . .