Crafting a Story Description

My writing assignment was to come up with a brief description of my short story Equilibrium, which falls into the literary romance category. Though I have experience writing descriptions for nonfiction, I had never done this for a short story. I looked around a bit online and wrote this description:
After her divorce from a difficult husband, Emily Walker’s life contracts into a steady routine of work and solitude. Wanting more, she takes her first steps out of her comfort zone to connect with someone new.
My first attempt didn’t fly because although it was technically accurate, it didn’t capture the feeling of the piece. Here is what the publisher said in response:
The description is ok, but it doesn’t really address the magic of what happens in the restaurant, and that’s really the key to the story. So I think what you have is a good start, but how about going a little deeper into the story? Show off the angles that make this stand out from other romance stories of similar storyline.
I pondered that. I went online and searched for advice about writing pitches for romances. After a fair amount of thought and effort, I came up with two possible approaches. I decided to send both:
Option 1
Worn out at the end of an ordinary day, Emily stops at a roadside diner, where she meets Jim, a sensitive man who intuitively understands her. Can she move beyond the pain of her broken marriage and rediscover the simple pleasures in life over a bowl of soup?
Option 2
At the end of a long day at work, Emily stops for a quick bite to eat. Instead, she finds a respite from the stress of everyday life, and a surprising connection with a kind, unassuming man, who really understands her.
I also included this note: Am I getting closer? I’m willing to keep at it until you’re happy with the result.
This time, the publisher was happy with my efforts. Here is what the editor said:
I’m loving Option 1, so I’ll be going with that. We should be sending you an “it’s live” announcement very soon!
My final response to the editor:
Yay! That’s ahead of schedule, and very exciting.
What I took from this experience, is that just because something is short, doesn’t mean that it is simple to write. I would say that it took me about 2-1/2 hours in total to come up with the final two sentences that the publisher is using. Also, until you start writing professionally, you might not realize how much publishers rely on writers to craft chunks of their own promotional copy. The publisher might revise what the author comes up with, but they know we can write, so they’ll ask the author to provide at least a starting point.
As a writer it is worth spending some time on a description like this because it helps your work sell. It can also help you figure out what the real essence of your story or novel is about, and how it is most likely to connect with readers.

3 thoughts on “Crafting a Story Description

  1. I’m not looking forward to writing the little snippets. They’re so hard–capturing the essence of what makes your story worth reading, without giving away anything that would make it irrelevant to read. Like in previews for new movies, the good ones capture the flavor and basic premise of the movie and make you want to see the whole thing. And then there are the ones that show all of the important plot points, so by the time the 2 minute preview is over you have no need to watch the 90 minute movie.

    It’s interesting which snippet the publisher chose, too. I like option 2 better, but I can’t put my finger on why. Good thinking to send multiple options, though, so they could pick.

  2. Snippet 1 raises immediate cureosity because it has names -characters.a place, a meeting… it goes everywhere, leading by anticipation…What will the writer create for these two and for us too that’s exciting.

    ted

    PS: – To you and Keiko – much appreciation for the “reaching out” at Coffee Society , tonight. I played listened and one time played guitar during open mike at MISSION .

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