by Lisa Alber
I recently completed the first draft for THE SHADOW MAIDEN. As first drafts go, it’s cleaner than usual (for me) because I’d overhauled it as I was writing maybe a dozen times. I’m happy it’s done, to say the least!
I’ve got it out to a reader for developmental feedback. Meanwhile, I started to think about my agent after a few years of being incommunicado. I started to worry. It’s one thing to fret over the writing process — that’s creativity at work. It’s another thing to fret when it comes time to consider the world *out there.* The world out there begins with one person: the agent (unless you’re self-publishing).
So many questions: Is she still my agent after so long? Will she like the book? If not, what do I do then? Does she remember me? How come I didn’t receive an agency Christmas card last year? Specifically, what will she make of my storytelling choices? Do I already have a strike against me since I’m not writing the most popular thing — the first-person, domestic suspense-thriller?
First things, first: contact her. Seemed simple enough. Nothing formal, because that’s not the way I roll. More like, Hey, Agent, remember me? Remember that book I was telling you about a long time ago? Like that, with the addition of a decent summary of the story.
Sad face emoji here — 😦 — because when it comes to the *out there* stuff, I dread coming up with what a friend calls the “logline” more than anything else in this pesky business. I can write an entire novel, but developing a pithy summary description? HAH!
I give you my friend’s formula, which I shamelessly stole and now pass on to you. Actually, with a little research, I discovered that the formula comes from a writing book called SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. It’s a screenwriting book, but fiction writers use it, too.
On the verge of STASIS = DEATH,
a flawed hero BREAKS INTO 2;
but when MIDPOINT happens,
they must learn the THEME STATED
before ALL IS LOST.
Uh-huh — what? Since I haven’t read the book (yet?), I did a little research, and this is the way I think about it:
- STATIS = DEATH: Protagonist’s beginning state. Basically, she must already have problems in her life.
- BREAK IN 2: Protagonist makes a choice and enters into a new, unforeseen journey.
- MIDPOINT: Significant plot event that changes things. An obstacle, a twist, etc.
- THEME STATED: Related to protagonist’s internal arc. How they must change.
- ALL IS LOST: The stakes.
Here’s a made-up example:
Bankrupt and homeless, an investigative journalist returns to her hometown to bury her mother, who committed suicide, and pick up the pieces of her shattered life; but when a freak flood unearths a skeleton in the basement, she realizes she must face long-buried secrets in her family’s past and learn to forgive herself before she becomes the next “suicide” in the family.
Hopefully you get what I’m illustrating. Having a formula helped me write my logline. I came up with:
Reeling from her headmistress mother’s murder, troubled trauma survivor Tessa Alexander returns to the one place she vowed never to see again—fog-enshrouded, cursed Greyvale Academy for Girls—to find answers; but when a childhood friend is found dead on campus, the lines between past and present blur, and ever-more-fragile Tessa realizes that she must face her own truth to discover why vengeance came calling to slay her mother and make Tessa its next victim.
That’s one long-ass sentence, but it works well enough. I could never write a logline before I begin writing, but I can see how attempting it while writing might help me figure out where my story needs work. For example, if I can’t figure out what the theme is, I probably need to beef up my character’s internal story arc. If I don’t have a good midpoint event, it probably means I have a saggy middle.
In the end, I sent this:
Gothic-inspired story reminiscent of Tana French’s THE SECRET PLACE and Carol Goodman’s THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES: Reeling from her headmistress mother’s murder, troubled trauma survivor Tessa Alexander returns to the one place she’d vowed never to see again—fog-enshrouded, cursed Greyvale Academy for Girls—to find answers; but when a childhood friend is found dead on campus, the lines between past and present blur, and ever-more-fragile Tessa realizes that she must face her own truth to discover why vengeance came calling to slay her mother and make Tessa its next victim. Retribution comes in many forms, and sometimes Greyvale girls have the most to hide.
The point was to provide Agent with as much information as possible, succinctly, and excite her interest. Including comparable books (or, comps) is always handy for agents. That last sentence isn’t needed. I just liked it.
The good news is that Agent responded the same day(!!). I’m apparently still on her roster, and she looks forward to reading the manuscript when I’m ready. Revision, here I come!