No, not the fun ones.

I'm not much for giving "writer's advice." Short of my big thing about outlines [seriously, kids. Write outlines], I don't think I've ever done that here. A couple of times I've even spent all night writing entries about various "rules" or "tips and tricks" that I ended up not pressing publish on, just because I just don't feel comfortable doing that right now.

But I really have to get this off my chest.

First, let me say, I don’t like prescriptivism. Trying to jam everyone into a single box, trying to make everyone play by the same set of rules, it doesn’t work. Now, true, people who are coping with stringent rules will often make great things, and some folks will even go so far as to put certain restrictions on themselves willingly in hopes it will push them to produce something they wouldn't normally. And if that helps, great. That’s completely, 100% your call. And if you don't want to take that on, if you don't need that - awesome.

All that aside, if you are writing a story, and you cannot sum that story up in a single sentence, then it is probably not a very good story. Is it filled with many, many great ideas? Possibly. Is the story you’re telling necessarily bad, if you can’t do that? Of course not. Are there stories that doing this would be very hard, if not impossible, and they still manage to be good? Maybe. I guess. Occasionally.

But probably not. And if there are, it’s definitely not good to assume that you are so great, that you're story is so great, that you are one of the exceptions to this particular rule.

Look. I get it. Your story is tip-top. You’re breaking boundaries. You’re tying things together that have never been tied together before [you’re not, but you feel that way, and that feeling is important]. You don’t want to be pigeonholed, and you do not want the nuance of your narrative stifled by trying to sum it up in only a handful of words. I've been there. But here’s the thing.

That one sentence? That short, to-the-point way of telling everyone else what you’re writing about, what your story is about? That’s the heart of your story. That’s what it’s about. Okay, maybe you don’t think that’s your story’s heart, but keeping with the organ theme, it is at least the skin of your story, it is what’s holding everything in there together, and inside, and keeping your messy narrative guts from falling out all over the place, and ruining the carpet, and distracting from all the great things that are in your story.

One line. One sentence. It can be a compound sentence if you must. God created commas for a reason, after all. But make sure you can do it. It’s important. Because it’s your story, and you should know what it’s about. And if you can’t sum your story up in a single sentence, then guess what? You don’t know what it’s about.

And that's a one-liner. And if you can’t do it, then you don’t know what your story is about.

4 comments :: One-Liners.

  1. HEY!

    I know you don't know me, but, like, I'm your BIGGEST FAN!

    I print out every single entry of your blog and hang it on my wall, near my bedside.

    Keep up the great work!

    Your #1 fan worldwide.. no! spacewide!,
    Deranged Stalker Type

  2. It's all for you, Damien. It's all for you.

  3. Steven would be proud.

  4. Thanks, man. I try, every day.