Writing About Your Own Work

6 years ago | Michael Litzky (Member)

One of the biggest stumbling blocks I face is describing my work to others. I mean, it's so hard to say glowing things about your own writing. If someone asks what I write, I have to fight the urge to shrug and say, "Oh, it's kind of, well, vampire stories but not ordinary vampire stories, um, y'know..." When I need to write a description of my writing, I somehow feel I'm never able to express the love of creating real characters who feel like people to me, the excitement of coming up with a brand new idea, the joy and pain of being with the characters through their brightest day and their darkest nights.

I actually have a specific request buried in here: when I first posted my story "Safe as Houses" on this site, I struggled with what to say. Now I worry that in trying for an intelligent, worldly tone, I just wound up sounding like an obnoxious smart-ass. Would someone be willing to look at how I presented the story (http://webfictionguide.com/listings/safe-as-houses/) and give me any feedback you have?

And more generally, how do you deal with presenting your story? I try various things, like imagining I'm writing about a character in a story, imagining I'm writing about someone else who I'd like to help, imagining that I'm someone else writing about me. It all helps, but of course what I'm always really longing for is for someone else to say all those wonderful things about me <grin>.

How do you present your story in a way that gets people to want to read it?

Just wait 'till you see what sunlight really does to a vampire. http://www.michaellitzky.com/safe-as-houses-toc/

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Responses

  1. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    It's hard. Iusually do a short synopsis of the opening up to the first conflict/mystery, then a quick listing of the kind of story it is.

    Someone really needs to do a pandora type thing of breaking fiction down into various descriptors for the types of story/ categories of prose, to identify what people would like based on what they already like.

  2. George M. Frost (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    To my mind, the key is to remember (or figure out) why you decided to write your story. Consider what you like about it, why you think it's worth your time to write and, by extension, someone else's time to read.

    That's a critical question that trips people up. A lot of times, we don't really think about why; we just jump in and hope all goes well. But even then, the story must eventually reach a point where it begins to come into its own, and by then, whether they realize it or not, the author definitely has a reason for continuing. Because writing is work. No matter how much you enjoy it or how easily the text might flow, it still requires thought and effort and a whole lot of time. You simply can't keep yourself motivated to work that much without a reason to. Understanding that reason is akin to understanding your own work; and if you don't understand your own work, then how can you talk about it in any meaningful way?

    Which leads into the reason itself. It's not things like "I wanted to write something amazing" or "Because I really like my characters." That's complete non-answer bullshit. THAT is vague self-praise and informs the reader of precisely nothing. WHY do you think your story is amazing? WHY do you like the characters? What is it that breathes life into the story for you and makes you want to write it? Answer these things for yourself, and then articulate those answers into your pitch/summary.

    And I ended up sounding very bossy. I apologize for that. Now do as I say.

    The Zombie Knight Saga -- undead superheroics
  3. Amy Kim Kibuishi (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    I try to describe my book in a way they can relate to without knowing anything else about it. I try to tell them enough to get the basic mood but not enough to give anything away. I'm really terrible at it too, to be honest. If I was better maybe I'd be getting more traffic. XD

  4. SgL (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    First - who are you describing your work to? Your audience determines your message.

    Your family and friends will ask you what kind of book adn why are you writing the book. (Or if they know you well, they'll be like "oh yeah, how's that book going"?) They'll want to know a lot of information.

    But for a stranger who likes to avidly read or writes - you need to develop your elevator message. "Such and such is a story in the x genre that focuses on _____." Communicate the essence of your story quickly. If you have to use tropes (see tvtropes.org) then do it.

    Regarding your WFG entry, I think you should look at some of the other current entries. I advise you to go with a summary of your serial. WFG doesn't have huge traffic numbers but it does draw readers! And in most cases, they don't want to know about the author . They want the dirt on what your story promises them and get enough info to be motivated to push through to your website link.

    The who you are and why you wrote it is probably best left on your author page at your site.

    If you get stuck on this , happy to post a suggested rework of your blurb in this thread.

    As for presenting your story - George says it so well.

    Ultimately I write what I like to read. It means I alienate anyone who doesn't like drama or inner dialogue, but at least at the end of the day I'm having fun with what I'm crafting. Ultimately if I can't enjoy what I'm doing then I've guaranteed my own failure because then writing becomes all work with little reward in its process.

  5. Wildbow (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    The 'elevator pitch' is where you're outlining your idea in brief so you can pose it to someone in the course of a one-two minute elevator ride (ie, an editor, producer, whatever). I spent a while honing mine, so I'd have my mental footing if people asked about the story.

    Good elevator pitches will use the same technique that a news segment (be it TV or newspaper or radio) will. In short, you start with something broad that encompasses the idea of the story, then give more detail. The specifics only come up in the end, assuming you have your audience's attention with the early stuff.

    You have to avoid being nonspecific, and in reviewing others' elevator pitches, I noticed that there's a few errors that recur:

    The last time Solomon Calibre slept, he woke to find a pocket watch under his pillow engraved with a mysterious message: The world is winding down.
    The engraving is true.
    Crops are failing. Mutated crustaceans the size of bulls stalk the scrub lands sniffing out prey. Entire villages disappear over night. And Solomon hasn't slept for years. What priests and thinkers are left have no explanation, but Solomon thinks one man does.
    For three sleepless years he has chased the clockmaker across the dying kingdom of Herthule. Now on the cusp of catching up to his obsession, he'll learn what he would sacrifice for answers.

    This is more of a premise than a pitch. Something you'd see on the back of a book. The thing about the synopsis you'll see on the book jacket is that a lot of -other- information is already conveyed. The cover, the font, the layout, they convey the attitude and tone. That's stuff you have to convey

    And note the final sentence. It's vague, and it doesn't convey the nature of the story, and it's vague, nonspecific when you want the opposite. Is it a story of transformation? A tragedy? A comedy? The last one would be a stretch, but it's there.

    What they will discover has greater implications than they ever could have imagined.
    And are we making our robots more human than ourselves?
    Human civilization will never be the same.
    Will the ties of friendship, love, and duty prove the way, or will the easy power of cruelty and dominion be too hard to resist?

    Probably.
    Probably.
    Probably.
    Probably the former.

    These are lines to avoid, all too common closing sentences when you're trying to do a pitch. The first quote above sort of makes the same mistake, to a lesser degree.

    Don't frame the central question, and definitely don't frame it like that. A binary question is problematic, because the reader can guess. It should point to a world of possibilities without being vague.

    What I'd say would be something like...

    The Parity II's crew found hints of an ancient genocide of an entire race, with a cover-up spanning multiple star systems. With entire planetary governments now intent on eliminating them before they can leak the information, the crew is caught between a need to gather usable evidence and their desire to seize the narrowing window to home. With every passing hour, frictions within the ship intensify and assassins, mercenaries, armies and traps gather between them and their unlikely asylum.

    Mayor of an isolated city-colony, Haukner struggles against a terrorism campaign led by reformist androids. They are immortal opponents smarter, stronger, with better scientific and artistic minds than the colonists working under him, and they want nothing more than to supplant him. With no human connections but his sham of a marriage and a daughter who loathes him, Haukner finds himself caught up in his affair with the android Else94. It would be everything he dreamed of, if he didn't find himself wondering if she were a succubus, manipulating him into his downfall. With the city-colony in his hands, he has to fight, manipulate and lead his way through the crisis, no matter which side he ends up supporting.

    That's a little more than a closing line, but I'm sort of folding the whole pitch into those.

    Once you get familiar with your elevator pitch, though, I think it's easier to present the idea. Bonus is, if you take the 'more general to more specific' route, you can key just how much information you provide, depending on the interest shown. If they aren't keen, then you stop partway, and you've still encapsulated most of the story.

  6. M.C.A. Hogarth (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    I think talking about why you write a story isn't as engaging to readers as telling them why they might want to read it. It's been about 13 years since I took a pitching workshop, but what I took away from it was a formula:

    WHO are we reading about--
    --WHERE/WHAT's the context of their world--
    --WHAT is their problem--
    --WHY should we care about it--
    --and what's at STAKE.

    I remember something vaguely about including 'heart' or 'quest' or 'life' or etc in the last part. Lol. :)

    Anyway, you should be able to summarize any story in 1-2 sentences with that formula. Here, I'll do it for the first book of my Jokka trilogy, The Worth of a Shell:

    When Thenet finds itself the guardian of a runaway female, it has no idea just how outrageous its new charge's ideas are. Thenet believes in the world it knows, but will that world survive its growing love for a demagogue bent on revolution--or martyrdom?

    That sort of thing.

    With some practice, you get pretty good at feeling for the bones of what you're trying to say with every story. Once you can get it down to 1-2 sentences, writing 1-2 paragraph blurbs gets much easier, and it's a skill you need anyway for book packaging. :)

  7. Michael Litzky (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    Thank you all for these thoughtful posts. These are good ideas.

    S-girl, thank you for confirming my impression that I should re-do the blurb about my story. I will try to take some of the suggestions here and come up with a wonderful blurb that expresses the heart of why I'm writing this story.

    Just wait 'till you see what sunlight really does to a vampire. http://www.michaellitzky.com/safe-as-houses-toc/
  8. Amy Kim Kibuishi (Member)

    Posted 6 years ago

    I wanted to add, author Beth Revis has been helping moderate a great YA reedit. She started a thread about "high concept" one-sentence pitches that might help you sort things out in terms of summarizing your book clearly. I still struggle with it, but it helped put my mind in the right place. Check it out:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/YAwriters/comments/1hjtsb/discussion_high_concept/

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