Another pitch slap article.
One of the best bits of fortune cookie-style writing advice I’ve ever gotten has been this: Readers read words, not minds.
When a reader picks up a book, they’re reading the words, the paragraphs, the chapters. It no longer matters what the author meant, or wanted to imply, or included in the 50-page compendium of world-building notes. The words on the page are all.
Here’s the thing: Writers read with their minds, readers read with their eyes. The writer already knows what’s happening, what it all means, why the characters do what they do, all before ever sitting down to look through what they’ve written. It all makes sense, not because the words-on-the-page explain it, but because the writer’s brain knows all.
All this leads me to our latest 50-word story summary sent in earlier this month by author B Hughes-Millman for some feedback.
Title: Purgatory’s Angel
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Once a mighty archangel, Jaime is on earth hunting those who kill the innocent in their sleep. Then she meets the handsome demon in a dream she can’t remember. When she wakes, he’s still alive, but he must have died or she wouldn’t have woken.
I think you know where I’m going with this. Here are some off-the-cuff thoughts as I read:
I suspect none of these oddball questions I asked even occurred to the author. But the reader doesn’t have the advantage of seeing around the corner. The reader doesn’t have the author’s mental footnotes and annotations. More clarity is needed.
Wait, don’t you want to get your readers curious? Make them ask questions?
Yes and no.
So what to do? My first instinct is to fix the dream-amnesia confusion by just plain leaving it out to focus on Jaime:
Once a mighty archangel, now the last of her kind, Jaime whiles her immortality away by entering the dreams of human to battle the demons who would steal their souls. But when she tangles with a green-eyed demon who is as elusive as he is clever, she feels alive for the first time in almost a thousand years.
Once a mighty archangel, Jaime has spent the last thousand years in battle, honor-bound to wage a silent war in the dreams of mortals against the demons who would steal their souls. She never questioned her duty until the night she loses a fight with a demon, who then spares her life.
In the previous rewrites, I removed the dream amnesia. But what if we want to keep it in? Here’s just such an attempt:
In the last thousand years of battling demons in the dreams of mortals, ex-archangel Jaime has never lost a fight or forgotten a dream. Until now. When Jaime wakes up, haunted by two piecing eyes and no memory of her last battle, she’s going to find out what happened even if she has to move heaven and hell. Literally.
A bit vague, a little cliché, but it does clear up the dream issue. Though it doesn’t really explain why Jaime is so freaked out about it.
None of these revisions feel complete, though. There’s something missing.
Beyond the intuitive leaps the blurb makes (and the reader fails to make), the short summary also forgets to explain why anyone should care about its mystery: An angel battles a demon in the dream universe. She doesn’t remember killing the demon, but she seems okay when she wakes up, so, according to the rules of her world, she must have killed him.
In any sane universe, she would shrug and move on. Whatever, he must be dead. Chalk it up to bad sushi the night before. Grab a cup of coffee and some donuts.
The reader, looking over the blurb, will also kinda shrug. “Hey, I’m reading a paranormal romance, so demon’s probably not dead. So?”
At best the weird demon anomaly is a curiosity. At worst, it’s a yawn.
In a book world where clever and handsome elf-lords coerce heroes into taking on crazy missions, where heroines on the run sign away their freedom to escape an even worse fate, where a futuristic woman falls into the arms of a steampunk inventor from an alternative universe…in such company, a weird dream doesn’t even make it onto the radar.
No matter what you’re writing, there has to be a sense of urgency. Where the urgency comes from in Angel’s Purgatory will depend on the actually story. Here’s a guess:
He had piercing green eyes, smelled like wild moorland and teased her with a gentle Irish brogue. And Jamie, archangel and sworn enemy of demons like him, ended his life. And yet, each night she enters the dreams of mortals to hunt demons, she senses him. Perhaps there is such a thing as a second chance. Perhaps she has finally lost her mind.
This one is almost there. I still feel there’s more to this story, but without knowing what’s actually at stake in the plot, it’ll have to be up to the author to give us a glimpse it in the final blurb.
Bonus revision: Paranormal romcom romp (just for fun).
Caffeine addict and mighty archangel Jaime is having a bad morning. Her coffee machine is broken, paperwork is piling up, and she can’t remember the night before. Problem is, she’s pretty sure it involved a fight with a dream demon. And kissing. Lots of kissing.
Canary friends, what do you think?
Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar? Email it our way to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read more Pitch Slaps here.