No. It’s nothing like “Twilight”…

In my relatively limited experience of being a writer, I’ve found that the worst thing about writing a novel (apart from actually sitting down for long enough to write it) is talking to other people about it.

I’m so bad at talking about my work that I try not to mention that I’m writing a novel in conversation. This, in theory, should be fairly easy (it’s not as if people just come out with, “So, written any novels recently?” or anything) but if I’m small-talking with someone I don’t know and they’re asking me about myself, I tell them I want to be a writer and inevitably I come to tell them I’m writing a novel.

I hate telling people what my novel is about: Condensing a 200 page story into one, vaguely interesting summary, is tricky. When I think what my novel is about, I don’t know where to start.

So I either:

1. Stare blankly at the person who asked me. Then I say “er…” lots. Then I blush. Then I say that I don’t really know. Then I laugh nervously. Then I change the subject/run away in the opposite direction.

2. Take a deep breath, and embark on what is possibly the most boring and lengthy description of a book possible, punctuated with many fillers such as “sort of”, “kind of”, “um”, “er”, “if you know what I mean”, “if that makes any sense”. The other person quickly loses the will to live.

When it comes to talking about my novel, I’ve got a ‘fight or flight’ thing going on. Scenario 1 being flight – I know that my attempt to explain the book is going to be a disaster, so I simply abort the conversation entirely. Most of the time, I simply opt to run away, on the basis that I’d rather people think I am a bit crazy than think I’m a non-stop bore festival.

Which brings me to the second scenario, the ‘fight’ reaction, which I’m much less prone to doing because the other person gets this glazed over look on their face about 10 – 15 seconds into my 3000 hour explanation. They stop making eye-contact, they look at the floor, then out of the window, then search for the nearest exit, and after a minute – they’re pretty much checking themselves for a pulse.

When I start explaining what my book is about, I start off okay. I give a quick description of my main character and a rough outline of the story. In my brain, it’s all pretty clear.

My brain

But very quickly, my mind floods with a surplus of information. I start thinking about all the minor details, all the sub-stories, all the stuff that no one really needs to know about but I cram it into my synopsis anyway.

My brain2

I just stand there talking, thinking of more things to include as I go. And then I’m aware of how long I’ve been talking, and how bored the other person looks. But I’ve still got so much more to say and so I accelerate through more book talk, which only really turns what was a boring, convoluted description, into a fast-paced, unfathomable whirlwind of talk that means nothing to anyone, anywhere.

Eventually, once I notice the noose hanging around the neck of the person I’m talking to, I slam on the brakes and finally manage to stop talking.

There’s an awkward pause.

Then, they either run away, or start speaking to someone else.

And every now and again, they ask “So, it’s nothing like Twilight, then?” To which there is a very short answer: no.

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Comments: 24

  1. NickMB June 14, 2011 at 2:58 pm Reply

    I've experienced this problem in the past, so much so that I almost based my planning for my current one on "Does it have a cool-sounding and simple tagline?" But even with that, I still feel a bit flushed and awkward. I do worry that this won't serve me well when pitching the damn thing to publishers.

  2. Jojiebean June 14, 2011 at 3:02 pm Reply

    That's the worst part about the whole thing. I know that some day, I'm going to have the nightmarish task of not only thinking of a short synopsis, but one that makes it both interesting an marketable to agents and publishers. So not looking forward to that…

  3. Sang Hee June 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm Reply

    I experience this all the time. But if someone asks me what I write about I just say it as simply as possible. I write a story from the future about a family of a single father and his two daughters. That's it, nothing about magic, war, distant planets, etc. People don't deserve more than that. If they wanna know more they should read the book. I know you might feel like describing it so shortly won't do your work justice but trust me, throwing in more details is actually a trap too easy to fall into and it will always work against you.
    Or you just say it's secret :D

  4. alexis June 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm Reply

    I tried my hand at writing something involving vampires but I realized it mirrored the movie Underworld when I would describe it, so it got scrapped. Twilight has ruined a lot of vampire inspiration for me. Gah.

  5. Suniverse June 14, 2011 at 11:19 pm Reply

    Why don't you just say it's exactly like Twilight? That should end the conversation pretty quickly for both of you.


    You could say you're revamping Shakespeare, because he was so fucking long-winded. Just make shit up. It's what I do. And then, when you're done, you can just say it went in a totally different direction.

  6. Million Monkeys June 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm Reply

    I have the opposite problem explaining what my short stories are about – when I try to explain them they generally sound as though absolutely nothing happens. Which is probably because I write stories where nothing happens…except symbolism and epiphanies and stuff like that.

  7. alonewithcats June 16, 2011 at 12:17 am Reply

    Maybe you could come up with a 50-word summary and memorize it for when the topic inevitably comes up. Kind of like when you're on a job interview, and you have to barf up some canned answer about how you'll be an asset to the company because …

  8. Simone June 16, 2011 at 1:02 am Reply

    whenever i tell people what my novel is about they look at me with such pity…

  9. Steven Chapman June 16, 2011 at 10:31 am Reply

    I usually only tell my GF the plot to my novels, I think I get more out of the process than she does as I tend to brainstorm while I’m babbling. All she gets is her ears talked off and all of the surprises in my books spoiled.

    If people ask what I write I tell them horror, if they ask what I’m writing now I manage to mumble incoherently and distract them with threats of three-headed monkeys behind them…

    They’ll never understand us writery types!

  10. Jojiebean June 17, 2011 at 8:46 am Reply

    It's not so much that giving a small description of the book doesn't do my work justice, I'm just not sure what to actually say – so I go on and on to include more and more things. Basically, I chatter like a nervous idiot.

  11. Jojiebean June 17, 2011 at 8:48 am Reply

    Agreed. We'll never be able to write about vampires again without envisioning that pouty chick, and the dude with the massive eyebrows. Thanks Twilight.

  12. Jojiebean June 17, 2011 at 8:49 am Reply

    You are pure genius. I *should* say that it's exactly like Twilight – and that really, Stephanie Mayer stole the idea from me. And my book is way better. And I expect to have my own movie franchise pretty soon.

  13. Jojiebean June 17, 2011 at 8:51 am Reply

    I think this is a similar problem, in that nothing really happens, so I go into detail explaining all the epiphanies and what not.

  14. Jojiebean June 17, 2011 at 8:52 am Reply

    That's a great idea. Although due to my poor memory skills, perhaps I'll write it down and then just carry it with me everywhere. Then when someone asks I can just read it out to them. Or even better, pass it to them to read themselves!

  15. Jojiebean June 17, 2011 at 8:53 am Reply

    Yeah, same thing. Actually, whenever I talk to anyone about anything, they look at me with such pity… I should probably work on that…

  16. Jojiebean June 17, 2011 at 8:55 am Reply

    The thing is, I don't ever seem to explain the plot. Just all the other stuff. And some random crap.

    But yes, I have the same thing in that once I start talking it's like having a verbal brainstorm – and I get more ideas. And then forget them as soon as the conversation is over.

  17. Jojiebean June 17, 2011 at 12:17 pm Reply

    Where did my reply go?! Gah. I'm so fed up of this comment form. A migration to WordPress could be in order…

    I can't even remember what I said now, but it was awesome.

    Something like: That's an excellent idea, I'm going to tell people it's exactly like Twilight – but better. And that Stephanie Mayer totally ripped me off. And I'm going to have my own movie franchise pretty soon…

    It was funnier the first time I wrote it.

  18. Jojiebean June 17, 2011 at 12:20 pm Reply

    Another missing reply?! DAMN YOU INTENSE DEBATE.

    Again, totally don't remember what I said – but know this; it was really freaking witty.

    Something like: I'll write down a summary, but due to my inability to retain information, I'll probably carry that piece of paper around with me everywhere rather than attempt to memorise it. Then I can just read it out to folk when they ask me. Or better yet, hand it to them to read themselves.

  19. NickMB June 17, 2011 at 1:33 pm Reply

    Yeah, i's weird how hard it is making these things sound awesome, even though logic dictates that we must think it is. I guess it's yet another example of the annoying list of tasks that happen once you finish a book draft. Which is far longer than it should be.

  20. Sang Hee June 18, 2011 at 11:31 am Reply

    So you don't ever sit down and prepare some answer you would give to people when they ask? It's all about being prapred, you know.

  21. Sang Hee June 18, 2011 at 11:32 am Reply

    Damn my morning writing, I meant prepared :D
    I don't think prapred means anything.

  22. Jojiebean June 18, 2011 at 3:26 pm Reply

    This may come as a shock, but no. I don't. Ever.

  23. Sang Hee June 18, 2011 at 11:18 pm Reply

    Wow! Actually, I wasn't shocked. Anyways, why is that? All you do is just ridicule yourself but have you made any progress? Have you learned and improved? Are you putting more effort into your book or your blog? I'm just asking because this is one damn good blog, funny yet crushingly real.

  24. Empire Carpet Man June 23, 2011 at 7:03 pm Reply

    This commercial totally brings me back to my childhood. I'm not totally convinced that the Dead Kennedys sang this jingle. Your ears can be deceiving. For instance, the famous Empire Carpet Man commercial song (popular around Chicago and the midwest) was actually written not by an artist/singer, but by an ad-man who was working on the campaign at the time.

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