One of the hardest things for a writer to do is summarize their 300-page novel in one sentence called a tagline. Most non-writers will recognize this as the one sentence used in the TV Guide screen when you hit INFO on your remote. This got me thinking. What if everyone had a tagline for their lives? How cool would that be?
Just for fun I created some for my family.
Kristine Goodfellow: A woman hell-bent on a career as a writer awaits that one big break while driving her family and friends crazy by advertising her blog.
Hubby: A successful, good-humored man with massive amounts of patience must support his idiosyncratic, want-to-be novelist, wife without feeling upstaged by her laptop.
Son 1: A quirky, but brilliant young man sets his eyes on a career as The Fed Chair, but must first conquer Calculus.
Son 2: An affable teenager with a mischievous side navigates through high school after being uprooted seven times in eleven years.
Feral (Cat): A cantankerous feline must put up with a family of insufferable humans and resist the temptation to kill them in their sleep when she realizes they are the only ones who know how to operate a can opener.
See if you can say what’s going on in your life right now in ONE sentence. Just try it.
The purpose of a tagline for a novel is to make the literary agent want to continue reading your query letter and eventually ask for your manuscript.
I am guilty of having horrendous taglines, but I gave it another shot. I can’t tell whether they’re any good, but I tried.
First, here are some examples of real taglines for famous books (I didn’t write these):
Gone With the Wind: A manipulative woman and a roguish man carry on a turbulent love affair in the American south during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Wuthering Heights: Foundling Heathcliff is raised by the wealthy Earnshaws in Yorkshire but in later life launches a vendetta against the family.
To Kill A Mockingbird: A lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice.
Out of the following, can you guess which ones are real (my own manuscripts)?
TV Guide-style listings (taglines).
1. (David, Third Person) A physically and psychologically scarred librarian falls in love with a charismatic school teacher fleeing her abusive husband. (75,000-words)
2. (The Dismantling of Genius) In the late 1800’s, a gifted pianist who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome and a severe stutter is lured away from his career by a beguiling, but envious failed musician. (103,000-words)
3. (The Lost Chapter) Seeking acceptance and a chance to feel human, the intelligent creature Dr. Frankenstein created discovers love, alcohol and sex before he learns about hatred and seeks revenge on the mad scientist who abandoned and then tried to kill him. (65,000-words)
4. (The Tributary) A man accused of murder and an angry young homeless woman must learn to trust each other in order to survive when a blizzard traps them in a cathedral for ten days. (80,000-words)
5. (Edge of the Flame) A love story with an alternative explanation for the bizarre behavior and murders attributed to The Phantom of the Opera. (81,000-words)
6. (The Mansion on Swan Lake) In the late 19th-century, a wealthy industrialist’s wife must drive him into suicidal despair so she can inherit his wealth and marry his brother in order to honor a deal with the devil. (85,000-words)
7. (In Luke’s Shadow) A handsome, but mentally handicapped twin has to learn to live on the streets when the brother who took care of him perishes in a fire in a vacant building where they’d taken refuge during a storm. (70,000-words)
8. (Lion’s Den) An accident on his honeymoon, that left a man paraplegic and with an uncontrollable seizure disorder falls in love with his nurse while his suspicions about his wife and the strange circumstances surrounding the accident grow.
OKAY…any of them make you want to read some more? Did you guess which ones are mine? (All right, I cheated. They are all mine.) It’s very important to have a strong tagline in a query letter if I ever want to be published. If something grabbed you, can you tell me which one(s) and why? I would appreciate any help. I’m still dreamin’ the dream.