Well, as in all good writing, The Sentence leads to The Paragraph.
I know, don’t hit me. I didn’t make this up.
In actuality, I’m hoping it leads to about Two Paragraphs for you, with the goal of creating something akin to material you’d find on the book’s back cover. This is the description that grabs your reader and convinces them to open the book up and start reading.
For example, my version of The Sentence came out like:
A romantic summer in Greece transforms a woman from unhappy prodigy to inspired musician.
That got me started, and I was so excited to have the thought captured succinctly that it compelled me to keep writing for a few hours afterward. I asked myself about the main character — dumb stuff that I would have thought would be easy — like “what is her name”, “where is she from”, “does she have any siblings”. Wow. You know, I’m not sure… so I played around with having her fill out a government form until I had some ideas about the basics. It has changed a good bit since that first “interview”, but I just kept telling myself that there would not be an irate Census-taker giving me any crap about changing her age by a few years, etc.
Then I needed to find out what kinds of problems my character was worried about, because, let’s face it… people without problems are boring. I just kept free-writing and following up on basic life details. It turns out that my character’s flute teacher just died. He was supposed to teach a summer camp in Greece, and since she was his most famous student… well, you get the idea.
After a few hours, here’s what my crack at The (Two) Paragraph(s) looks like so far:
Stefani is following a yellow brick road from child prodigy flutist to diamond-studded concerto performer, and peering at a possibility of a teaching career that opens up after her musical mentor passes away. Her technical wizardry is her ace in the hole, gained through rigid discipline and a desire to be the best. Unlike other performers on the circuit, though, she takes no joy in playing for the crowd. Her dirty pleasure is reading romance novels on the flight between gigs, and having time to feel anonymous.
She anticipates that her summer teaching job on a Greek isle at Camp Kalokairi will give her time to decide about taking on a full-time professorship back in the States. What she doesn’t count on is the idyllic setting and a musical soundtrack that turns her heart inside out. Stefani has to reconcile the passion she feels for Niko’s music with the disgust that haunts her about why his imperfect playing touches people’s hearts in a way her flawless technique leaves them unmoved.
I can tell you in all honesty, when I went to bed after following these two simple steps, I felt exhilirated. Suddenly the book didn’t feel so ambiguous anymore. Suddenly my main character wasn’t so much of a stranger to me. (Probably because she’s going to wind up inheriting a bunch of my own flaws, ha!) Suddenly, the idea of not only starting the book, but also finishing it began to seem realistic.
So go try this out, and let me know who you “meet” in the process!