Confession #1: The Dreaded “What’s Your Story About” Question

Here's a bit of fall, to start the day.
Here’s a bit of fall, to start the day.

I think that this is an appropriate first post on my blog, simply because it’ll allow me to tell you a little more about myself. And it’s even more appropriate because, as Fate would have it, someone asked me this question today.

I don’t think I’m alone in this: whenever someone asks me “What’s your book about,” I have no idea what to say. It’s not like I don’t know what my story is about; it’s just that, there’s so much in there, how do you know what to pick out as important? And how do you not give away any spoilers??

In my opinion, asking this question is essentially asking “Who are you” (beyond the name, of course). People are complex creatures, each with their own story to tell. How do you explain someone in a mere few sentences? And anyway, for people like me, whose life is stripped away and replaced by the drive to create this book (which is by no means a bad thing), the answer for both questions can be one and the same:

I am my book, and my book is me.

Of course I’m not always working on my book. I do have college work to do. I do sleep, and eat, and read, and I probably watch way too much Netflix. But my book is almost always on my mind. I’ll be in class, listening to a lecture, when a teacher says something that makes me realize something about my book – whether it’s a fact or a question that I’m going to have to answer. Or, I’ll be walking somewhere and my mind will drift, and I’ll think, Hmm… I wonder. Basically, any time my mind has a moment to wander, it is, and it’s wandering through the vast amounts of information that’s related to my novel.

And then, of course, there’s the book itself. I’m a fantasy writer, so naturally the book isn’t focused on my life. It probably wouldn’t be even if I wrote realistic fiction. But of course, when you’re writing a book, you can’t help but show the reader how you see the world. No matter how good the writer is at making their reader get lost in the story (and therefore forgetting that it was actually written by another human being with their own experiences and morals, et cetera), there’s always that bit… that kernal… that shows who the author is. And in some books, that kernel is more prevalent than others.

So what is my book about? Well, it’s the first in a series (well, chronicles), and it’s got shape-changing human/wolves that we call dire wolves. We (my writing partner and I) have an entire culture surrounding them, so that’s pretty sweet. It’s got some dragons, too, and Fay (which, if you’ve never heard of before, they’re basically elves). And the first book is about a human who hates dire wolves, and then one saves his life and he has to re-adjust how he views the world. Naturally, it’s ten times more exciting (or, at least I hope it is), but that’s the gist.

For NaNoWriMo, I’m writing the second in the series, which is about the same two characters, but they’re now journeying through the land that my book is set in, trying to stop the human/dire wolf violence as peacefully as they can. Naturally, it’s not as easy as all that.

So, have you ever had to deal with this dreaded question? How do you know what to say?

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2 thoughts on “Confession #1: The Dreaded “What’s Your Story About” Question

  1. Yes! That question! I used to fumble with a clumsy plot explanation but now I just answer in themes and settings. What’s it about? Friendship in a fantasy land of knights and talking monsters. Or, perseverance and doubt inside the hedges of a magical garden in the modern world. It’s still super tempting to give an overview of the whole story, though!

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    1. Same here. I have also recently come across the suggestion for novelists to instead talk about the themes and setting. It makes it far easier to describe to curious friends and family. The temptation remains to explain the actual plot, though, because anyone can write a story that revolves around themes like friendship or perseverance. What makes it so tempting is that, as novelists, we want to make sure people know our stories are unique. Original. The setting can show its uniqueness, but perhaps not as well as the plot can. Still, I ignore the temptation, because I know I’m less likely to botch an explanation of my story if I focus on the theme and setting, rather than the plot.
      On a side note, though, I’d still suggest people look into the idea of an elevator pitch for their books. It might not be necessary when it comes to explaining your story to friends and family, but if ever a person needs to explain their books to a prospective agent/publisher, simply being able to describe theme and setting might not cut it. But I’m no expert, so take from this what you will. 🙂

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