Sunday, January 3, 2010

Plot Summary: Friend or Foe?

This is what it says on the back of my book:

Phyllis Sorin has seen all sorts of people. With two kind Aunts who rent out the rooms of their house to anyone in need, the people she calls family are a little different from most. There’s Bill, who takes on the personalities of movie characters. There’s Quincy, whose best friend is a drag queen. There’s Anna, an opera singer and kung-fu master.
And Phyllis, well, she’s not exactly normal herself. But even as she begins to navigate high school’s social jungle, Phyllis finds comfort and humor in her odd home.
When Dominick Siddons moves in, however, all of Phyllis's priorities become inferior to finding out his secret. A young lawyer with a vicious wit and ferocious temper, Sid may understand Phyllis in a way no one else can. And through truth and fiction, through the inevitable chaos of the house, Phyllis finds much more than she bargained for.

That's what I wrote for them to put on the back. One thing I've noticed, and far before even finishing this book, is how tough it is to capture a whole story's essence in a few little paragraphs. I mean, for really well-known authors it doesn't always matter. Stephen King, we get the jist of it (and we've probably already seen the movie version). Harry Potter, Twilight, at this point we can just find someone to ask about them. And I suppose those plots are pretty straight-forward— both are pretty good books with very clear genres and stories. I guess my problem is that I took a bunch of my ideas and through them into a story; it just seemed to work for me.
When people ask me what my book is about, I find myself always saying something different.
"Well, it's almost like you're living with this girl for a year or so and learning about her home and her life."
"It's about a girl who lives with her Aunts, and her Aunts rent out their house to a lot of different people, so a lot of crazy events ensue."
"It's kind of like Hey Arnold, do you remember that show?"
"It's about a girl who breathes fire and falls in love with a werewolf." (This one is usually followed by a frantic, "It's not like Twilight!" or "But I came up with it years before Twilight came out!")
"It's about a girl who breathes fire but still manages to live a relatively normal life."
"It entwines what's real with what is not and shows that the one can be just as bizarre as the other."

Blah blah blah. I wish I could just hand everyone that asks a book and say, "Just read the first few pages."

The prologue introduces Phyllis and her situation, but first it shows her in action- she gets revenge on a bully. Sure, I could have written her telling him off, but it's way cooler to write a scene where someone flies across a yard in a cloud of smoke and flame. Here, I'll just post part of it. (At this rate you'll be able to read the whole book here.)

After a while I saw Jeremy come out. I looked at him, then at the fire, and, very quickly, I inhaled the fire. The whole thing, leaving behind just the pile of wood. The heat felt good in my lungs.
I stood up. Jeremy was flirting with the girls in the pool. They got out and left him to cover it.
“Janelle sent you out to cover the pool?” I asked.
He ignored me.
Now, that was just rude.
“Hey Germs, look out.”
I don’t know if he looked at me then or not, but either way, I blew the fire I’d inhaled at him with all the heat, smoke, and force I could. It must’ve looked like an explosion.
He screamed, flying backward to the other side of the pool. I breathed it back in.
I heard one of the guys on the other side of the yard say, “What the hell?”
But I didn’t care. I walked around the pool, down to Jeremy.
“Are you listening now, Jeremy?” I said angrily. “I want you to leave me the fuck alone. Forever. Because I don’t think you deserve to live.”
He looked at me. I loved the look on his face. I had never scared anyone before. I hoped he was in shock. Sadly I had somehow managed not to burn him.

But even after this, it's very important that the reader continues and gets to know Phyllis. Phyllis isn't a very angry or mean person, but the first glimpse of her is a little rough, a little violent. Aside from Jeremy, however, she pretty much can get along with anyone—it's what she's used to.

The story isn't only about Phyllis either, nor is just about her love interests or her family. There are so many different parts and people that I really think that anyone could find something of interest to them in the book (or even something to get ANGRY about). Like I said, movies are more than discussed. There are several gay characters, most of whom are fairly stereotypical, and this is acknowledged. There's, well, an angry black woman. There are two little housewife-type older ladies. There are, of course, several teenage girls and one particularly important teenage boy.
What makes the combination of all of the characters interesting is what's found beneath the surface. So stereotypes exist. But why? What's under them? There's so much to people, and that's what I'd like to write about.
This isn't a deep book by any means; I prefer to think of it as a fun, hopefully interesting read. Maybe in the future I'll get better at character-dissection, so to speak.

Anyway, like I said, there's so much to people, and so there's a lot to this story, more than I could ever fit on the back of any book. It was very important for me that I make it clear that there is an important male character, but that he isn't the whole of the book, and it was also important for me to try and include the tenants.

One of the reasons, aside from my own writing experiences, that I've been so concerned about plot summaries has to do with one of my FAVORITE books, one of the BEST books I've ever read: Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City.
The cover has a cool sort of comic book look, which I liked when I saw it in Barnes and Noble, what, five years ago? But the back describes what sounds like an underground city of secret people, you know, like another world beneath New York City. It just didn't sound old enough for me.
Two or three years later, I saw the book at a store on the Jersey shore and gave in and bought it.
It was COMPLETELY different than what I'd thought. The city is left behind, an uninhabited underground network of roads and rooms once used by criminals. There's an entire archaeological mysterious aspect to the story that I had no inkling of when I read the back of the book! Once I'd finished it it made me angry that I hadn't purchased and read the book years ago.

Just think. Passing over a book because of a misleading summary or description could lead someone to pass over something amazing! I've come to the conclusion that the best thing I can to is just start reading the book and try and pick up on the initial good and bad vibes I feel. I will admit, I have bought books based on their covers (in both the literal and metaphoric sense). But I must say, books deserve more attention, and I've learned that I should give every one a chance.

1 comment:

  1. LOL I loved Hey Arnold! That was my favorite description! :)