I have become a quick fan of two publishing-related blogs recently. One, Miss Snark, led me to the other, Evil Editor.
Evil Editor had a Q & A post the other day that discussed the difficulties of summarizing an 80,000-word book down into one or two paragraphs for a query letter. (It could be noted here that my book's first draft took me 35 days to complete at 72,000 words. My first query letter took 14 days and is less than a page.)
Here is what EE said about the plot distillation process:
Your ability to distill your entire book into one brief paragraph is admirable. Your literary heroes, no doubt, are screenplay log line writers, who describe a two-hour film in one sentence. But don't forget about title writers. The complete essence of Frank Herbert's 500-page story of political, environmental and economic intrigue is conveyed in the simple word Dune. Stephen King outdid Herbert by half with It. Among the greatest plot distillers in literary history was the guy who determined that only one m needed to be stamped on the side of an m & m. Janice Delaney's legendary query for her history of menstruation entitled The Curse, consisted of a blank sheet of paper with a period in the center. (This used half as much ink as the previous record, the query for Dr. Jensen's Guide to Better Bowel Care, which was, of course, a colon.)And here are a few other choice quotations about brevity:
Brevity is the soul of wit.
-- William Shakespeare
Much wisdom often goes with brevity of speech.
Can do thirty pages in two days. Need thirty days to do two pages.
-- attributed to Mark Twain, in a note to his editor
I am sorry I wrote you a four-page letter; I did not have time to write a one-page letter.
-- I do not know, but one web site attributes it to George Bernard Shaw