So. Let’s start with a beast fable.
One day a badger decided to dig a new sett. She walked through the wood until she found a sloping bank sheltered from the wind but open to the afternoon sun. It would be a good place to bring up her cubs.
She dug, clawing soil away and flinging it far behind her. Soon her snout disappeared into the ground, then her shoulders. By lunchtime, all that could be seen were occasional clumps and spurts of earth spattering out of the mouth of the sett.
She dug for days, cutting and shaping the sett until it was just as she had imagined it. At last, it was finished. The badger came out, blinking into the evening light, just as a fox strolled past.
‘Good evening, neighbour,’ said the fox.
‘Good evening, neighbour,’ said the badger.
‘A new sett is it?’
The badger suddenly felt shy. ‘Well, it’s something I threw together in my spare time. I’m not exactly sure it’s all right, but for the moment. You know.’
The fox tilted its head. ‘A new sett is always interesting. Why don’t you tell me about it?’
The badger scratched at the ground with a forepaw. ‘Well, the soil is dry, loamy, but with a hint of iron. About six inches down there’s a big tree root, that took a bit of getting through, but it makes a lovely feature on the side of the passage. A sort of pale disc, that glows when the light hits it. When you get about a foot and a half down the soil changes to a silty clay. I wonder if there was an old stream bed through here. The taste is gritty…’
The fox yawned. ‘Just tell me how many bedrooms there are.’
‘There aren’t any bedrooms as such. There are places for sleeping in, but the way they open off the main chamber means they aren’t really rooms.’
The fox looked passed the badger. ‘Will you excuse me, I’ve just seen a vole which hasn’t seen me.’
The fox bounded off.
The badger watched him go. ‘It is a very snug sett,’ she whispered.
I am like the badger (and not just because my beard has white streak down the middle). I have just finished the first draft of a story. Now I have to tell people of it, but I hesitate, partly out of shyness and partly because I know they will ask ‘what is the story about?’ That, as the badger found, is a difficult question. Not because the story isn’t about anything – far from it, there are forty-one thousand wonderful words I have been immersed in for months – but rather because identifying the essence of the story those words form is tricky.
When my partner asks ‘what’s it about?’ I mutter and murmur, going either too long (‘we’re in eighteenth century central Europe, do you remember when we went to Czechoslovakia to česki Krumolv and česki Budjeovice, well, its a bit like that …’) or too short (‘it’s about knowing your place in the world’). Both of those are true, but neither of them is the right answer: the scale is wrong.
So yesterday, I called out to the internet ‘help me sort out a summary for this story’ (which is called Gilbert the Liar). The internet sent me Graeme Shimmin, or at least, his web site, and particularly this page on the elevator pitch. I worked through the methodology for the log line, finally getting:
In eighteenth-century Europe, a duke’s son flees the ancestral castle to avoid marrying the bride chosen for him. An unplanned meeting with an unreliable baker gives him the chance of a life with the girl he has fallen for, if only he can overcome his strong sense of family duty.
And the Hollywood style pitch:
Trading places meets Cyrano de Bergerac.
Does that sound even a little bit interesting? If it does, you can read a few chapters here. I’m going to let it rest for a week or two and then come back to groan over it. Because that’s what I do.