Sunday, August 24, 2008


Despite having a number of newly completed projects, there’s something keeping me from getting them into the hands of editors -- cover letters. Easy enough, you might think. But I’ve come to despise cover letters, and not only because they feel incidental to the writing itself. No, I hate them because they run counter to the expansive mindset of storytellers. I hate them because they require condensing.

From a storytelling standpoint, condensing is more than a little problematic. Critical reviews and marketing blurbs are all about converting a large work into simple synopsis, tossing it to an audience and moving on, seemingly forgetting that no story is composed of a single element. They’re multilayered. A thriller is more than an unexpected twist, a romance more than the lovers’ reconciliation, a western more than the trot off into the sunset. There are riches in the interplay of dialogue and setting, of description and theme that can only be rightly experienced with the thing itself, not a summation of it. A synopsis strips the work.

Condensing can also make a story sound more-than-a-little stupid. Take Lars and the Real Girl
, for example, an independent film about a withdrawn Midwesterner who believes that a life-size sex doll is his wheelchair-bound, Catholic-missionary, Brazilian girlfriend. It’s charming, surprisingly wholesome and largely ignored by the movie-going public, in no small part (I believe) because it’s sounds outlandish when condensed. Fantasy, SF and speculative fiction are particularly vulnerable to appearing ridiculous. Small people with hairy feet must destroy a ring that makes them invisible? A meth-addicted hacker travels into space to teach an artificial intelligence its true name? A fallen star turns into a cranky girl with a broken leg when it crosses a wall in Victorian-era England? No thanks, says Joe Consumer as he heads over to the magazine rack to inspect the latest Sports Illustrated.

Honesty compels me to admit that I do a lot of condensing of others’ work on this blog. Here’s to hoping that I handle their efforts with the due respect and skill. Here’s to hoping readers take my synopses with the requisite block of salt, considering stories for their own merits whether or not I adore or excoriate them. And here’s to hoping editors do the same with my pieces, no matter how badly I might flub their required descriptions.

(Picture: CC 2006 by

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