Don’t Talk About Fight Club: A writer’s paranoia in discussing a WIP

“What’s your novel about?”

Four simple words that never fail to strike terror in my heart.

Part of this is because such a simple query is seeking an equally concise reply – the dreaded “elevator pitch”, which is an art form of brevity on par with the haiku and the perfectly witty Tweet.  Plus, I’m almost never as glib a speaker as I wish when put on the spot like that.

As well, I dislike stating definitively that my WIP is the story of XYZ, when the end result may well come to be significantly different.

Stories are like life: more possibilities and purpose emerge the further along you go.  And just like life, it’s rather invalid to summarize the meaning of it all before it has approached its ultimate end.

Finally, I fear opening myself up to premature criticism of my plot through my inability to properly explain it while still in progress.  Or conversely, premature interest, and subsequent probing questions.

As a result of all this, when Australian historical fiction author Debbie Robson asked me to participate in the blog meme known as The Next Big Thing, I said, “Sure.”

Because why be consistent with one’s own personality traits?

Admittedly, I did offer the caveat that my answers would be vague, superstitious, and paranoiac since I am indeed all of the above.  Furthermore, having since put my blog on its 600-word diet gives me even more of an excuse to be equivocal.  Thus, without further ado:

My (partial) answer to the big question

What is the working title of your current/next book?

Sorry, I never, ever share the title of a WIP. It totally feels like bad luck, not to mention the epitome of premature summarization.  Both my mother and my best friend have asked to know my title.  I refused them both.

Where did the idea come from?

For a number of years, I knew I wanted to write a novel about a woman in medieval England.  The actual idea came to me one night while I was brushing my teeth and, in my head, I heard one of the other main characters speak a critical line of dialogue.

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical fiction and magic realism

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I could see Emma Watson playing the protagonist.  The main antagonist kind of looks like Brian Bloom in the 2010 version of The A-Team.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In 13th century England, the abused youngest daughter of a lowly knight uses her shrewd administrative and political skills to help a baron succeed his deceased father amidst threats from rival claimants, and finds that the incompatible tasks of putting him on his throne and obtaining some measure of freedom for herself require equally treacherous strategies.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ll probably attempt getting an agent first, for all the reasons expressed in this great post by sci-fi/horror author, Chuck Wendig.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?

I’ll tell you when I’m finished.  So far it’s been two years of actual writing (for two volumes) and eight years in total.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Maybe the books of Philippa Gregory (e.g. The Other Boleyn Girl).  Also elements from a couple of fantasy novels: a bit of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart (the political aspects and the narration, not the erotica aspects) and Juliet Marillier’s original Sevenwaters Trilogy (magic realism).

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My existing interest in medieval history, additional medieval research, the latter two books mentioned above, plus a few minor plot points from other books I’ve read.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

There are no main characters who are actual personages from history, which was an intentional choice, not a lazy one.  Any great historical figure is a product of the society s/he existed in.  This, for me, makes that society itself the true main character, which is best allowed to shine when paired with a fictional protagonist.  Also, my story isn’t a romance.  I like to think of it primarily as a medieval political thriller.


I’m supposed to tag some other bloggers to participate in this meme, but knowing how antsy being asked “What’s your novel about?” makes me, I just can bring myself to single anyone out.

So I’m inviting anyone reading this who wants to to take part.  Any takers?  If you do, let me know, as I’d love to know what others are working on (oh, the irony!), and I’ll link your post back here.

(A/N: Total word count fail on this post, although the questions alone added an extra hundred words!)

(Image source #1 and #2)

14 thoughts on “Don’t Talk About Fight Club: A writer’s paranoia in discussing a WIP

  1. I’m the same, Janna – I don’t like it when people ask about my WIPs because my tongue ties itself in knots!

    I love the concept of your WIP. Kudos to you for being able to do a one sentence synopsis, it sounds intriguing (and they are very hard to get just right). Well done 😀


  2. So far we are unanimous (you, Dianne, and me). I don’t want to tell people what my WiP is “about,” partly because I’m not entirely sure myself yet, and partly because I don’t want to hear, “Oh, that reminds me of…” I don’t want to suddenly feel like I have to change things around in my story simply because I didn’t explain myself adequately and now people think I’m stealing ideas. These reasons may not be mature or the wisest reactions, but, just like a good fictional character, I have a lot of flaws.

    Still, to give as basic an answer as possible to someone I trust (you), my WiP is a post-apocalyptic survival story that explores the best and worst things about the human spirit.

    I made myself laugh when you explained where you got the idea. You said:

    “For a number of years, I knew I wanted to write a novel about a woman in medieval England. The actual idea came to me one night while I was brushing my teeth and, in my head, I heard one of the other main characters speak a critical line of dialogue.”

    My thought was:

    “What did the character say, ‘Man, I wish WE had toothbrushes in the middle ages’?”

    Sorry. My (alleged) sense of humor works like that.


    • As a breed, I think we writers (all writers) are a bit of a fragile bunch, and that any steps we can take to preserve our confidence in our work must be taken, no matter what. (My best friend was really quite annoyed with me when I wouldn’t tell her my title.)

      Also, there’s something to be said for maintaining a bit of suspense: my interest is definitely piqued by your teaser about your WIP. Another danger about talking too much about a WIP is by the time it’s completed, no one really cares anymore because it’s old news to them.

      You made me laugh as well with your guess as to what the character said. 😀


  3. Funnily enough, my first thought was also about ancient toothbrushes! I hope your WIP throws some light on that Janna. It’s a great project – I don’t suppose you can get vol.1 up and published before you’ve finished the whole thing?
    I think all but the most formulaic and heavily-planned writers have difficulty in describing a WIP. I usually have a start point, a plan for an ending and a lot of motorways, ‘A’ roads, ‘B’ roads, side-streets and tracks in the middle with no idea which I’ll take.


    • Sadly, the content of the inspiration and its source (my tooth brushing) are in no way related. I just tend to get lots of ideas while my hands are otherwise occupied: doing the dishes, shampooing my hair, cutting grass, and the like.

      My first volume is a bit of a hot mess at the moment. Before I decided I wanted to go historical, the novel began it’s life as a fantasy story, which is still reflected in the first volume. As well, I used to have a big problem with run-on sentences that is also reflected in volume 1.

      Editing is going to fun.


  4. I can relate to that — the sense that, when someone asks me about what I’m working on, they have certain expectations that feel constraining to me. And, I think it’s useful to keep in mind that those constraints are only in my own head, and that if I talk too much about my plot or songs or whatever, the other person is free to walk away and leave neither of us that much the worse for wear.


  5. It’s true, Chris – we do tend to get wound up in our own drama. When most people ask me about my writing (friends, family members, people at work, etc.), it usually because they recognize how important it is to me, and are trying to show support by taking an interest. They may also be a little bit impressed to know someone who is writing a novel.

    I should have mentioned in the post that where I really tend to get nervous is when other writers ask about my work: then I start to feel self-conscious and judged since we’re working from a common knowledge base (about writing craft). But in reality, I’m probably doing more judging of myself than the other person is. And even if s/he is judging me – so what? It’s just my ego that wants every last person to love my work.


  6. Elevator speech, haiku, tweet: what a funny collection of modern language abbreviations. I hadn’t considered this before.

    I detect that you are a writer whose stories come to you, and you translate them into a language that your readers can understand, since they do not come to you in a common language, but as thoughts. I know what that’s like. Each time I write, it’s an adventure. I never know where I will go next, and I like it that way.

    Great job on this meme!


    • Hi WeaverGrace, thanks for the comment! You’re right – as our methods of communication continue to evolve and change so too do the words we use to describe that communication, often to amusing results. And it’s so true – I definitely feel like I’m doing a translation when I’m writing. I don’t know if any writer ever feels like they’ve 100% conveyed the idea as it appeared in his/her head. I never do, though some days it feels closer than others, and those are the days when I get the most joy out of the process.


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