Can you tell your story in just twelve words?

Last December, we discovered a brand-new series of books for kids called Cozy Classics through an article in the Wall Street Journal (my favorite newspaper).  The series intrigued me because one of the first books they published was Moby Dick.  Moby Dick, for toddlers?!

Yes, Moby Dick. For toddlers.  And also Pride and Prejudice.  And coming soon to a bookstore (or website) near you, War and Peace, as well as Les Misérables.  Both for toddlers.

Cozy Classics first two books

Cozy Classics first two books

These are fabulous books, especially the felt dolls that convey the story. We sent Moby Dick to our precious grandsons, Owen and Cole, over in Ethiopia as a Christmas present, and they love it. But I think their parents love it even more because it lets you weave a story line for them that is as simple or as complicated as the kids seem ready to absorb.

Each of these books captures the story arc in just twelve words and pictures. For Moby Dick, these are:

  1. Sailor
  2. Boat
  3. Captain
  4. Leg
  5. Mad
  6. Sail
  7. Find
  8. Whale
  9. Chase
  10. Smash
  11. Sink
  12. Float

Sure, there are no details about Ahab’s obsession with the white whale, nothing about Starbuck or Queequeg or the hunt for the whale or the under-story about good and evil. Everything is boiled down to its essence.  Sailor, boat, captain, leg, mad, sail, find, whale, chase, smash, sink, and float. That’s it. Reductionist, true, but it captures the essence.

Pride and Prejudice is much in the same vein:

  1. Friends
  2. Sisters
  3. Dance
  4. Mean
  5. Sick
  6. Muddy
  7. Yes?
  8. No!
  9. Write
  10. Read
  11. Walk
  12. Marry

And there you have it: Pride and Prejudice, in just twelve words. Sure, there’s nothing about Elizabeth’s parents or the other three sisters, especially Lydia and her elopement with Wickham, or about Darcy’s aunt Lady Catherine and her obnoxious effort to intervene in what she perceives to be a romantic attachment between her nephew and Elizabeth. But still, there you have it: Pride and Prejudice in just twelve words.

This made me think about how to reduce my own story, Wait For Me, into just twelve words. So, here we go, my story arc:

  1. Family
  2. House
  3. Ghost
  4. Sad
  5. Open
  6. Love
  7. Jealous
  8. Angry
  9. Confront
  10. Calm
  11. Sell
  12. Love

Now, I know this probably sounds a little cryptic to you because I’m a lot more familiar with my story’s “innards” than you are at the moment, but it captures the main parts of the story, with details to be filled in.

So, if you’re working on a novel yourself, what are your twelve words?  What is your story arc?  I’d love to hear from you!


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