Message in a Bottle

What is my story about? What is the story’s essential message? How do I express story and meaning as briefly as possible?

Composing a compelling synopsis or jacket blurb can be a real challenge, and it isn’t easy. To provide an enticing, synoptic description of my story, I must condense it to several short sentences that also convey its meaning, its message.

Tension makes good stories compelling. Great stories also impart a strong, underlying message.  I’m reminded of the fairy tale “Red Riding Hood.” As a child, I listened (and later read) with rapt attention to Red’s ill-fated decisions. I wanted her to flee, but every misstep led her closer to her doom. Instinctively, I knew the fear-based message, or moral, of the tale, which is the trouble you can get into by talking to strangers (adults, read: being victimized by smooth talkers).


But what if I had written “Red Riding Hood” and was looking for a way to market it to new readers, in order to spark their interest? How might I condense the tale to a jacket blurb, in order to give potential readers both the story and the message? Perhaps:

A young girl is met in the forest by a wolf. After she unwittingly reveals her destination to visit her ailing grandmother, the wolf races to Granny’s house, swallows Granny whole, and disguises himself as her. Red arrives and notices that Granny’s features are different, no doubt a result from her sickness.  The ensuing conversation between Red and the wolf ultimately determines their fates.

Recently, I attended a workshop focused on writing a book proposal, in which an exercise was to write a jacket blurb, so when anyone asks what my story is about, I will have a short answer, a “preview” to make them want to read the book. For my memoir, Security Bound, I wrote: “A boy uses art and music to overcome an abusive home life and the death of his mother.  High school graduation finally comes at a cost, with the promise of a songwriting future.” It’s a start.

In my last post, To Share or Not to Share, I mentioned the importance of recognizing themes in order to create a unified focus of storytelling.  I found that those themes also provide the essence of the synopsis. Story meaning isn’t always as obvious as in “Red Riding Hood.”

I imagine funneling story ingredients into a bottle labeled “Security Bound.”  The message is the aroma released when the cap is removed.


About Ken Lutes

Ken Lutes brings his background in memoir and fiction writing to his work at the North Denver Tribune ( He enjoys interviewing his neighbors in Northwest Denver, where he has lived since 1999. After hours you will find him playing hot gypsy guitar with the Paris Swing Set band.
This entry was posted in Creative Non-fiction, Memoir, Security Bound and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Message in a Bottle

  1. luministblog says:

    The label might read “Essence of Ken’s childhood.” Or “Eau de Ken.”

  2. AuthorMarina says:

    ‘Eau de Ken’ that’s creative, maybe a title for another of Ken’s blog posts. Though the eau de anything tends to lean toward a pleasant sensory experience, not sure if this is the case with Ken’s memoir.

    I know it’s not the case with mine, but I get the gist of bottling up or packaging a message about a life experience. Sometimes after writing a chapter of my memoir I am affected physically and emotionally by it. The fact is, words and stories are powerful. I’m glad to get a glimpse of Ken’s process in sharing his story. It makes my own process that much more bearable.

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