Friday, 17 February 2012

One Vision

I'm going to talk today about vision statements, so let me preface this post by saying that I've always hated them. Often spotted at the start of 50-slide PowerPoint presentations, they seemed like the worst kind of airy-fairy corporate doublespeak. Therefore, imagine my surprise when I wrote one for work this week and found it genuinely useful. I was trying to explain an app I was designing to someone who just wasn't getting it. Instead of banging my head against the wall, I wrote a very succinct four sentence statement about what the app was (and wasn't) intended to do. Suddenly, a complex product seemed very simple and manageable.

I got to thinking where else I could use this technique, which led me to a vision statement for this blog:
Who Ate My Brain is a blog about fiction writing and publishing. It will be sometimes funny, sometimes serious, but always honest. No aimless waffling permitted - all posts must be about something and they must be true to life (even when they're fictional). The words are all that matters – there will be no photos, pullquotes, graphics or other media to distract from them.

Put that way, it feels almost like a manifesto! Perhaps that's appropriate – what is a vision statement if not a blueprint for the future? The very first blog posts were much like diary entries shared online, and I think a blog still benefits from having a strong identity and focus. Style, voice, subject, presentation – all of these are vital and I hope the vision encapsulates that.

So, how might the vision statement translate to books? I'm a big fan of the ten word pitch, where you describe the book in ten words or less. But that's often about plot or concept, whereas I feel a vision describes more about what you, the writer, want to achieve with a book (or series of books). Here's one I've cooked up for Lemony Snicket:
A Series of Unfortunate Events will comprise thirteen books – each more calamitous than the last. It will be funny, but not reassuring – good people will fail, villains will triumph and words will be explained. It will use the structure of the classic children's book against itself to produce something subversive and satirical. Ultimately, the writer of the series will prove to be the most important character of all.

Compare that to a couple of potential pitch lines I came up with for the same series:
  • Things start bad and get worse
  • No more happy endings

Since I promised you something infantile last week, here's another book vision, for the mighty Pants by Giles Andreae and Nick Sharratt:
Pants will be remembered as one of the great historical documents of the twenty-first century. Through its clever use of rhyme, illustration and political rhetoric, this picture book will start a revolution. Never before, or since, has the phrase “Giant frilly pig pants” held such emotional and intellectual weight. Truly sublime.

Ok, maybe that wasn't quite what they intended. Try again:
Pants will be rude enough to be funny, without being overly vulgar – thus amusing children and pacifying parents. It will be so rhythmic and brightly coloured that it will be almost impossible to stop reading once you've started. The reader must always close the book with a smile on their face and a lightness in their heart.

Perhaps you might like to share a vision statement for your latest work-in-progress in the comments below. I'll kick off with one for my soon-to-be-unleashed-on-the-publishing-world middle grade novel:
Die Laughing is a fantasy adventure story – on the surface. Its first priority must always be to entertain the reader, never to preach or be clever for its own sake. The book will be layered with subtext, and it will be up to the reader how far they dive into that. This will be serious escapism, set in an alternative world, but with strong contemporary relevance.



  1. Nick, I can't even handle a pitch...a mission statement? Yikes! Great post, though...fulfilled its purpose!

  2. Timely post, thank you! Reading this makes me think that I should do one for novel that is about to be written. Will help to give it/me focus!

  3. YAY for vision statements! Totally approve. Maybe we should all make vision statements for our work and share them with the crit group so they can beat us back to them when we stray.

  4. I am struggling with a pitch so maybe a mission statement will help - thanks for the idea Nick