The Godfather started out as a 600 page novel. That turned into a 3 hour movie. It finished as a 10 hour trilogy. However, Director Francis Ford Coppola summarizes the epic in a single word:
The Conversation came out 6 months before Watergate. Some say it predicted the event. All agree it captures the paranoia and distrust of the time. But to Coppola it’s about one thing:
Apocalypse Now is a cinematic odyssey down the Mekong River. It took over a decade to make. The cast and crew nearly went insane in the process. Still, Coppola describes the story with the word:
Few would accuse Francis Ford Coppola of brevity. Yet before he starts a project, he distills his story into a single word: Succession, Privacy, Morality.
These words reveal the essence of the story. What it’s about when you strip away the glitz of the camera lens. They act as an artistic compass. An idea to focus and refocus on when stuck in the weeds of the creative process.
Your work, too, needs a compass. A unifying theme that will guide the thousands of small choices you will make.
You may know it before you get started. Or you may discover it in the act of writing. But no matter what story you wish to tell, look for a single word to sum it up.