As I explained earlier today, since I know (because my spies are everywhere) that some of you brave souls in search of Eye-Catching Query Letter Candy are planning on entering this year’s William Faulkner/William Wisdom Literary Competition, deadline this coming Tuesday, I suspect that at least a few of you will be trying to toss off the requisite 1-page synopsis that must accompany book-length entries. I had been blithely assuming that those of you tackling this daunting endeavor would naturally look to the HOW TO WRITE A 1-PAGE SYNOPSIS category on the archive list at right if you ran into troubles, but crikey, the thing contains 20 posts!
So this evening, I’m going to be helping you out by streamlining those posts a little. To that end, I’m going to be reposting some wholesale and consolidating others, in order to bring you the information that you need as swiftly as possible. And if you’re reading this anywhere close to 8 p.m. Pacific time today, you might want to hit the refresh button from time to time; I’m going to keep adding stuff.
Nature of a tightly-packed schedule, I’m afraid. To get you started a dandy excerpt on the similarities between a standard pitch and a 1-page synopsis.
I can tell from here that you’ve just tensed up. Take a deep breath. No, I mean a really deep one. This is not as overwhelming a set of tasks as it sounds.
In fact, if you have every done a conference pitch, you probably already have a 1-page synopsis floating around in your mind. (For tips on how to construct one of these babies, please see the aptly-named 2-MINUTE PITCH category at right.)
Don’t believe me, oh ye of little faith? Okay, here’s a standard pitch for a novel some of you may have read:
19th-century 19-year-old Elizabeth Bennet has a whole host of problems: a socially inattentive father, an endlessly chattering mother, a sister who spouts aphorisms as she pounds deafeningly on the piano, two other sisters who swoon whenever an Army officer walks into the room, and her own quick tongue, any one of which might deprive Elizabeth or her lovely older sister Jane of the rich husband necessary to save them from being thrown out of their house when their father dies. When wealthy humanity-lover Mr. Bingley and disdainful Mr. Darcy rent a nearby manor house, Elizabeth’s mother goes crazy with matchmaking fever, jeopardizing Jane’s romance with Bingley and insisting that Elizabeth marry the first man who proposes to her, her unctuous cousin Mr. Collins, a clergyman who has known her for less than a week. After the family’s reputation is ruined by her youngest sister’s seduction by a dashing army officer, can Elizabeth make her way in the adult world, holding true to her principles and marrying the man she passionately loves, or will her family’s prejudices doom her and Jane to an impecunious and regretful spinsterhood?
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, right? This would be a trifle long as an elevator speech — which, by definition, needs to be coughed out in a hurry — but it would work fine in, say, a ten-minute meeting with an agent or editor.
It also, when formatted correctly, works beautifully as a one-page synopsis with only a few minor additions. Don’t believe me? Lookee:
See how simple it is to transform a verbal pitch into a 1-page synopsis? Okay, so if I were Jane (Austen, that is, not Bennet), I MIGHT want to break up some of the sentences a little, particularly that last one that’s a paragraph long, but you have to admit, it works. In fact, I feel a general axiom coming on:
The trick to constructing a 1-page synopsis lies in realizing that it’s not intended to summarize the entire plot, merely to introduce the characters and the premise.
Yes, seriously. As with the descriptive paragraph in a query letter or the summary in a verbal pitch, no sane person seriously expects to see the entire plot of a book summarized in a single page. It’s a teaser, and should be treated as such.
Doesn’t that make more sense than driving yourself batty, trying to cram your entire storyline or argument into 22 lines? Or trying to shrink that 5-page synopsis you have already written down to 1?
Yes, yes, I know: even with reduced expectations, composing a 1-page synopsis is still a tall order. That’s why you’re going to want to set aside some serious time to write it — and don’t forget that the synopsis is every bit as much an indication of your writing skill as the actual chapters that you are submitting. (Where have I heard that before?)
Because, really, don’t you want YOURS to be the one that justified Millicent’s heavily-tried faith that SOMEBODY out there can tell a good story in 3 – 5 pages? Or — gulp! — 1?
Don’t worry; you can do this. There are more rabbits in that hat, and the muses are used to working overtime on good writers’ behalves.
Just don’t expect Athene to come leaping out of your head on your first try: learning how to do this takes time. Keep up the good work!