“Capture the heart of your story, not its every nuance. Look for spots to add voice and flavor, giving the reader a feel for your narrative style within the book. Remember overly detailed synopses only lead to questions. Your goal is to keep your readers on the edge of their seats, not scratching their heads in puzzlement.”
It's the thing every novelist dreads. In fact, some might say we not only dread it, we actually fear it. Like spiders.
Yet more and more editors and agents are asking for it, not to mention contests and even mentorships. So in the same way that we must muscle up the courage to corner the arachnid with a large glass and a slice of non-bendy paper, we too must muscle up the courage to sit down at our desk and squeeze one page of single space words from a fifty, (to one-hundred-and-twenty-thousand) word novel.
It can be done. It might make you scream and sweat and curse God for ever creating the one-page-synopsis (and spiders), but it can be done.
And because I once heard a very wise person say 'teach what you don't know,' I happen to have written a formula. I cannot promise it is perfect or that it will help you to sleep better at night (what can I say--spiders like your warm snuggly bedroom so much better than the cold damp outdoors,) but it is a template. A beginning. A face-your-fear-and -do-it-anyway, tool.
I actually built this as part of a resource guide for our writing community over at Inked Voices.com. So if you are a member, you can access it over there in its more fancy font and form. If you are not a member, you should be:) But either way, I'm sharing the rough guide here too.
Hope it helps!
A one-page synopsis tells your story in ultra-short form. You’ll share your main character’s journey and the events of their story, from beginning to end.
Because the synopsis is short, stick to the plot events key to your character’s journey. Remember that the synopsis is not a plot summary. Your character’s internal journey should drive the plot events in your story, and this should come through in the synopsis.
How to use this Template
This template is based on the plot beats found in the Hero’s Journey. Use it to ensure you are covering the essential points of your story’s external plot and internal arc.
For each beat below, write a short summary of what happens in your story. Then, join them together. This is your rough synopsis. If any additional details or events are needed to clarify the story arc, add them. Finally, cut unnecessary words/phrases, rework sentence structure as needed, and add transitions (e.g. meanwhile, later, soon, etc) so your synopsis flows.
Below, we have provided ten essential plot points/story beats and have used The Wizard of Oz as an example of a one page synopsis break down. The template is adapted from Susan Dennard’s guide at PubCrawl and a study of Save the Cat Writes a Novel. The case study example has been adapted and modified from a synopsis study originally posted on Slideshare by Chandan Kumar.
1. Opening image and protagonist intro.
This sets the stage for the story to come: the where, the who, the mood, and the tone. Give one or two describing words or phrases to show us your MC and tell us what he/she wants.
--When a huge tornado hits Kansas, it uproots a house and carries farm girl Dorothy Gale and her dog, Toto, away. A dreamy orphan who has always longed for escape and adventure, Dorothy suddenly finds herself in a magical land called Oz.
2. Catalyst/Inciting incident
An event/decision/change which causes the MC to take initial action, ultimately, driving the story in a new direction.
--When she steps outside, Dorothy realises that the tornado has dropped the house on a wicked witch. Dorothy is lauded as a hero and given magical ruby slippers.
3. Plot point 1
This is the action taken (related to the catalyst) that changes the story’s direction. Once your MC crosses this line, there is no going back.
--But, realising she is now trapped in Oz, all Dorothy wants is to find her way home to her aunt and uncle. So she sets out with Toto along a yellow brick road, to find a wizard who is her only hope of getting home.
4. Conflicts & character encounters
On this new journey, your protagonist meets new people, experiences new things, but also, the antagonist/villain rears their ugly head!
--Soon she is befriended by a tin man, a scarecrow and a cowardly lion who respectively lack a heart, a brain and courage. The three agree to accompany Dorothy in hopes that the wizard might also grant them what they each desire. On the journey, the friends face many obstacles - including the Wicked Witch of the West who is determined to avenge her dead sister.
5. Midpoint - The stakes are raised!
Everything has been going pretty well, but then…something occurs which causes the MC to make a 180 degree turn in either direction, emotion or something else. The stakes are raised! Once again, when she crosses this line there’s no going back.
--When they reach the Emerald City, the four friends present their requests to the wizard, who appears as a terrifying, disembodied head of smoke.
6. Winning seems imminent, but… the bad guys are closing in.
The MC assumes she has succeeded, but then the antagonist suddenly defeats her and...
--Dorothy stands up to him, but he will only grant their requests if Dorothy brings him the broomstick of the wicked witch of the West.
7. Dark night of the soul…
The MC believes she has failed, and must battle through the blackness of despair to find the strength for a final battle.
--In order to get the broomstick, the friends will have to kill the witch, but that seems impossible. Dorothy fears she will never make it home to Kansas. When her three friends see her despair, they rise to the occasion and persuade her that they will get the broomstick or die trying!
This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for! The MC rises up and faces her problem head on. What happens here, between your MC and the antagonist?
--On the way to the witch’s castle, the witch traps Dorothy and threatens to drown Toto, so in desperation Dorothy agrees to hand over the slippers, but the witch can’t remove them without killing Dorothy. Toto escapes and leads Dorothy’s companions to the castle. After overpowering some of the witches guards (and thereby proving that they do in fact have brains, heart and courage), they free Dorothy. During the battle, the witch sets the scarecrows arm ablaze. Dorothy throws water on her friend and accidentally splashes the witch, causing her to melt.
Does everything work out? Does your MC live happily ever after? This is where you tie up all your loose ends.
--The four friends return to the Emerald City in triumph, but the wizard still won’t give them their wishes - he can’t because he’s not actually a wizard, but just a man. He explains that Dorothy’s friends already possess everything they had been seeking all along and agrees to take Dorothy home in a hot air balloon. Suddenly at the last minute, Toto jumps out of the basket and Dorothy goes after him. The hot air balloon and the wizard fly away without them. Dorothy is devastated and the power of her desire, plus the power of her slippers sends her home to Kansas.
10. Final image
The final image is proof that change has occurred. Your chance to show us what your hero looks like after their epic transformative journey is complete.
--Dorothy wakes up in her bed in Kansas surrounded by family and friends and tells them of her journey and that she never wants to leave again, because--there's no place like home.
Now we put it all together…
When a huge tornado hits Kansas, it uproots a house and carries farm girl, Dorothy Gale, and her dog, Toto, away. A dreamy orphan who has always longed for escape and adventure - Dorothy suddenly finds herself in a magical land called Oz. She is lauded as a hero and given magical ruby slippers. When she steps outside, Dorothy realises that the tornado has dropped her house on a wicked witch.
Realising she is now trapped in Oz, all Dorothy wants is to find her way home to her aunt and uncle. She sets out with Toto along a yellow brick road, to find a wizard who is her only hope of getting home.
Soon, she is befriended by a tin man, a scarecrow and a cowardly lion who respectively lack a heart, a brain and courage. The three agree to accompany Dorothy in hopes that the wizard might also grant them what they each desire.
On the journey, the friends face many obstacles -- including the Wicked Witch of the West who is determined to avenge her dead sister.
When they reach the Emerald City, the four friends present their requests to the wizard who appears as a disembodied head of smoke. Dorothy stands up to him, but he will only grant their requests if Dorothy brings him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. In order to get the broomstick, the friends will have to kill the witch, but that seems impossible. Dorothy fears that she will never make it home to Kansas. When her three friends see her despair, they rise to the occasion and persuade her that they will get the broomstick or die trying!
On the way to the witches castle, the witch traps Dorothy and threatens to drown Toto, so in desperation Dorothy agrees to hand over the slippers, but the witch can’t remove them without killing her first. Toto escapes and leads Dorothy’s companions to the castle. After overpowering the witches guards (and thereby proving that they do in fact have brains, heart and courage), they free Dorothy. During the battle, the witch sets the scarecrow's arm ablaze. Dorothy throws water on her friend and accidentally splashes the witch, causing her to melt!
The four friends return to the Emerald City in triumph, but the wizard still won’t give them their wishes - he can’t, because he’s not actually a wizard, but just a man! He explains that Dorothy’s friends already possess everything they had been seeking all along and agrees to take Dorothy home in a hot air balloon. Suddenly, at the last minute, Toto jumps out of the basket and Dorothy goes after him. The hot air balloon and the wizard fly away without them. Dorothy is devastated and the power of her desire, plus the power of her slippers sends her home to Kansas.
Dorothy wakes up in her bed in Kansas surrounded by family and friends and tells them of her journey and that she never wants to leave again, because there’s no place like home.
Dennard,Susan.“How to write a 1 page synopsis" PubCrawl, www.publishingcrawl.com/2012/04/17/how-to-write-a-1-page-synopsis. Accessed 1 July 2020.
Kumar,Chandan. “How to write a synopsis - Wizard of Oz.” Slideshare, www.slideshare.net/ChandanKumar70/how-to-write-a-synopsis-14084506 Accessed 1 July 2020.
Brant,Marilyn. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novel beat sheet.” Savethecat.com savethecat.com/beat-sheets/the-hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy-novel-beat-sheet Accessed 1 July 2020.
Brody, Jessica. Save the Cat Writes a Novel. New York. Ten Speed Press. 2018.
Today I’m thrilled to be interviewing author, Summer Short, whose debut middle-grade novel,
‘The Mutant Mushroom Takeover’ released on 22 September with Simon and Schuster. The book has received four starred reviews and has been touted Packed to the gills with fun, by Kirkus.
Congratulations Summer on your middle-grade debut release! Having read some of your opening pages and because I know first hand what a super talented writer you are, I am personally very excited for this book to be out in the world.
I know it is the first in a two-book deal, which is simply amazing--Can you tell us a little bit about the story?
Absolutely! The book is a lightly spooky STEM novel about eleven-year-old aspiring naturalist, Maggie, and her best friend, Nate who’s a conspiracy theorist and wanna-be YouTube star. Together, they’ve got to figure out the mystery surrounding an unusual glow-in-the-dark fungus that's spreading through their small town. Meanwhile, Maggie’s dad has moved across country for a new job, leaving Maggie desperate to put her family back together again. For now, she’s stuck in her gramma’s mobile home with her grumpy older brother, Ezra, who started developing odd symptoms after a run-in with the bioluminescent fungus. And Ezra isn’t the only one––all around town people and animals start sprouting unusual growths and acting a little bit off. Things get even weirder and more alarming when Maggie’s brother develops a bluish glow and a nagging cough. Maggie’s got to use every bit of her scientific know-how and Nate’s impressive knowledge of all things spooky to save her town and her family from the mutant mushroom takeover.
Wow. And yeah! for girls in STEM:) Where did the original story concept come from?
I’ve always had a penchant for things that are a little bit quirky. Strange happenings in nature fascinate me so when I stumbled upon an old documentary called Fungi: The Rotten World About Us on YouTube a few years ago, my wheels got turning. I was so intrigued by all the bizarre qualities of fungi that I kept researching until I discovered an especially bizarre variety with some very weird abilities. This real-life fungus plays a key role in my book so I can’t say too much or I’ll give away spoilers. But just know it’s creepy cool. Another source of inspiration came from my son, who was ten at the time. He requested I write a story about a pirate named Root Beard who had a bead made of living tree roots. I loved that concept and sort of tucked it away in my brain. Eventually, it coalesced with the weird tidbits from the fungi documentary and an important character in the book was born.
I know that you were a 2018 Pitch Wars mentee. I’m applying myself this year (nervous laugh…) so I’d love to hear a little bit about that experience and how it might have helped shape your books journey?
Pitch Wars was a great experience for me. I made new friends and found new critique partners. One of the very best parts was getting to know my mentors Kim Long and Jennifer Brown. Throughout the process, they gave me insightful feedback that helped me revise my manuscript. When the agent round of Pitch Wars arrived, they helped me refine my query and synopsis, and later walked me through how to respond to agent offers. When my book sold, they were there to cheer me on and remind me to take a deep breath. Pitch Wars was an amazing ride and a fantastic learning opportunity.
Releasing a debut during a global pandemic must be something of a challenge and experience in itself, can you share a little about how that has been for you?
Because of COVID, my author activities have shifted to virtual instead of in-person events. I’ve participated in a couple of online author panels so far and will also be doing my book launch party virtually with a local independent bookstore. While I’d love to see friends and family in person and sign all their books, the virtual launch lets me connect with people who otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to attend.
With some bookstores and libraries still closed or open at limited capacity, there is a little more uncertainty, but I try to be hopeful and remember that people are still reading books and that stories are important now as much as ever. I also try to celebrate all the little wins along the way and to find joy where I can. For example, even though I won’t have an in-person launch party, I still ordered some custom mushroom sugar cookies for my release day. I’ll snap some photos for social media and then my family and I will enjoy chowing down on sugary mushroom goodness.
I love that you ordered mushroom cookies!
In addition to being a children’s author you are also a full time Mom of three—Can you tell us a little about your writing schedule/process and how you manage your time between writing and mothering/family.
Balancing writing with family life is always a bit of a juggling act. Even before COVID, I homeschooled our three kids, so that takes up a chunk of my time, but it’s also part of what led me to find out some of the crazy things I discovered about mushrooms (science research with the kids). I usually write for a couple hours in the afternoon when the kids have finished their school work. But when I’m on deadline, I follow a stricter schedule. I’ll wake up before the family and get in a couple extra hours of writing before the house wakes up. Then I’ll usually get in some more time in the afternoon/evening once school and other things are wrapped up.
I actually didn’t know you are a homeschool mom on top. Okay, so that places you firmly in my list of top 10 author heroes. I feel like we should do a whole other blog post just on that alone!
Last question—If you could offer just one piece of advice to other writer’s/Children’s authors, what would it be?
Don’t self-reject. What I mean by that is don’t close the doors to opportunities because you feel like you’re not good enough. Whether that’s submitting your work for a writing contest, querying a certain agent, participating in a critique group, or attending a class or a conference. There’s already a lot of rejection in this business, there’s no need to add any more by discrediting yourself. If you don’t take a chance, you won’t know what’s possible. Yes, you may get a few doors closed on you along the way, but that’s okay. Dust yourself off and keep going. If you stay with it, you’ll find your groove and your people.
Such sound advice—I’ll remind myself of that when I’m submitting to Pitch Wars! (More nervous laughing…)And where can we find you on the web?
My website is srachelshort.com. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram and you can find my book at Goodreads and at Simon and Schuster
Finally, are there any Indy bookstores who have signed copies of your book for sale?
Yes! Interabang Books in Dallas where my virtual launch party will be hosted.
Thank you, Summer. This has been so brilliant. I can’t wait to read this first book!
Good luck with everything!
This interview was first posted at inkedvoices.com
We are ten weeks into lockdown here in Manhattan.
It's been tough. Of course it's tough for everyone - no matter what each persons own unique circumstances are - but I can only speak from my own perspective. And NYC in lockdown, has been tough.
One of my greatest challenges is how to find the space - both physical and emotional - to write. The physical piece is challenging as we simply do not have enough rooms for five big human beings to work from home. The kids each need a private space for cyber schooling, husband needs a private space for all the zillions of zoom meetings he does each day, and Manhattan apartments aren't big, so that leaves me... the bathroom. And not the clean 'girl' bathroom because that one is an en-suite which means it's disturbing to daughter, as the door is too thin, but rather, I work in the 'boys' bathroom - and yes we do have 'girls bathroom' and 'boys bathroom' in our residence because boys are smelly and they sprinkle.
It apparently makes for a lot of humor when I'm on zoom calls.
Then, there's the emotional space.
For the first month or so, I was in editing mode and I found that the proof reading, and line-editing practice of working through a manuscript was actually quite cathartic in helping me focus. Especially on days when the fear and stress of being in the epicentre of the pandemic was enough to render me foetal on my bed.
But now that particular manuscript is going through a pro-editorial workshop, and so I've been turning my attention to other works which are either early drafts, problem drafts, or OMG embarassingly bad drafts.
And I've discovered that my creative output is zilch nada.
I'm suffering from a vast case of creative-quarantine-block.
I know - I'm supposed to go easy on myself. I'm encouraged to accept that though my output may be hindered, I can fully trust that my creative muse within is working away, concocting and building brilliant best selling concepts and plot-lines, subconciously developing voice and intuitive storytelling skills - even while I sip G&T and scroll through twitter for the seventy eighth time today.
But we creatives are notoriously hard on ourselves. Plus time seems not to be sticking to the usual schedule, right? I mean, how is April already three and half weeks ago? That makes absolutely no sense.
And so I have to admit, I've been feeling guilty. Like I'm letting myself down. Like my life is ticking by and I'm acheiving nothing. I'm frustrated all the time. I just want my head to work. I just want to feel that wonderful sublime sense of satisfaction that comes from having been lost in a creative blur for four hours or more - to have lost track due to absolute creative immersion, not just because the days have no structure and "oh, crap, I've been reading BBC news for 4 hours and now there's no dinner," kind of thing.
Anyway. I've decided to try something new this week. I've decided to switch gears and leave all projects that need my creative mind aside. Instead, I am going to engage that other side of my brain - the editorial one - and try research.
BTW I hate research. I hate it because for some reason it reminds me of maths. And I have no good feelings at all, about maths. But I have decided that if editing felt productive, then I should try moving beyond my math phobia, because research might also feel productive.
So this is my plan.
I've been wanting to figure out and learn the craft of writing PB biographies for some time now. So I've pulled out some great mentor texts and tomorrow I shall begin looking for primary sources on my subject. How easy that will be without access to the library I have absolutely no idea, but I figure even if nothing 'grows,' I'll be learning something new and hopefully will spend less time 'scrolling.'
Wish me luck.
This is where I share snippets of my life. Some of it writing related, some of it just - life. It will be mostly ramblings, but if you too are a storyteller and are very lucky, you might occasionally find something useful :)