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Friday, 18 July 2014

Writing a Killer Synopsis by Mike Wells

A post 'borrowed' from Mike Wells, thriller writer, who has a sure-fire way to create that hard-to-write synopsis - the second most powerful sales tool at your disposal after the cover.
Here's Mike...

If you're like most authors, summarizing your book in a couple of sentences is a daunting task.  However, if you're going to sell your book, it's simply something you have to do.  If you choose to go the traditional route, agents and editors alike are bombarded with so many queries that if they find themselves having to do much mental work to understand the gist of your book, they will simply pass on to the next one.  The same goes for self-publishing--all the retailers and distributors require short descriptions of your book.  For example, Smashwords requires a description that can be no more than 400 characters, including spaces!  That's short, folks!

To help you do this, I want to share a formula I learned a long time ago, one that was created in Hollywood.  I can tell you from my dealings with the people in the movie industry that when it comes to stories and story structure, they really know their stuff.

Each and every story is composed of the same five basic elements.  If you can identify them in their purest, simplest forms, you will be well on your way to writing a good two-sentence synopsis of your book, regardless of its length or complexity.

The five elements are:  a (1) hero who finds himself stuck in a (2)  situation from which he wants to free himself by achieving a (3)  goal.  However, there is a (4) villain who wants to stop him from this, and if he's successful, will cause the hero to experience a (5)  disaster. 

Actually, what I've just written above IS the two sentence synopsis which will work for any story, no matter how complex the plot or characters may seem.

Before I go further, I want to stop for a moment and address the "Is this a formula?" question that will undoubtedly come up in many writers' minds.   Anyone with any experience in writing (or painting or composing music, etc.)  knows that formulas do not work when creating a new piece of art, that the most you can hope for is a cookie-cutter type result that will be mediocre, at best. 

However, what we are doing here is summarizing a piece of art that has already been created.  Because we know that each and every story must contain these five elements, if we can step back from our own story and identify them, it makes the job of summarizing the story much easier.

The only thing formulaic about this approach is the order in which the information is presented, and the structure of the sentences.  You can change this around later and make the synopsis appear as original and unique as you desire.

So, back to the method.  Another way to write this compressed synopsis is to move the goal into the second sentence into the form of a question, as follows:

Hero finds herself stuck in situation from which she wants to free herself.  Can she achieve goal, or will villain stop her and cause her to experience disaster?

All you have to do is identify the elements and plug them in to create the most basic  two sentence synopsis for your own story.  By the way, you don't have to put the second sentence in the form of a question--you could write,  She must achieve goal, or villain will stop her and cause her to experience disaster.    I posed  it as a question only because it emphasizes the main narrative question in the story--discovering the answer to that sticky issue is what keeps readers turning the pages until (hopefully) they reach the very end of your book.

Read the rest of the article here -

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