The art of the one sentence synopsis

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Sommer Leigh
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The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by Sommer Leigh » October 10th, 2012, 1:20 pm

This is something I do not have.

Trixie and I were chatting by email recently about this phenomenon of being completely brain dead when it comes to boiling down an entire story into one sentence. I'm very awful at it. Are any of you very good?

It feels so impossible when you're staring at 100,000 words and somehow you've got to take all that and make a single sentence out of it that encompasses the whole darn thing. That speaks to the story, the characters, the plot, the setting or whatever happens to be important to your book AND entices people to want more. It's like magic. Only wizards have this skill.

What's sort of ironic is that at the beginning of all my projects I wrote a vague sentenc-y thing that helps guide me while writing my outline. I wouldn't look any of my past English teachers in the eye and call it a sentence though, since it looks more like a tentacle monster, all run-on-y and glued together. It works for my purposes, but it isn't something I would present in any official capacity.

So, how do you write a good one sentence synopsis? Or do you subscribe to my tentacle monster school of synopsi?

Quick. From your current WIP, what's your one sentence synopsis, no matter how awesome or tentacle-y it may be?
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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by klbritt » October 10th, 2012, 3:24 pm

I've actually been thinking about this very same thing for a few days now, and wondering just exactly my one sentence pitch would come out...So, here is my first try at my one sentence pitch...

Seventeen-year-old Ivy meets a quit-witted hunk who helps her come to terms with her unusual and unique family tree just before she’s kidnapped for those same unique qualities.

I'm left feeling like there needs to be a bit more, but then that would really make it a run-on sentence.
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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by Sommer Leigh » October 10th, 2012, 4:27 pm

In my rush to post today I forgot to include my one sentence synopsis monster. It's not great. Once my beta readers tear through it I'm going to pick their brains for help smooshing it into not being so stretched out.

When an unknown enemy outs sixteen year old hero Leah Kelley to a world that hates and fears people with super powers, she discovers unexpected allies in a crew of villains who desperately need her power to save one of their own.
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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by Hillsy » October 10th, 2012, 6:37 pm

Sommer Leigh wrote:It's like magic. Only wizards have this skill.
It kind of is - Stephen King called it telepathy, but magic is just as close. You're basically designing a vast tree-shaped (dendriformic?) structure, but you're only drawing the very tips of the leaves and a tiny part of the trunk. THEN you've got to build just the parts you've drawn and then hang them in the air, unsupported by anything else. AND THEN people walking past have to see the handful of floating leaves and the suspended knot of a gnarled old oak, and instantly think "Hey - look at that ENOURMOUS TREE!". That's magic, right there.......

As someone largely devoid of confidence, I see the 1 sentence pitch as predominately an exercise in confidence. The instinct is to make sure everythings connected so it doesn't seem like a randomly placed thing. Or to look from the other persons side and just give a bit more context, or a bit more information to make it a bit more obvious - so much of it is belief that the choice you've made IS the right one. There's a beautiful word called pareidolia, which is the phenomenon of seeing significance in vague or random sounds and images (The face on mars for instance). This is basically what the 1 word pitch is: picking the right data that appears to mean very little but triggers responses that make that data seem greater than it is.....and we have to be aware of the illusion the whole time. No worder its so hard.

The other main problem is that actually writing the 1 sentence pitch is easy. But it seems so astonishingly bland when boiled down to the nth degree. For example The Shining: "Caretaker goes to an empty hotel with his family, goes insane and tries to kill his family." That's it....pretty uninspiring, huh? But the inclusion of a single addition fact "goes insane due to a mixture of ghosts and cabin fever", and suddenly it doesn't sound like EVERYTHING else. So somehow you've got to paint just enough detail onto the bland, bland sentence to make it unique, while it still makes sense. Hell, I can't do it. I can do the first bit, but then choosing which details to add to make it coherent AND compelling....It's like trying to find something to wear that's appropriate to both the opera AND a football match, and you can't just wear a suit because EVERYONE else does that.

I've just submitted to Harper Voyager and I had to basically go through this whole proceedure (though thankfully down to 120 words from 250). Here's it in 1 sentence though: "Framed as a traitor, Layne infiltrates an enemy base for proof of his innocence and find three unexpected things: Sympathy for his enemies, contempt for his allies, and a plot for peace more cataclysmic than either side suspects"

Just been playing around with my WIP....here's what I've got (Though I appreciate it's actually 2 sentences....):
"When six nations hold conflicting interpretations of a prophecy written to help avoid an apocalyptic war, how far would you go to prove you’re right? Assuming you are…"
Last edited by Hillsy on October 11th, 2012, 5:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

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wilderness
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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by wilderness » October 10th, 2012, 10:19 pm

Speaking of which, Natalie Whipple is hosting a contest for a six word synopsis!

http://betweenfactandfiction.blogspot.c ... ntest.html

It's fun to see what people come up with.

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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by Briana » October 11th, 2012, 1:46 pm

That six word synopsis was actually pretty fun. Here's mine: Teen's inherited anamnesis reveals unnatural adversary.

My tentacle monster of a sentence isn't quite as fun . . .

When faced with the budding ability to recall her forefathers' memories –- memories revealing a rival family with the power to leech energy from oblivious victims -– seventeen-year-old Grace must overcome her indolence, trust in a new friend, and expose a mysterious enemy.

That's a lot of dashes and hyphens for one sentence, but it's a start!

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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by dios4vida » October 11th, 2012, 3:05 pm

Gah!! If I even start thinking of writing a one sentence pitch I start twitching and my brain instantly reverts into kindergarten mode. I've tried since Sommer posted this to write one for my current WIP, but...yeahno. I've got nothing.
Brenda :)

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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by bcomet » October 12th, 2012, 6:31 pm

Ha! One sentence as in it includes the character, plot, and the ending? ???

Umm...

"An innocent girl gets her self and survives otherworldy entanglements by a maturity that is forced upon her and morphs into a pretty magical human life after all."


or

'"Oh no' turns and twists and all is well in the end."

Alright, umm, miles to go on the one sentence one. :)

But, wow, I was able to go do this daunting reduction of a four page synopsis into a 1500 character (about two paragraphs) one and completely blew myself away yesterday. (I didn't used to be able to do that sort of thing -not even close.)

I guess it's how you end up getting your own write on after all so many words that run away with the plot and the kitchen sink too! But you all here have inspired me and taught me much! Many thanks! Onward and forward.

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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by longknife » October 13th, 2012, 10:10 am

My publishers asks for a 25 word description of the story!

Writing 90k plus words seems SOOOO easy in comparison to the above!!!!! :oops:

I find myself in that position once again with my just-completed first draft of Leatherjacket Soldier. How on earth do I boil Don Fernando's exception life into 25 words?
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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by Shipple » October 13th, 2012, 6:01 pm

I found myself reading over my query letter to get this done (b/c I asked myself, "Uh, what was my book about again?")

When twelve-year-old Eric Ortega is stripped of his memories and thrown into a crazy town full of mythological beings, he decides he's not going to let any winged people tell him what to do, so he convinces his only friend to help him run away, find his mother, and jumpstart his missing memories all while an evil creature is on his trail.

So I really did just throw that together this minute (I'm sure you can tell). But that was pretty fun.
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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by JustSarah » October 14th, 2012, 2:54 pm

I tend to start with a one sentence synopsis first, and then expand it to a paragraphs. And then a full length summary. And finally a full length chapter. I have no idea how good I am it though.

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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by Beethovenfan » October 15th, 2012, 12:24 pm

Oh man. I can see I need to spend some time on this. But here's what I got after spending a few minutes.

Jane is a powerful musician who learns that her music can do more than simply appeal to the heart and soul; it can save them too.

I don't know if that sums up everything. There is so much that's not there. But perhaps it does capture the essence of the story. Hmm. I don't know. I need to think about this some more.
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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by dios4vida » October 15th, 2012, 1:31 pm

Beethovenfan wrote:Jane is a powerful musician who learns that her music can do more than simply appeal to the heart and soul; it can save them too.
Oy! You forgot the whole "Jane travels BACK IN TIME" part!! :)
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by trixie » October 15th, 2012, 3:44 pm

Lol, Brenda. I thought the same thing. Jane goes back in time!! :)

I HATED this exercise, but I cobbled something together that I feel is, well, not a suck-tastic as I thought it would be:

12-year-old David Fitzgerald is trying to survive boarding school in another country, but when he learns he is the next Guardian, responsible for collecting Fragments scattered across the globe, he realizes there is more at stake than school--like navigating overgrown mazes, fighting Mudruks, and saving his dad.

Or, something like that. And to quote BComet, "all's well in the end."
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Re: The art of the one sentence synopsis

Post by Beethovenfan » October 15th, 2012, 5:23 pm

trixie wrote:Lol, Brenda. I thought the same thing. Jane goes back in time!! :)
Ha! I know, right? But as soon as I went there, my one sentence turned into 3, then 4, and then I knew it was a lost cause. :roll:
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