Thursday, September 23, 2010

Writing Class: Single Sentence Synopsis

When people ask what your novel is about, they generally want to know the ‘what happens’ of the story. And they want you to tell them as quickly and succinctly as possible.

Eg. Dancing in the Dark is about a girl raised in an ultra-orthodox home who, when forbidden by her strictly religious parents to have ballet lessons, starts to dance in secret.

Stating what your novel is about in just one sentence might seem like an easy thing to do, but many would-be novelists find it hard. Instead, when asked what their novels are about, they ramble. They begin to tell the entire story. They are often so immersed in minor details that they fail to notice their audience yawning.

Knowing how to describe your novel in a sentence is essential – and not just to enable you to pitch it to a time-poor agent or publisher in a thirty-second window of opportunity. It’s essential because it helps you focus your story.

A good story has a strong and definite direction, and summing your novel up in a single sentence is a great way to keep on top of your story and give it direction. After all, you can’t expect to reach your destination if you have no idea where you’re headed. (Which isn’t to say you need to know every detail of your story before you write it, or how it ends; you don’t).

Do you know where you’re headed? Can you write a sentence that sums up your story?


  1. After a lot of head pounding, I believe I finally can. Whew! But you're right. When you aren't sure how to narrow it down, it definitely makes it hard to tell people. Cue the yawns. And embarrassment, on the writer's end. Pitches are good. Pitches are great. If only they were easier to write. :)

  2. Oh, yes. Apparently it's the same with screenwriting or perhaps even tighter. 'If a person can tell me an idea in twenty-five words or less, it's going to make a pretty good movie...' - Steven Spielberg

    So much for meandering. And so much for Tolkien! But i guess you could just recite the 'ring rhyme' (One ring to rule them all etc) and there you have it! ;) jx