In advance of the WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award closing next month, I thought I’d post up a few thoughts of mine, which I’ve learned both from writing myself but also, more importantly, from reading 1000s of synopses and openings via our mentoring programme and novel award.
It’s important to point out at the outset, that this is my method and advice only and not a correct or better method than what you use, and not necessarily what an industry professional would say, either. You could say it’s subjective…😜
I will also post a few other links at the bottom to give you other options, too, especially with the synopsis.
My synopsis method
Write down 1 sentence for each of the following:
1. Set-up (character in their world)
2. Inciting incident
3. Biggest conflicts/obstacles
Then expand on each, layering each into the other. If you do this, starting with the biggest moments in the book, then working your way down, then by the time you get to a full page and have to stop, you’ll have covered all the main story structure points and you’ll have expanded on the most important.
I should add that this method, like almost any other I’ve seen, is not universal – there are some stories that will struggle to fit all those elements in, with say 6 POVs, or with dual timelines etc. But for most linear, 1 POV stories, this should work.
This is more about what I look for in a book and also how I try to write my own openings. Again, this is totally subjective and will change from person to person. This is just what I think.
1. Establish MC and make reader feel emotional connection
If I don’t feel anything towards a character within a page or two, I’m going to struggle to read on. You’ve got to use some kind of hook, preferably emotion, to keep me reading. Relatable, emotion-filled scenarios are a good way to do this. Try to show an admirable quality in your MC early is also another way to do this. But not too goody-goody. We love those flawed MCs, too!
2. Make them active and with agency (let them drive the story forward)
Everything that happens in the story should be as a consequence of what the MC does. At least, most of it should. Or the antagonistic actions of the whatever is against your MC. At the very least, the MC should be taking decisions, should want something and be driving towards it. My fave example is Moana, always striving towards restoring the heart. That’s the heartbeat of that story. Imagine she was a bit meh about it. Nothing would happen. You’ve got to have an MC with agency or, for me, there’s no real story there.
3. Keep it simple – complex worlds and characters introduced gradually
There is nothing more difficult than reading an opening chapter where 10 new characters are named, but none are really explored, and new places and worlds and objects with strange names are thrown at you. Everything has to be done gently when world-building, almost subtle. Make new things relatable to something the reader will know. Make each character distinctive and make sure each is established in the readers mind before you bring too many on stage. I prefer smaller, intimate scenes to open in my books, even if they are high fantasy or epic sci-fi.
4. Stakes – make them high and personal
The big stakes don’t need to be on page 1 – they can come later. But we there needs to be some kind of stake introduced early on. Something for the MC to win or lose, to save or not. But the point is that we need something that is important to the MC to be at stake at all times. Otherwise there is no tension, there is no conflict. And there is no story.
I hope all of this helps a little. At the very least, it’s worth reading and considering, even if it’s just to reassure yourself that you are doing these things.
As a writer who has learned about developed so much over the years by reading posts such as this, I do hope you’ll use it.