#FirstDraft60 Day 23: One-Sentence and One-Paragraph Story Summaries #amwriting #nanoprep
If you haven’t yet completed the assignments from Days 19 and 20, writing the premise and a basic outline of your story, never fear—today’s project goes hand-in-hand with those!
The One-Sentence and One-Paragraph Story Summaries
The one-sentence summary. The Quick Pitch. The Elevator Pitch. The Slug Line. It doesn’t matter what it’s called, if you’re a writer, you need at least one one-sentence and one one-paragraph summary that you can recite at the drop of a hat (or the drop of an important editor/agent’s name) that clearly conveys the tone, theme, and premise of your story.
But wait. We haven’t even started writing our first drafts yet. Why are we worried about creating something that we won’t need until months or maybe even years down the road?
Because creating your one-sentence and one-paragraph summaries (pitches) helps give you clarity as to what your story is about, what your main characters’ goals are, and what your story’s tone/theme is or should be. And these will keep you from getting lost when you get into the middle of writing your draft and have no idea where your story goes next.
1. Review Your Premise and Outline First
You’ve been working on your premise and outline for the past couple of days, so everything should be top-of-mind for you. But pull them out anyway and re-read all of your notes as well as your finalized versions of the premise and outline.
Assignment 1: Make a bulleted list of three to five important events that happen in the story. Make another list for each main character that includes goal, motivation, conflict. Make a third list that includes what you think are the main theme(s), “take-away” message (or moral of the story), and tone (humorous, serious, scary, thrilling, suspenseful, etc.).
2. Create Your One-Sentence Summary
If you plan to pursue publication, you need to be able to explain the gist of your story in as few words as possible—whether for those fleeting moments at conferences when you have a sudden face-to-face encounter with your dream agent/editor or to use as part of your marketing materials for selling your novel to readers. Or, frankly, when someone you know asks you what your story is about.
From your lists above, you should have been able to narrow down the main conflict and theme of your story. Now start thinking about those from the viewpoint of each of your main characters. What would each viewpoint character say is the main focus of the story from the character’s point of view?
Assignment 2: Write several one-sentence pitches that summarize your story from each of your main characters’ viewpoints. These should be no more than 25 to 50 words. (And yes, it’s okay if it’s two sentences instead of just one—but try to keep it down to one if possible.)
You may discover you come up with several sentences that you like (and you’ll discover that a thesaurus may be your best friend in this process). Some examples from my previous work:
- Falling in love with a client could cost this wedding planner her business; learning the true identity of the groom could cost her heart.
- Executive Chef Major O’Hara has foresworn love, knowing he could never saddle the woman he loves with a family situation like his. But when it seems he’s about to lose Meredith Guidry to another man, he realizes he must concoct a Menu for Romance to win her back.
- Falling in love with your lawyer isn’t all bad . . . unless he’s the son of the people you’re suing.
- Under pressure to marry her wastrel cousin from relatives who seek to control her inheritance, Julia Witherington is forced to forge an arrangement to marry Captain William Ransome, the Royal Navy officer she swore she’d never forgive for what he did twelve years ago. Can these two set aside their pride and anger and learn what love and honor really mean?
- Royal Navy Lieutenant Ned Cochrane is in no position to take a wife, especially his captain’s younger sister. Charlotte Ransome is determined to follow her heart—all the way to Jamaica and her secret fiancé—but her audacious plan will put her in danger of more than just losing her heart.
- When both Julia and Charlotte are captured by pirates, will William and Ned be able to trust a most unlikely ally and have faith that all their fates are in God’s hands?
Now that you have (hopefully)several one-sentence summaries of your story, it’s time to expand that to a one-paragraph summary. Go back to your premise and outline and the bulleted lists you made in Assignment 1. While it’s hard to focus on more than one character in a one-sentence summary, one paragraph allows you a little more leeway. Who are the two or three main characters it’s most important for your audience (whether editor/agent or reader) to know about? What is the one main plotline that should be the focus of the summary? This is your chance to experiment with writing back-cover copy.
Assignment 3: Write two or three one-paragraph summaries of approximately 150 to 175 words. If you need help with this, pull your favorite books off the bookshelf and study the back-cover copy.
Examples of the one-paragraph summaries of the one-sentence summary books above:
- Stand-In Groom (Click through to read it on my page for the book. Only 86 words—but it was my very first attempt!)
- Menu for Romance (169 words)
- A Case for Love (149 words)
- Ransome’s Honor (156 words)
- Ransome’s Crossing (138 words)
- Ransome’s Quest (163 words)
If you feel so led, please share your favorite one-sentence and/or one paragraph summary that you come up with.
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