Progression and Feedback for Your Novel’s Synopsis

There is nothing like an upcoming writer’s conference to give you a kick in the pants and force you to be a better writer. When your work will be scrutinized by many of your peers, often face-to-face, and especially when you are pitching a novel to editors and agents, it can present wonderful new challenges to a novelist.

And that is a challenge I look forward to in April, with the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs, one of the nation’s most respected gatherings of writers and publishers. I have started to gear up for the conference by working on the “elevator pitch” for my soon-to-be-completed novel (the elevator pitch is how you would describe your story to someone who’s riding an elevator with you, a 10-15 second description of your story, who the characters are, what they want, and whatever conflict stands in their way). I thought it would be a helpful thing to post here, in case any of you are planning on attending the conference, or are simply a writer who wants to submit your work to a publisher soon.

Draft 1

This is the “early” draft of my elevator pitch for the fantasy novel entitled The Wolfglen Legacy: Awakened. Before I got feedback, I focused on the titular Wolfglens, the royal family in the story, and the desires and conflicts they face:

A royal family and their allies fight to protect their people and government from a supernatural enemy’s covert war that is engulfing the country.

It’s a starting point, but it needs work. The pitch provides no specific characters for the reader to connect with, and doesn’t offer much information on the conflict. It’s a detached take on the overall story. A good pitch, however, packs as much specific detail into as few words as possible (an area where I have a long way to go). Fortunately, at a recent writer’s workshop I found some truly great assistance from my writing friends Connie and Grant McKenzie, and Bonnie Hagan. I hope to pass their advice along to you.

The Three Big Questions

Something else which is important to remember about an elevator pitch (and which I learned in the feedback) is that you need to answer three essential questions:

1. Who is the story’s central character?

2. What does he want?

3. Why can’t he have it?

If you can answer those questions right away when you are pitching a novel, it stands a much greater chance of getting read and accepted. I’ve been toying with ideas and building the world for my books for five years. Now it’s time to populate it with deep characters, with human beings. Well, them and elves, fairies, nymphs, etc.

Lynchpins

Especially when you only get a few seconds to pitch your idea, it’s vital to know who is the “lynchpin” character, the one sitting at the heart of the story and most connected to its main events. If you can “sell” an agent or editor on that character and what they do, then selling them on your novel becomes all the easier. In the case of my novel, the best character to fulfill that role is Josh, a young man from another time who wakes up in the fantastical world, and who gets embroiled in its events.

Draft 2

Once Josh has been established as the “lynchpin,” at least for the purposes of the elevator pitch, I can focus on his side of the story and make it specific enough to give the reader an idea as to what his tale will look like. After discussion with another writer about focusing the synopsis on Josh, this is the suggested pitch he wrote:

Twenty-one-year-old Josh wakes up in a future world, more primitive than his own, and finds himself in the middle of a global uprising against the supernatural powers that threaten their very existence.

Now this is an elevator pitch that tries to get you invested. It gives specific information about Josh (his age and his status as a fish out of water), reveals a little of his new setting (a world not as advanced as the one he knew), and tells the reader what the stakes are (obliteration at the hands of a strange enemy).

[It’s also worth noting that revealing his age as twenty-one will help inform an agent that this is a book for adults. Generally speaking, 21 is seen as “too old” for a character in a YA novel.]

Giving it the Old College Try

Now, given all the excellent counsel from my fellow storytellers, I will attempt to build a summary that still has Josh as the novel’s lynchpin – for the purposes of the pitch, that is – and combines his story with a sense of the larger story and stakes. Additionally, this pitch integrates a hint that the world does not meet his expectations. (Remember those three questions: Who is the character? What does he want? Why can’t he have it?)

Twenty-one-year-old Josh awakens to a future where magic thrives, and must face this world’s dark realities as he takes sides in an escalating supernatural war.

This will need some more work, I am sure, but I have until April to polish it up. If anyone has feedback for it, I would love to hear from you. Thanks for your time, and have a wonderful weekend!

And Now, for the Main Event

Now, back to the conference: If the Pikes Peak Writers Conference sounds like just the thing for you, you can register here: http://www.regonline.com/builder/site/default.aspx?EventID=972508

If you would need a scholarship, go here instead and learn how to apply for one: http://www.ppwc.net/html/scholarships.html

And for additional incentive, here is a picture of Roo, the official mascot for the conference:

Seriously, who doesn't love a big, soft-hearted dog?

Roo would love to see you there! And so would I. If you can set aside April 19-22, you would be more than welcome. God bless, everyone!

Update: January 19, 2012

Based on further critique and advice from some good friends of mine, here is the most up-to-date version of the pitch. Let me know what you think:

“Twenty-one year old Josh wakes up in a future where magic thrives, and is drawn into an escalating supernatural war while searching for a place to call home.”

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2 thoughts on “Progression and Feedback for Your Novel’s Synopsis

  1. Just found your blog via Mike Duran’s deCompose blog, and enjoyed your post about summarizing the big “whys” with your MC, etc. Definitely important to get that stuff nailed down before you get too far into writing.

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