March 25, 2015

Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis with 9 Critical Questions

By Chris Rogers

Summarizing your story at dinner to entertain friends is easy. 

You make it sound exciting. But when you sit down to write a synopsis, you get brain-freeze. 

No worries. For a quick, exciting synopsis, answer these 9 Questions:

1.     Who? Who is your hero, what does s/he want (goal), and what stops him from getting it (conflict)?

Show briefly the hero's ordinary world—family, career, location—whatever is pertinent to the story. Start strong, no extraneous details, but if the character must overcome a problem to find love, it’s important to show the strength—belief, skill, knowledge, etc—that carries the hero forward.

2.     Why? Why does s/he care and what are the stakes? This answer provides the catapulting decision that thrusts the hero into the story. Imagine a bridge between the hero’s natural world and the story world filled with chaos and conflict. Across the bridge is a carousel, where the hero can grasp the brass ring—the story goal.

3.     What? What immediate conflicts prevent the hero from grabbing the brass ring? The first time the carousel circles, the ring is out of reach. She stands on the horse for better reach, about to grab it, but a carnival clown walks by and gets in the way. Still standing, the hero reaches again. Another carousel rider knocks her off the horse.

Note: Conflicts must escalate in intensity. Describe major obstacles as the hero encounters them. Introduce the nemesis, the person who most stands in the way of your hero achieving the story goal. If the person's name is known from the beginning, introduce this character by name. If not, then by deed.

4.     What new information kills off former assumptions? This is the midpoint, where stories tend to sag unless given an extra punch. Show the story spinning in a new direction. Introduce additional characters only if they impact the narrative, naming only those who play a major role.

5.     What new story question emerges? Show what the hero is thinking, planning, based on new information presented at the midpoint—and remind us of the ticking clock.

6.     What new conflicts arise? Remember to use escalating tension. Make sure each new question or problem is more exciting, devastating, insurmountable than the last, but keep it sketchy.

7.     What final devastating blow raises the stakes? This is the hero’s lowest moment, when all is lost and there seems no way out. Give more word space to this final—and most traumatic—obstacle.

8.     What decision triggers the climax? What strength does the hero draw on to get back into the fight.

9.     What is the final conflict? Yes, you should always reveal the ending to agents and editors. Describe what happens, who is involved, and the outcome, but wrap it up simple and fast.

Revise and Polish...The answers to these nine questions will help you tell your story in the concise manner an agent or editor expects. 

Mold your answers into paragraphs and add a few zinger details.
Chris Rogers began her journey as a graphic designer. With the advent of computerized graphics and an economic downturn, she was faced with a difficult choice: either learn this new electronic design tool or choose a new career. She began looking at what that new career might be – writing and illustrating children’s books? Travel writing and photography? She tried her hand at each, and sold her photo-illustrated articles to regional and national publications, but before she was fully committed in any direction, a fire gutted her studio. After salvaging a single drawing table from the ruins, she continued creating marketing materials for clients while seeking a new path in the literary world. Many rejections later, her stories began to win awards. A major publisher produced her suspense novels in print, electronic, and audio formats. Lauded by fans and critics, the books were translated into three languages, and the series was optioned for film. While continuing to explore the literary venue, Rogers inevitably embraced the creative form of paint on canvas, which allows her narrative flair and graphic origins to unfold in unison. While creating new canvases, she often participates in the design of her book covers. Her book, Goosing the Write Brain: A Storyteller's Toolkit. Rogers frequently speaks for writers conferences and her writing instruction can be found on YouTube. Facebook: Chris Rogers on Creative Writing - Add Surprise &Suspense to Your Creative Writing - 

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