Happy New Year! Welcome to the Kite Tales Writing Prompt: #KTWriteOn. Each writing challenge is crafted by a kid-lit publishing professional to help spark ideas, creative energy, and get your work moving out into the world. This prompt was created by former literary agent and current editor/YA true-crime author Eve Porinchak. She’s sharing her method for writing the all-important one-page synopsis and subsequent submissions package materials it practically writes for you. BONUS: she’s offering to help you with your logline in the comments, so don’t miss out! Now, take it away, Eve:
The only sad part about working as a literary agent and kid-lit author is witnessing fabulous manuscripts go unread by the gatekeepers’ eyeballs. To prevent this from happening, authors must learn how to pitch their stories. And, I’m here to help! This means creating a submissions package, which equals:
SAMPLE PAGES + QUERY LETTER + 1-PAGE SYNOPSIS
Creating your submissions package feels a bit like taking apart a Russian doll. You have your book…which you whittle down to a fleshed out one-page synopsis…which you then whittle down to a pitch paragraph…which you then whittle down to a logline (or one-sentence summary).
These are all forms of pitches you will be using throughout the life of your book. After you use the pitch package to secure a literary agent, your agent will use your logline, pitch paragraph, and parts of your one-page synopsis to hook editors. Later, these may be used for things such as flap copy, author page on publisher’s site, Amazon.com summary, book review descriptions, and Netflix plot synopses–once you land that book-to-film deal!
Most people dread writing the one-page synopsis. I get it. But, here’s the thing: This is the giant Russian doll, the matriarch. You need to make this as strong as possible before you can create the smaller dolls inside. You need this comprehensive, yet concise, summary in order to extract the pitch paragraph, then to extract the logline. Once you have the one-page synopsis solid, the rest should flow naturally.
It is not until you’ve mastered all the pieces of the Russian doll that you can begin to query agents. DON’T RUSH THIS PART. Once you’ve completed and polished your book, I understand the excitement that leads to quickly scribbling out a pitch and tossing it out there. I repeat: DON’T RUSH. If you do, you risk creating a pitch that’s too vague, confusing, or just plain boring. And then your precious story will never be seen by the gatekeepers. Boo. Let’s make sure that does not happen!
First, let’s tackle your synopsis. Here’s what I do:
List all the main plot points in order on individual sticky notes, and attach them to a wall. I arrange them into three sections, top to bottom (for Acts I, II, and III). Act I is the first quarter of the book, Act II is the second and third quarters, and Act III is the final quarter. Then I extract the most interesting and important pieces from each, including all major turning points. Once I have them stuck in order, I can better visualize what is essential to include in the full synopsis.
It is also helpful to have a friend or critique partner–who knows your story–look at your wall of sticky notes and extract which plot points they deem most compelling in order to understand the story arc, and certainly the ending. To quote the lovely Jane Freidman, “If the ending wouldn’t make sense without the character or plot point being mentioned, then it belongs in the synopsis.”
- Synopsis must be limited to one page, single spaced
- Write synopsis in third person, present tense
- Synopsis must include beginning, middle, and END (Yes, tell the ending!)
- Create a clear picture of the following:
- Main character
- Steps protagonist takes to solve main problem
- Focus on the emotions of the main character and how he/she/they grow/change over time
- Be very concrete about what, exactly, happens and stay away from detailing themes
Next, let’s demystify THE QUERY LETTER:
- Introduction paragraph (why you are submitting to this agent, if applicable)
- Pitch paragraph
- Brief bio
Now let’s demystify THE PITCH PARAGRAPH inside the query letter:
- Logline (optional)
- Brief 6-10 sentence summary of the entire story (ideally one paragraph)
The 7 essential elements of a perfect pitch paragraph:
- MAIN CHARACTER: Who is the hero, what makes them interesting or likeable?
- GOAL: What, specifically, does your main character want or need?
- PROBLEM/CONFLICT: Why can’t they achieve their goal?
- ANTAGONIST: Who or what is stopping the main character from achieving their goal? This can be a person, place, thing, or situation. Example: The sinking ship in Titanic can be considered an antagonist.
- SETTING: Anchor us in time and place.
- PLOT: What, exactly, is the story about? Be very specific about what happens to our main character, and the decisions they make which propel the story forward.
- STAKES: What, exactly, is at stake? What is the worst that can happen if the main character does not achieve their goal? Will they be kicked out of school? Will they die? Will the world end?
NOTE: Choose your words carefully to paint a compelling mental picture and thematic possibilities. This paragraph must be concise, yet also create a visual of the entire plot arc.
Last, let’s demystify THE LOGLINE:
- One sentence “elevator pitch” that articulates your story concept in a visually compelling way.
- A logline is not essential. However, it is very powerful. If you get it right, it can be extremely effective in selling your book. I have seen books/films sold based on loglines alone. Do not underestimate this selling tool!
What can a logline show us?
- Challenge or problem to be solved
- Visual of the main character’s journey
How long is a logline?
- 25–50 words, maximum
- The shorter, the better!
How do you know if your logline works?
- Read it out loud and often
- Test it on strangers
The 6 essential elements of a perfect logline:
- MAIN CHARACTER: Who is the protagonist, and how are they interesting? He/she/they should not be named. See examples below.
- CATALYST: What is the inciting incident that tosses your protagonist into his/her/their struggle?
- GOAL: What does your hero want or need?
- PROBLEM/CONFLICT: Why can’t they achieve their goal?
- ANTAGONIST: Who (or what) is stopping the protagonist from reaching the goal
- SETTING: Anchor us in time and/or place.
Now, it’s your turn! I would love to see your loglines. Try this now, and post your winning logline into the comments section. I’m happy to respond–and help, if you need it–to every post. Below is an easy formula to get you started. Then you can rearrange the wording to create the most compelling logline!
After a CATALYST, a PROTAGONIST in a SETTING tries to achieve a GOAL, but faces a PROBLEM caused by an ANTAGONIST.
At the very least, a logline should show us Character, Catalyst, Conflict.
- Main Character (Add a compelling descriptor to connect the reader. See below)
- Catalyst or inciting incident that tosses MC into the struggle
- Nature of the struggle/conflict to be faced
Examples of loglines from popular books:
An orphaned boy discovers he has magical powers when he is recruited to attend a school for witches and wizards, and he must prove his worth when the most evil wizard of all time sets out to destroy him.
In a future society where teens are chosen by lottery every year to contend in a televised fight to the death, one fiery teen girl volunteers to take the place of her beloved 12-year-old sister, and ends up in a relationship with a fellow contestant who she must kill if she is to survive.
Thanks so much Eve!
Eve has lived all over the planet and spent much of her time in and out of jail–as a creative writing teacher for incarcerated teens. Her YA nonfiction book, the critically acclaimed ONE CUT–a haunting story with a juvenile justice bent–launched Simon and Schuster’s young adult true crime line, SIMON TRUE in 2017. A former agent with Jill Corcoran Literary Agency, Eve now works as a freelance editor specializing in revising children’s books of all types (and creating pitches, query letters, and synopses!). She also speaks at conferences all over the country and develops and teaches writing courses at UCLA and UCSD Extension programs.
Learn more about Eve at EvePorinchak.com.
If you want to share your work, progress, or ideas based on this writing prompt, or if you just want to connect with others who are tackling this challenge, comment on this blog post or Tweet us @SCBWISOCALLA with the hashtag #KTWriteOn.
Need more inspiration? Check out all the past #KTWriteOn prompts.