Notes on (surviving) the writing life

Welcome to my blog on writing and the writing life. I also blog on research subjects at Baroque Explorations. For either one, if you subscribe (see lower left), you will be notified whenever there is a new post. I promise that you won’t be swamped with emails. And, of course, you will be able to unsubscribe at any time.

To see my latest newsletter: click here. (Subscribe!)

Please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question: I love to read them.

4 simple formulas for figuring out a story

This is a classic New Yorker cartoon by Victoria Roberts.

This classic New Yorker cartoon by Victoria Roberts expresses my state of mind!

This morning I happened upon a computer file of notes I kept while writing The Shadow Queen. I was particularly interested in a section on formulas for figuring out a novel’s “elevator pitch”—the summation of a story in a sentence or two.

This is invariably difficult, at least for me. My mind does not lend itself to reductions. I’m more of the expanding type. (Not an asset.) These formulas give one hope that a difficult task will be made easy.

Don’t be fooled, however!

These 4 formulas, which I’ve gathered from hither and yon — without always noting the source, so my apologies for not crediting the creators — are helpful in getting at the core of that unwieldy beast: a novel.

The 1-sentence formula

When _____ [OPENING CONFLICT]
happens to _____ [CHARACTER],
he/she has to _____ [OVERCOME CONFLICT]
in order to _____ [COMPLETE QUEST].

As applied to the YA novel I’m writing now, I came up with:

Haunted by dreams of her dead father, a 15-year-old girl goes on a quest to find out if she was the cause of his death.

This is a tidy summary, but as with most one-sentence summaries, this doesn’t actually fit what actually happens in the novel.

The 3-sentence formula

_____ is about _____, who wants to _____.
The only problem is that _____.
As a result, he/she _____.
Yet, ultimately, he/she succeeds because _____.

So, once again, applying this to Moonsick

Moonsick is about a girl who hates her awful stepfather Napoleon, and longs for her wonderful father, whom she idolizes. The only problem is that her father was beheaded, and it may have been her fault. In her quest to find out why he died, she discovers some unpleasant truths. Seeking her father in the realm of the afterlife, she learns that his death had nothing to do with her. Yet, ultimately, she succeeds because she comes to finally appreciate the real-life love of her stepfather, Napoleon.

The 3-part book formula

A book summary should give 3 things:

1. The genre (i.e. “mystery novel”);
2. Parameters: what happens and what the reader getting into (“Seattle”, “a detective” “a dead boyfriend”);
3. Something left to the imagination (a dead body, a framed main character).

Moonsick is historical fiction for Young Adults. It’s about Josephine Bonaparte’s daughter Hortense, who hates her stepfather Napoleon and idolizes her dead father … until she finds out some unpleasant truths.

Better, I think …

The 5-part story formula

1. Character
2. Situation (What trouble that forces the character to act?)
3. Objective (The character’s goal.)
4. Opponent
5. Disaster (The awful thing that could happen.)

Make each of these elements specific.
Put them together to form two sentences.

Sentence 1: A statement that establishes character, situation, and objective.
Sentence 2: A statement—or question—that pinpoints the opponent and potential disaster.

Haunted by nightmares of her dead father, 15-year-old Hortense goes on a quest to find out if the father she idolizes is trying to tell her something. Was it her fault that he was executed? What she finds out is not at all what she expected, and more of this world than the next.

I think this is a better summary — but I don’t think I’ve nailed down the 5 elements, exactly.

This is so hard!

Do any of you have formulas you use successfully? I’d love to know.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

4 simple formulas for figuring out a story

This morning I happened upon a computer file of notes I kept while writing The Shadow Queen. I was particularly interested in a section on formulas for figuring out a novel’s “elevator pitch”—the summation of a story in a sentence or two. This is invariably difficult,...

read more

Finally! Breaking the Blog Silence

Where have I been? I've been MIA here ... why? Partly it had to do with a big change to my website, which threw me off. I couldn't quite figure out how to navigate it, and various visuals I used before were suddenly missing. I was, as they say "all 6s and 7s" (an...

read more

In Search of the Heroine’s Journey

I've been addicted to the theory of the Hero's Journey as story structure since I read Cambell's groundbreaking work,The Hero With a Thousand Faces, in high school. It's at the core of virtually every book I admire on plot: The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler,...

read more
sandraphoto

Never miss a blog post.

Would you like notification sent to you by email? (You may always unsubscribe.)

4 simple formulas for figuring out a story

This morning I happened upon a computer file of notes I kept while writing The Shadow Queen. I was particularly interested in a section on formulas for figuring out a novel’s “elevator pitch”—the summation of a story in a sentence or two. This is invariably difficult,...

read more

Finally! Breaking the Blog Silence

Where have I been? I've been MIA here ... why? Partly it had to do with a big change to my website, which threw me off. I couldn't quite figure out how to navigate it, and various visuals I used before were suddenly missing. I was, as they say "all 6s and 7s" (an...

read more

“Oh poo!” you say?

As I've no doubt mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Renaissance magazine. I devour every issue as soon as it arrives. It's largely intended for devotees of living history, specifically those who participate in Renaissance fairs. That aspect of the publication doesn't...

read more

For occasional news updates, please subscribe!

Sign up for my newsletter.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This