Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The evolution of a novel - submission package

As someone pointed out, I didn’t mention the ‘submission package’ in my last post. This includes the cover letter and the synopsis. Like most people, I find it hard to write a synopsis. When you’ve written something over 80,000 words, it’s difficult to then break it down into a page or two that tells the complete story.

Here’s a few tips that might help:

Firstly, what is your book about?

It may seem a silly question, because you know what it’s about, don’t you? But if someone asked, and you had 20 seconds, could you explain the heart of the story and grab their interest? This is important, because you need to be able to explain the story in its simplest form, in one powerful sentence. If you can do this, then you know what the heart of the story is in its simplest form.

This is called the logline or hook line, and it usually includes ‘who’ the story is about (protagonist), ‘what’ he strives for (goal) and ‘what’ stands in his way (antagonistic force).

Here are some examples from the world of film:

In a future where criminals are arrested before the crime occurs, a despondent cop struggles on the lam to prove his innocence for a murder he has not yet committed. – Minority Report.

A psychologist struggles to cure a troubled boy who is haunted by a bizarre affliction – he sees dead people. – The Sixth Sense.

When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane and corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. – Gladiator.

As another example, here’s the hook line for The Kult:

Acting out of misguided loyalty, police officer Prosper Snow helps his friends perform a copycat killing in the style of a serial killer, only for the real killer to hunt them down.

In this example, the ‘who’ the story is about (protagonist), is Prosper Snow. The ‘what’ he strives for (goal), is to help his friends. And the ‘what’ stands in his way (antagonistic force), is the real killer hunting them down.

Also in the submission package is the synopsis. This is a condensed version of the novel, concentrating on the major plot points. I always put the hook line at the start of the synopsis, as like the name implies, this is the hook to draw the reader in. The synopsis itself has to tell the entire story, without leaving out the ending. It’s often easier to look at examples and take from them what you can, so here are a couple of links that lead to other authors’ synopses samples, but at its heart, a synopsis tells the most relevant parts of the story, written in a vivid, exciting way:



There’s also the cover letter. I like to keep it pretty simple. My first paragraph is my hook, then I say who I am, what I’ve sent, my track record, and how to get hold of me. And that’s it.

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