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Monday, October 30

Day Thirty: Idea to Novel Workshop: Summarize Your Novel

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Welcome to Day Thirty of Fiction University’s At-Home Workshop: Idea to Novel in 31 Days. The only thing left to do is put all your thoughts and ideas into order.

Today, we’ll write our working synopsis.

Writing a Working Synopsis


A novel traditionally has a handful of major moments that make up the turning points of the story’s plot (the set pieces). Where they fall in the novel varies, but they usually fit within the classic, three- act story structure: beginning, middle, and ending. Within each of these three sections are common plot points that get the protagonist from Point A to Point Z.

The Beginning

  • Opening Scene
  • Inciting Event
  • Act One Problem

The Middle
  • Act Two Choice
  • Midpoint Reversal
  • Act Two Disaster

The Ending
  • Act Three Plan
  • Climax
  • Wrap Up

When writing a working synopsis, these turning points provide starting and ending points for the plot. They can change as the novel develops, but they’re useful guides in the planning stage to get you started. Use them as tools, but don’t feel confined by them.

How the summary blurb works with a working synopsis:
The summary blurb is a condensed version of the novel, and it provides a foundation on which to expand the scenes and flesh out the plot. It’s easier to figure out how to get from the opening scene to the end, because you’ve already figured out the moments that connect those two points.

Defining Story Arcs


To help flesh out the working synopsis, look at the various story arcs of the novel. Plot arcs, character arcs, theme arcs, and timeline arcs. Arcs make up the novel and how you braid those arcs together determines how the story unfolds. While you certainly don’t have to know all these arcs before you start writing, identifying key events and moments can aid you in plotting and novel development.

Plot Arcs


Plot arcs are how the plot unfolds. They cover the events that happen between the opening scene and the resolution. Depending on how much outlining you like to do, you might have the whole plot mapped out or just a few key moments—or you might not know any plot elements at all if you’re more character based or a panster.

Subplot Arcs


Subplot arcs show the various aspects of the story and support the other arcs. They affect the internal and external conflict, illustrate the theme, and create deeper character growth. They can be tricky because there are probably overlaps where something affects both the plot and a subplot. In multiple points of view, each point-of-view character will have her own arc that ties into both the core plot and various subplots.

Character Arcs


Character arcs show the emotional growth of the character. They start with examples of the protagonist’s flaws and then provide opportunities for that character to grow and change. This arc typically conflicts in some way with the external core conflict, and by going through the external experience, internal growth is achieved. A protagonist in a recurring series might not change much, but a character in a literary novel about inner growth might change a lot.

Theme Arcs


Theme arcs can help tie the other arcs together. They can track how the theme is conveyed and when and where theme-related moments might occur. If the theme is linked to the character growth, it can be very helpful to see the turning points spelled out in the plot.

Timeline Arcs


Timeline arcs focus on when things happen, especially if the novel unfolds over a specific time frame. Not every novel will unfold on a tight schedule, but for some (like mysteries or thrillers) it can be vital to know when events occur.

List the steps for potential arcs in your novel:

1. The plot arc: Look carefully at what steps move the core plot from opening scene to resolution. Make a list of those steps, focusing on the moments that have to happen for the plot to work. Also list the steps the antagonist is taking to make events happen. If the antagonist is off screen, but still strongly influencing the protagonist, sometimes it’s helpful to list what he’s doing, even if readers never see it happen in the book. It’s a good way to keep track of what’s going on overall and can help prevent implausible plots and mistakes of time and place.

Don’t forget to list the why on these steps as well. Character motives are critical to tying these events together. Same with the stakes. Each event should have a goal that needs to be accomplished, a reason why it has to be accomplished, and why that particular character needs to do it (internal and external goals), and what will happen if it isn’t accomplished.

2. The subplot arcs: Consider potential subplots, especially any that connect strongly to the core conflict or character arc. Make another list for any ideas that could deepen various aspects of the novel.

3. The character arcs: Start with the protagonist and list all the events/revelations/failures that happen to cause his character to grow or change. Next, look at the antagonist (if he plays an active role) and secondary characters. How might your characters change over the course of the novel? What path could those arcs take?

4. The theme arcs: Look for situations where the theme might appear, especially if it causes a change or influences a character. Make a list of all the areas where theme could be used. How might it develop over the course of the novel? What moments or characters could be part of a theme arc?

5. Timeline arcs: List when major events happen to make sure there’s enough time for things to occur, and things aren’t happening out of order.

EXERCISE: Put it all together and write your working synopsis.


If you need a little guidance, try using these reminder questions to guide you through:
  • How does the novel open?
  • What is the first problem the protagonist faces?
  • How does this problem lead to the inciting event?
  • How does this lead to the core conflict and the larger act one problem?
  • How does this result in the protagonist facing a major choice?
  • How does this choice lead to a series of struggles and tests in the middle of the book?
  • What is the midpoint reversal?
  • How does this lead to an increase of problems and attacks by the antagonist?
  • What is the act two disaster?
  • How does this disaster lead to the all is lost moment and the dark night of the soul?
  • What results from that soul searching?
  • How does this create the new plan to act?
  • How does this plan lead to the final showdown with the antagonist?
  • How does that showdown unfold?
  • What happens afterward?

Those following along with the PYN book: Workshop Ten goes into more depth on the individual turning points of story structure, as well and the basics of scene and sequel structure. It also shares tips on plotting and story development.

Tomorrow, we take a step back and get ready to write.

Follow along at home with the book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. Get more brainstorming questions and things to think about, in-depth articles, and clear examples of every step from idea to novel.

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A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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