Hello again, friends! I’m very excited to tackle today’s topic, because my own lack of knowledge in this area caused my early writing efforts to flounder. I spent months writing and rewriting my stories, but felt like they were never quite hitting the target I wanted. Probably (duh!), because I had never created the target in the first place. I had only the vaguest idea of where the story should end up, and the sinking feeling that I was never going to get there.
It wasn’t until the whole novel was written (and rewritten) that I had my aha moment. For the submission process, I knew I had to write a one-sentence logline or plot summary, and I realized I had no idea how to summarize my story in one sentence. The plot itself just wasn’t focused or tight enough (hint: time to revise again!). But now I knew the secret…you can’t write a good novel when you have no clear idea where your story is going.
It’s like heading out on a family vacation with no destination in mind. You might have some general ideas, like I want to relax on the beach, or Let’s visit a National Park. But without an actual place in mind, you’re probably not ever going to get there. The same is true for your writing. You have your story idea, and now you have some great notes on characters. You could just feel your way through the first draft and see what happens, but odds are you’ll end up with a disaster. Even “pantsers” can benefit from having one clear plot sentence that lays out the main story line.
And the good news is that this sentence will come in very handy when you’re done the writing and editing process. Book proposals, query letters, elevator pitches – they all require a tidy, one-sentence logline or summary of your story. Added bonus? When your friends ask that seemingly innocuous question, “What’s your book about?,” you’ll actually have an answer.
So gather your notes, because here’s what you need: your protagonist and their goal, your antagonist and the essential conflict, and your setting. Wait, you say – we haven’t talked about setting yet. For this exercise, you only need the bare bones, one or two words that summarize where the story happens. As in, “space station” or “small town” or “medieval France.”
And remember, like everything else we’re doing, this sentence is a work in progress. It’s meant to be a target or a guidepost, not an evil stone overlord whom you can’t defy on pain of death.
I’m going to create my own target sentence right now with you, so I’ll give you the questions and then my answers as an example. When you’re ready to tackle your own sentence, you can download my free worksheet here.
- What’s your main story idea or concept? What inspired you to write this story?
My story is inspired by “Little Red Riding Hood.” My initial concept is to twist the original by creating a YA Fantasy/ Romance in which “Red” falls in love with the wolf.
Condense this idea into 3 or 4 words: Red falls for wolf.
2. Who is your protagonist?
Marielle is a 19-year old girl whose father is a wealthy merchant and landowner. She’s used to a life of luxury and the obligations her life entails, including her impending engagement to whomever her father chooses for her.
Summarize in 2 or 3 words: wealthy landowner’s daughter
3. What is her story goal?
Marielle’s life changes overnight when her younger sister falls ill to a plague spreading throughout the land. Going against her father’s wishes, Marielle seeks her grandmother and her healing abilities in the nearby Forbidden Forest. If she can return with the cure in time, she’ll be able to save her sister and stop the spread of the plague.
Summarize in a few words: find cure for her sister’s illness
4. Who is the antagonist?
My story will actually have two antagonists, but for this sentence I’m going to focus on the wolf. He’s a 22-year old prince who has been cursed to spend each day as a wolf, each night as a man. Unfortunately I still haven’t decided on a good name. (Suggestions? Leave me a comment!!)
2 or 3 word summary: cursed wolf-prince
5. What’s the conflict? Why is the antagonist opposing the protagonist?
For reasons I can’t reveal, the wolf-prince lures in young ladies and turns them over to the other antagonist, a witch queen. Due to her wealth and standing, Marielle would be a marvelous prize – perhaps the last one he would need to capture. Of course, he’s just one of many dangers lurking in the Forbidden Forest.
3 or 4 word summary: captures women for witch
6. What’s the setting? Where, in general, does the story take place?
My story takes place in a fantasy, fairy tale world with people, fairies, and magical creatures. Marielle meets the wolf in the Forbidden Forest, a dark, dangerous place where mortals fear to tread.
2 or 3 word summary: dangerous forest
Putting it all together:
You’ll want to follow a pattern similar to this one, although you can shift the clauses around so it makes better sense. Essentially, just plug in your short summaries for each answer above to create your sentence. Remember, too, that if your plot sentence reads like a book someone else has already written, you might need to dig a little deeper into your ideas to give it a unique twist.
Basic sentence pattern: PROTAGONIST must (face) CONFLICT with ANTAGONIST in order to (reach) GOAL in SETTING.
Here’s mine: A wealthy landowner’s daughter must navigate a deadly forest and avoid capture by a cursed wolf-prince in order to find a cure for her dying sister.
Your turn. Your homework this week is to write one (or more) plot sentences for your story idea. Choose your favorite, and once you have a target, we can keep digging deeper into how to turn that one sentence into a complete book. For my free worksheet to help you, click the link here. Hopefully it will demystify the process of creating a plot sentence!
Feel free to leave a comment and share your sentence!
Image courtesy of pexels.com. CC0 License.
4 thoughts on “Novel Writing 101: Creating a Target with a Plot Sentence”
I seriously want to read your retelling of Red Riding Hood, like right now!! It’s like Red meets Beast (from Beauty and the Beast). Squee!!
I can’t wait to use your process to make my own log line too. You’ve laid it out in such a straight forward manner.
And the name that came to mind for your prince is Cardiff. English, I know. Not sure if you’re going for a French feel with Marielle.
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Thank you, Meghan! I hope the process is helpful. It’s funny how things like these seem so complicated at first but once you try it a few times, it all starts to come together. 🙂 Cardiff…I rather like the sound of that…I’ll let it roll around in my brain for a bit and see what happens. And when I ever get the story done, you can be my first beta reader!
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Yay! I look forward to it.
And if you don’t end up using Cardiff, I’m going to tuck it away for future characters 😉
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