Whether you’re writing a blog post, a sales page, a short story, or even a book, you have something of value you want to share with your readers.
Maybe you have an incredible productivity tip that will help them finally achieve their goals or maybe it’s a fantastic product that will make their lives easier or maybe it’s a personal story that will help them feel less alone in their struggles.
You craft a compelling title or headline to grab their attention. But what comes next after your title is even more important.
Your goal is to hold their attention long enough so they read your entire piece and can benefit from what you’re sharing.
But in today’s digital age, people’s attention spans are shorter than they’ve ever been before.
If a person starts reading and can’t quickly figure out the core message of your piece and how it will help them, they’re going end up clicking away before you have a chance to begin building a relationship with them.
That can mean a lost chance for you to make a sale or gain a new email subscriber. But even worse — a lost chance for you to impact that person’s life and share your valuable message with them.
So, how can you make sure you get your point across quickly and avoid rambling in your piece?
Here’s a really easy and straightforward tactic:
Before you start writing, boil down into one sentence exactly what your piece is going to be about and how it will benefit the reader.
Read on to discover why this sentence needs to be the first one you write and also five formulas you can use to create a compelling one-sentence synopsis when working on your next piece.
Why You Need to Write Your One-Sentence Synopsis First
You’ve probably come across the concept of the one-sentence synopsis before.
When you wrote essays in high school, your teacher probably called it your thesis statement — the sentence that appeared at the end of your introduction and presented your main argument.
If you ever worked on a book, it was your logline, one-sentence pitch, or hook. A version of it might have appeared on the back cover of your book and communicated the big idea or main plot of your book to the reader.
No matter what you call it, it’s essential to get it down on paper before you begin writing your piece.
By tweaking that sentence first, you give yourself a clear understanding of what your piece is about and the message you’re trying to express to your readers. It acts as a guide so you don’t end up running off on tangents and going down rabbit trails.
In her book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp emphasizes how important it is to have this guide (she calls it “the spine”) when working on any creative piece:
The spine is the statement you make to yourself outlining your intention for the work. You intend to tell this story. You intend to explore this theme. You intend to employ this structure…
Once you accept the power of spine in the creative act, you will become much more efficient in your creativity. You will still get lost on occasion, but having a spine will anchor you. When you lose your way, it will show you the way home. It will remind you that this is what you have set out to do, this is the story you’re trying to tell, this is the effect you’re trying to achieve. Having a spine will snap you back to attention quickly and, as a result, will inject speed and economy into your work habits.
For example, let’s say you’re about to begin working on a blog post. You write down your one-sentence synopsis: “In this blog post, the reader will discover how to self-publish their book.”
Once you write down that sentence, however, you realize that your topic is way too broad for the 800-word piece you intend to write (and it’s also a bit vague!).
Thankfully, you haven’t wasted time trying to tackle that topic.
Instead, you can refine your one-sentence synopsis. Maybe you decide to write about a narrower topic: “In this blog post, the reader will discover why they need a professionally designed book cover when self-publishing and how to hire a designer.”
If you’re writing a persuasive piece, crafting your one-sentence synopsis first will help you make sure your position is strong and logical and that each of the paragraphs you write supports that position.
Additionally, the one-sentence synopsis makes you dig deeper and make sure you’re approaching your topic from a fresh and unique perspective and bringing value to the reader.
Let’s dive into five formulas you can use to craft your own one-sentence synopsis.
Five Formulas for Crafting Your One-Sentence Synopsis
1. If you’re writing a persuasive piece, you can use this formula:
Claim + Reason(s) = Synopsis
For example, “I argue that this diet will help you lose weight because of this recent study and my personal experience…”
2. If you’re writing a how-to article:
Specific Topic + Benefit to Reader = Synopsis
For example, “In this article, bloggers will discover how to write strong headlines that grab the attention of their readers.”
3. If you’re writing a sales page (this is a fantastic formula from copywriter Ray Edwards’ book How to Write Copy That Sells):
Any [YOUR AUDIENCE] can [SOLVE THEIR PROBLEM] by using [YOUR PRODUCT], because [HOW IT SOLVES THE PROBLEM].
For example, “Any writer can boost their productivity by using the ‘Writing Planner App’ because it helps them juggle all of their writing projects and keep track of their progress.”
4. If you’re writing a memoir or personal essay or story (this formula comes from Marion Roach’s wonderful book The Memoir Project):
This is about x, as illustrated by y, to be told in a z.
X stands for the theme of your piece (since a personal essay should not be just about you but about a universal theme that your readers can relate to), y stands for the story you plan to tell, and z stands for the structure.
Here’s an example Marion shares: “It’s about what animals do for us that we cannot do for ourselves, to be illustrated by my life with my cat, Mitsy, to be told in a blog post.”
5. If you’re writing a novel (this formula for a logline comes from this blog post by novelist Shaunta Grimes):
WHO is your main character + WHERE the story takes place + WHAT is the situation + WHY it matters + HOW the character solves the problem
Here’s the example logline Shaunta gives for The Wizard of Oz:
A Kansas farm girl is transported by a tornado to the magical land of Oz, where her house lands on a witch, leaving the girl to try to find help from a wizard before the witch’s wicked sister can kill her.
How to Use Your One-Sentence Synopsis in Your Piece
Depending on the type of piece you’re working on, you might be able to include your one-sentence synopsis in your piece as a roadmap for your readers.
For example, at the end of the introduction of all my blog posts, I’ll write a sentence like, “In today’s article, you’ll discover three different writing techniques you can use to set a vivid mood and atmosphere in your stories.”
My readers know right away where I’m taking them.
If you’re not writing a how-to article, you might not want to write a sentence that is that straightforward (though I have found it to be effective when writing a short story or personal essay to sometimes include a line like, “This is a story about…”). You might prefer to communicate the theme of your piece in a more roundabout way, maybe through a story or even through dialogue.
Whatever method you choose, you should convey the theme and direction of the piece somewhere in the introduction of your piece or the first chapter of your book.
Marion Roach writes,
Right around the fourth paragraph, the writer must tell the reader what the piece is about — what’s at stake, what’s up in the air, what to value if it’s taken away.
Crafting a one-sentence synopsis helps you create a tightly-focused piece of writing. When you finish your first draft and go back to edit your piece, you can use the synopsis as your guide to make sure that every paragraph relates back to your theme.
Marion Roach writes,
While editing, check back with that original pitch and see if you’ve done what you promised to do. What did you set out to illustrate? Have you fulfilled your obligations?
Twyla Tharp used the “spine” in the same way when choreographing dances,
Having a spine lets me know where I am starting from and where I want to go…It lets me know when I am dawdling or digressing or wasting time. It reminds me that everything I add is either on message or off. Most of all, it lets me know when I’m done.
When every paragraph of your piece is on message, you’re better able to hold the attention of your readers. They won’t get confused by paragraphs that ramble on and on without a point.
Instead, they’ll be eagerly looking to see how you develop your piece and fulfill what you promised to do in the introduction. They’ll stay along for the ride. Your next step is to make sure it’s a memorable one and that you deliver what you promised.
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