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The Magic Story-shrinking Spell

Copyright © 2005 by Deborah M. Hale

It’s hard enough trying to condense any type of book into the one or two page synopsis editors and agents often request with an initial query or proposal. But a 500+ page epic fantasy manuscript? Im-possible! I mean, you just write about magic, you can’t actually do it.

Or maybe you can…

What you need is a good reliable spell for story shrinking. And I happen to have one I’d like to recommend. Dig into you bag of writer’s magic for these basic ingredients:

Protagonist's Circumstances: In a sentence or two, sketch the world of your protagonist. Is it a land where the Gods live on a mountain in the form of magnificent white horses? Is it an island nation where caste and position are prized above all? Perhaps it is a conquered country where the people live in constant fear? Where does the protagonist fit in this world? What makes her unique? Finally what is wrong in your fantasy world or what trouble threatens it?

The Catalyst Event: What happens at the beginning of your story to upset the status quo and make it imperative for your protagonist to take action? Does her evil step- family leave town, offering her an opportunity for escape? Is she summoned from our world to another to combat evil forces?

Protagonist's Mission/Problem: What action will she choose, or be forced to take, and why will it be difficult for her? What is at stake if she fails? Does the protagonist have a character flaw that will be tested by her mission?

Plot Chunks : Clump the events of your story into 3-5 larger chunks and boil each down to a sentence. This is a tricky sub-spell that takes lots of practice but is well worth mastering. For example, the first six chapters of The Wizard's Ward can be summed up this way: Maura learns of her dangerous destiny and rescues an equally dangerous fugitive, whom Langbard persuades to accompany her on her quest

Plot Effects: Now think about how each of these plot chunks affects the protagonist's mission. Does it represent a step forward, a challenging complication or a major setback? Do events test the protagonist in some way – make her reassess her priorities or alter her attitudes? Perhaps they reinforce old doubts or behaviors.

The Ultimate Challenge: What moment does the story build toward, the one that has the power to make or break your protagonist? What difficult choice is the protagonist faced with? Why is it so wrenching? What sacrifice must the protagonist make to meet it successfully?

Satisfyng Ending : What are the consequences of the protagonist's action/ sacrifice? For herself and for those who are depending on her? Has evil been vanquished? Harmony restored? An important step taken toward a larger goal?

Now you have your ingredients. Mix them together in the cauldron of your unique voice and style. Shape and trim them to make every word count. Whisper the most powerful mystic incantation, “I can do this!” Ask the blessing of your Muse then watch what unfolds. With practice and luck, you may master this handy spell to distill your story to its most potent essence. One that will cast an enchantment over all who read it, making them ravenous for more and eager to buy.


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