This past weekend, I decided to start writing my non-fiction book proposal for my memoir, Accidental Soldier: What My Service in the Israel Defense Forces Taught Me about Faith, Courage and Love.
in hopes of securing an agent.
There’s a left brain, right brain sort of understanding when it comes to writing a non-fiction book proposal. I’m engaging right now the creative side of my brain and writing chapter summaries since I just finished the heavy lifting and demolition of the last chapter this past Friday. (woo-hoo!) So, the entire hero’s transformation is still quite fresh. I’m now up to chapter ten in terms of the summaries. I must say, it really helps to reread my story as if I’m not familiar with this character and her story. What’s validating is to see how each chapter advances the heroine’s journey in some kind of logical way. In a nutshell, here’s the five main things I’ve already learned about writing chapter summaries.
1. They take serious work! Learning how to write chapter summaries is creative work but it is an art. You’ve got to provide a brief synopsis while also hooking your agent. It isn’t so simple as it sounds, but writing many drafts of each chapter is obviously helpful in helping you clarify the main themes. Once you know that, then all it takes then is making sure that you show how the main events in each chapter advance the hero’s journey in some significant way.
2. Write the chapter summaries after writing the entire draft. In my book, a chapter summary is an evolving process after you’ve drafting each chapter several time. A decent outline guides you with the writing and heavy demolition and lifting during the writing process, but the chapter summaries finalize the process.
3. Use quotes from your chapter only if they help solidify some of the main points you’re trying to make. My editor said that it’s okay to have a page for each chapter summary, but that page can fill up quickly! As I see it, if there is a statement or idea that would be better expressed or supported with a quote, then go ahead and use that quote.
For example, for the summary on chapter ten, I decide to use the following quote to link the cross-cultural experience and show the progress behind transitioning to a new kibbutz and garin as part of my army service in the Israel Defense Forces after giving up on my first garin and kibbutz.
“I am relieved not to feel my body convulsing from anxiety attack as I detour from walking the perimeter of the kibbutz and cut straight into the residential landscape, making my way to the center of the kibbutz. Unlike Westbeth, there’s no empty apartment to return to that might ignite more catastrophizing. When I waited for Mom to return to our apartment in Westbeth, I feared her safety, but on this kibbutz, I’m learning how to survive and thrive on my own so I can develop my own emotional independence and don’t have to live the rest of my life trapped in fear.”
4. It’s okay to use the first person for memoir writing since you are relaying a personal story, but if you are writing a non-fiction book, then it would be best to focus on the subject matter of each chapter. I’m trying not to include so many “I” but in conjunction with other main events that play out as part of the hero’s journey.
5. If anyone tells you chapter summaries are just a waste of time, think again! From a book proposal point of view, they may be a reason why an agent signs you on. Think of it… you’ve made a case for your book and and what’s at stake for you as a character. This is the information the agent needs in terms of understanding the big picture of your book and where you’re going with it.
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