5 Steps to Writing a Synopsis for your Book with as Little Pain as Possible

May 15, 2012

I'm wrapping up what I hope will be my final major rewrite this week before querying. Since I'm prepping to query, I'm also putting together my "query package." This includes the hateful synopsis. I mean, writing the query is painful enough, right? But in a synopsis, you have to boil down all the details of the ENTIRE BOOK into just a single-spaced page or two. Preferably without being overly boring.

Okay, let's face it. It's probably going to be sorta boring.

And really, that's okay. Agents get how hard it is to write a synopsis, and the point of one is for them to see that your story itself doesn't fall apart after the first spectacular chapter. Which means the synopsis IS important, so you should give it the time it needs to shine. And fortunately, there are ways to make the synopsis-writing a little less painful.

1. Whether or not you plotted out your story, you can start with 7 simple sentences that hit the 7 key points of your book.
You may not have planned this out ahead of time, or even known about it, but odds are basic story structure is so embedded in you after seeing many movies and reading many books, that you have these points in your story. I HIGHLY recommend you watch Dan Wells' 7 Point Story Structure presentation on YouTube. But here are the basic points you want to hit in your synopsis.

Hook: what draws the reader in; sets your character in a position opposite of where they'll be at the end.
Plot Turn 1: the call to adventure-- the story really beings and there's no turning back for the character
Pinch 1: stakes heat up; more danger/pressure introduced
Midpoint: character discovers something new that allows them to move from reaction to action against the antagonist.
Pinch 2: stakes heat up again; often, something big is lost
Plot Turn 2: character learns the final information to destroy antagonist, often at great personal cost
Resolution: protag saves the day

Just a simple sentence that captures the essence of these points gives you a (probably way too short) synopsis!

2. Fill in the blanks
You want to make sure that you connect those seven points. Things happen between them, and if you don't give some explanation, it will make your story feel disjointed. So find those connecting elements that make the story make sense, and fill in the blanks. This is where you'll likely make your synopsis way too long. Don't sweat that.

3. Cut the extra characters and subplots you added in step 2.
This is a tough one. Sometimes, I'm adamant that a certain character or big subplot is essential to the synopsis. I hate to tell you-- it's not. Focus on THE MAIN STORY LINE. Obviously, all of your subplots and characters tie together with the main story line, but there is simply not room for them in a 1-2 page synopsis. Chop. Even if you have to fill them in to make yourself feel better, go back in and see what you can cut while still having the synopsis make sense.

4. Read it out loud.
Odds are, you're still might need to trim the synopsis down a bit, especially if you're doing a one-pager. And even if you don't, you always want to make sure you show your top writing skills. So read it out loud. Find those awkward spots, the places you can reword and tighten. Chop out the weak writing. Chop, chop, chop.

5. Send it to crit partners.
Yup, just like anything else. They can help you fine-tune what you've already done, and give you that outside opinion that will help you capture your story in as non-boring a way as possible.

And here's a bonus tip for the next time around. When I write my books, starting with my very first draft, I give every chapter/scene a heading that briefly describes what happens in that chapter. Not only does this help me stay organized while I write, but when I do my synopsis, I can pull my seven key plot points and pretty much every other point straight from those headings. It makes the synopsis first draft a cut-and-paste, piece of cake kinda deal.

So, my friends, have you written a synopsis before? Do you hate them? Do you have tips to share?

image source


Jenilyn Collings said...

As weird as it is, I don't mind writing synopses. It's the queries that get me--I would much, much rather write a synopsis than write a query. For me, I think it's a matter of focusing on the character, what they want, and what they do because of what they want.

I've been meaning to watch that presentation forever. Maybe today is the day for that. :)

Good luck querying!

Jennie Bennett said...

This help is awesome! I'm going to be writing a synop soon so I really need this. I'm totally bookmarking!

Randy said...

Good post. I have a difficult time writing a snynopsis so this should help.

Lauren said...

I've just started working on writing synopses and I was having trouble, so this is really great advice! I love the idea of having scene/chapter headings. I'll have to try that.

Ruth Josse said...

Perfect timing! I'm getting close to querying too, so I know I'm going to have to do this. I've been putting it off. :)

Jessie Humphries said...

I had to write one last night! I think it was one of the worst evenings I've had in recent memory. And I am pretty sure it sucketh, but an agent asked for it, and what was I going to say, "Isn't the query good enough?" :0.

Angela Cothran said...

Great info. You know what I found really helpful was to get a few people who hadn't read my book to read my synopsis. That way I could find out if someone who didn't know the story could follow the synopsis.

David P. King said...

Excellent rundown. I'll have to give these tips a shot next time I draft a synopsis (heck - I'll try them out on the ones I have). Thanks for the suggestion! :)

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

I hate synopses!! :)

These are great tips, Shallee.

It seems like pitches and synopses never go away, even when you have an agent. I still have to write them for the subsequent books I've written (since the one I signed with) ... but it does get easier with practice.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Oh, and good luck with your querying! How exciting!!!

Kittie Howard said...

This is a fantastic post, Shallee, that every writer should read. (Also, great video.) Thank you for sharing. It hit at just the right time, when I was editing my WIP.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Great tips! I wrote my first ever synopsis for an editor critique at a conference and it was hard! I loved Dan Well's videos and used it to plot my book. Going back to it to write my synopsis was helpful.

I'll be querying pretty soon too. Good luck! :)

Emily R. King said...

I'm weird because I like writing synopses. I'd rather write a synopsis over a query letter any day.

At Storymakers the pitch class gave an overview of how to simplify the plot for a great synopsis. Did you get a chance to take that class?

Good luck with querying!

Shallee said...

Ooh, I missed that one, Emily! Darn! Simplifying the plot for both query and synopsis writing is definitely a hard thing to do, and something I could keep learning more about.

AVDutson said...

Thanks for the tips! I'm almost to the submission stage and I'm worried about all the new experiences. But with this great advice, maybe it won't be too bad. ;)

Adrienne said...

These are great! I recently wrote a synopsis, and one tip that helped me was to only use the names of three characters: the protagonist, the love interest (if there is one) or best friend, and the antagonist. This helped me narrow the focus since it's difficult to cut the sub-plots.

Daisy Carter said...

I love the 7 points - they remind me of Blake Snyder's "Beat Sheet" in a lot of ways. I don't like writing synopsis. But I have a chapter heading/summary for each chapter while I'm drafting, too! I never thought to use that to draft a synopsis - thanks!

Tara Tyler said...

this is awesome! printing it!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Good luck with your query and synopsis. I think both are more frightening ahead of time. Once you get into it, writing is writing. Fingers crossed that you get an agent or publisher.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I found synopsis a huge torture and it showed when my CP pointed out what I had done. She then sent me a dozen links to great synopsis writing and I managed to write one with a lot of effort.

Good luck with your synopsis and querying. Saying a small prayer for your success, Shallee.

Meredith said...

Thank you so much, Shallee! I'm going to need to write a synopsis soon, and this advice is exactly what I needed. Good luck with querying!

Emy Shin said...

I haven't written a synopsis before, but am bookmarking this for when I inevitably have to. So, so helpful. Thanks, Shallee! :)

Carrie-Anne said...

Last year I wrote three synopses for my first Russian historical novel—a very long one, a medium-sized one, and a short one. The longest one included all the characters and subplots, while the shortest one only included the most essential characters and events. Given that the book is just a tad bit shorter than Anna Karenina, I think it was a pretty good feat to be able to boil it all down to only 7 pages. I think the synopsis for my contemporary historical Bildungsroman, which is roughly the same length of The Brothers Karamazov, is about the same length.

KM Nalle said...

You always have such helpful posts! This is bookmarked for future reference!

Lara Schiffbauer said...

I'm coming back next week to have this post by my side while I write my three paragraph synopsis to submit my novel! So, so helpful - thanks!

Peaches Ledwidge said...

Great tips.

MC Phedran Mybadside said...

I like your writing style really loving this website .


Shallee McArthur © 2013 | Designed by Bubble Shooter, in collaboration with Reseller Hosting , Forum Jual Beli and Business Solutions