Writing a synopsis – Yes, another method

I don’t claim to write query blurbs or back cover copy well. I can’t form an elevator pitch to save my life. I can barely write a first draft of a book. However, one thing that sends most authors fleeing to a corner in the fetal position is something I enjoy—writing a synopsis.

Executive With Head In Hands By Crumpled Paper Balls

I can’t explain why, but I love whittling a story down to two to three pages. And I’m going to share with you how I do it.

My process is easy, but time consuming. Here we go!

Step 1:

Outline your novel chapter by chapter, or scene by scene, depending on how you organize your work. When I say outline, I mean two or three word phrases to indicate the main thing that happens in the scene/chapter.

Lightstorm outline1

Step 2:

Identify the following sections in your outline (these are based on the romance genre, which is what I write. Obviously, you may not have a “Romantic Raise” moment)—

  • Inciting incident
  • 1st Act climax
  • Crisis #1–MC will often attempt to “fix” things, but fails
  • Romantic raise #1 (increased romantic tension)
  • Crisis #2 (up the ante)
  • Romantic raise #2
  • Crisis #3 (midpoint)
  • Romantic raise #3
  • Crisis #4
  • Black Moment (also known as 2nd act climax)
  • Romantic resolution (the “I love you” moment, or “Let’s go for it” moment)
  • Conclusion

The number of Crises or Romantic raises will differ, depending on your story, but the shorter you want your synopsis, the fewer you want to highlight (maybe 2-3 max for a 1-2 page synopsis). Use your judgment when prioritizing these.

Lightstorm outline2

Step 3:

So far, we’ve only been working on setup. Now we’re going to construct the actual synopsis. I have adapted Nancy Richards-Akers’ method (I’d link to the blog where I originally found it, but apparently theromanceclub.com is now an insurance and investment website), and though she’s no longer with us, I want her to receive credit for this part.

Nancy’s method includes five parts.

  • Heroine
  • Hero
  • Plot
  • Story
  • Resolution

She suggests a three or four paragraph description of your heroine. I actually think one paragraph serves just as well. Another paragraph to describe your hero. These two will give some background information on your characters, giving the reader a good idea of why there will be conflict. The characters’ family situation or education status doesn’t need to be included if it’s not pertinent to the internal or external conflict.

Lightstorm outline3

What Nancy calls “Plot,” is actually the conflict. At least, that’s how I have to think of it to keep it separated in my head from “story.” One or two paragraphs about the main conflict is all you need.

Lightstorm outline4

“Story” refers to the progression of events. I find that some of that is included in the first three sections, by default, but those are less chronological than this section. Remember all those bullet points you marked off in your outline? Here’s where they go (without repeating what you’ve already mentioned, of course. This might include the inciting incident and the first crisis). If you MUST add other characters in for the synopsis to make sense, try to do so without naming them. Agents refer to “name soup” in queries, and I find synopses have a similar problem. The acceptable names (in my humble opinion) are for the hero, heroine, and villain. That’s usually it. In my story, Lightstorm, those are the only three I introduce by name. Everyone else is referred to by their title or relationship to the MCs. I believe this keeps the synopsis from becoming muddled and confusing.

Lightstorm outline5

Finally, you need to add the conclusion to the story. My last paragraph includes both the plot resolution and the romantic resolution. This is not the time to leave editors or agents guessing at the ending. This is not the time to use a hook (unless your book is a cliffhanger). That’s for the query blurb.

Lightstorm outline6

Step 4:

Add emotion! I cannot stress how important this is. Show the emotions. Use evocative wording. Let your wordsmith skillz shine.

And you’re done! Using this method, I average two to three pages in a synopsis of a 90,000-word novel.

What methods do you use? Let me know if you try my method and how it worked for you!

One Comment:

  1. My method is to panic and drink heavily, but I’m working on trying out new methods so this is timely for me.

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