What, exactly, is a synopsis and what would you ever need to use one for? In its barest form, a synopsis is an outline of your book. It contains all the major elements of your story and plot. The most basic function a synopsis performs is showing an editor – and yourself, if you can step back far enough to see it – whether or not your plot succeeds.
For the writer, a synopsis helps determine if the requirements of a genre are met, played with, or just plain ignored. For the editor, a synopsis helps determine how well your story flows from one element to the next.
In other words, the earlier you start plotting out a synopsis, the more coherent your finished work will be.
Preparing for the Synopsis
It can be really, really daunting to go about writing a synopsis. The reason for it is simple: we’re too close to our own stories. In order to write an effective synopsis, you need to gain some distance from your story or all the little details we love so much about the story get in the way.
A synopsis is not a sales pitch. It is simply a way of showing how the story develops. We have to leave out a lot of description – instead of saying that “My story, SpellBound, is about a beautiful young woman named Tari Arcamenel who lives in the fantastical, gorgeous city of Relpasuhiel in the land of the Tribes of Kindred” … I could (and should!) boil it down to the essentials and say “SpellBound is the story of Tari Arcamenel. Tari lives in Relpasuhiel, a city in the land of the Tribes of Kindred”.
And, technically speaking, I could boil it down even more.
So … we need to find a way of distancing ourselves from the beauty of our stories. This means preparing to write a synopsis – which can be most easily achieved by answering some basic questions. I’ve included both the basic question and an example answer below. Jot the questions down in a notebook and answer them with your own story in mind.
1. Main Character’s Name?
2. 3-5 Adjectives Describing the Main Character:
young, witch, healer, beautiful, stubborn
3. Main Character’s Goal:
To interpret the secretive pages she carries, in the hope of saving herself and her loved ones from being obliterated.
4. How S/he Plans to Achieve Goal:
By teaming up with an Immortal warrior and seeking counsel from a group of people descended from the Fallen Angels.
5. Antagonist’s (Enemy) Name?
6. How Does the Antagonist Complicate Plans?
Leader of a fanatical group intent on retrieving the pages Tari carries, Sidhion will stop at nothing – including outright elimination – to achieve his own goals and suppress the use of magic.
7. Plot Complications:
Tari’s quest to interpret and save places herself and her friends in even more danger, bringing each of them to decisions of sacrifice.
8. Main Character’s Allies & Advantages:
Tari’s friends, Asher and Lin, and the Immortal Adan. In addition to her friends, the very pages putting them in danger are a major advantage, and the ties of love that bind the group together perhaps the biggest advantage of all.
9. What Is Learned (Theme):
Tari learns that to love sometimes means to lose, that risk is often rewarded, and that redemption is earned.
10. How It Ends:
Well, I can’t place my story’s ending here but in your synopsis, don’t hesitate. Don’t try to keep the ending a secret from an editor or agent – they need to know you finish the story in a satisfying manner.
Writing the Synopsis
So now you have all the basic little pieces, but you’ve got to admit it looks really bleak. Boring. No editor or agent wants a bulleted list, they want to know these basic details in a way that also shows off your brilliant writing style and lets them catch a glimpse of your voice.
Alright, so it’s time to take the list and use it to create a brief, dazzling synopsis.
Begin with the bare details you’ve compiled in your list. Type them out without a lot of detail and fluff, just telling the major story elements and giving an idea of each of the pieces you’ve worked out. This shouldn’t amount to more than about 1/2-1 page.
Then it’s time to spice things up with a bit – but not a lot! – of detail. What detail? Here’s a few of the elements that you should include:
1. Story Facts: Start out with the basic facts of the story’s genre, length, and whether it’s a completed novel or a work-in-progress.
2. Launching Event: What causes the main character to move into action? In the story I’ve used as an example, the launching event occurs when an attempt is made on Tari’s life.
3. First Turning Point: What is the first point in the story where things seem different than they did before? Following the same example, the first turning point would be when Tari realizes she has the power to fight back, causing her to dig into how.
4. Second Turning Point: What is the second point in the story where things seem different than before? In my example, this second point comes when Tari is betrayed by Adan, who she has come to have feelings for.
5. Environment: How does the story “feel”? In other words – something about the setting, time period, and carrying themes.
Never add anything to your synopsis that doesn’t affect the main, bare-bones plot and story. The final synopsis should be no more than 2 pages.
And never put too much pressure on yourself – start your synopsis as soon as you start your story, allow yourself to re-write and re-work it as your story develops and grows, and you’ll end up with something that speaks volumes.