My method for writing a synopsis

There was a lot of talk at our last HRW meeting about writing synopsis’. Some members have never written one while others are seasoned experts. Everyone agreed that the idea of condensing at 70K+ novel down to a one page summary is more than a little daunting. Kind of like seeing a huge shark swimming right at you with his teeth filled mouth wide open and ready to… yeah like that. I’m not expert, but I’ve done a lot of research and actually enjoy writing them, so I thought I’d share my method with you.


Synopsis’ don’t have to be like threatened shark bites.

I find it easier if I am a little distanced from the story. It’s less confusing to write after I’ve had a little break from writing, revising, editing, whatever. That way I don’t feel the need put every little detail into the synopsis. Synopsis’ are a concise summary of a story, not a retelling. We don’t need to know the subplots, about the minor throwaway characters or even too much detail about the world building. You only really need to cover the main plot and the key plot points. Unless of course you’ve been asked for an epic 6 page synopsis, then feel free to include all the minor details.

I start by picking out my key plot points. I use the save-the-cat-beat sheet when I’m revising, so I base my plot points off that. Inciting incident, turning point into act II, midpoint, black moment, turn into act III and the final moment. All in all, I end up with just shy of 10 points, because I exclude a few of the subplot points. I then grow each of these points into a small paragraph, which gives me around two pages of writing. The next bit is the difficult part, I hone and edit it down to a one page synopsis. I make my writing tight, pack it with emotive power words and try to make each sentence not only count but sing too.

There are a few important points to take note of when writing a synopsis.

  1. Synopsis should always be written in third person present tense. Doesn’t matter if your story is thirds past, first present or omni. This is a rule. Stick to it.
  2. All points made should be resolved in the synopsis. If the resolution isn’t important enough to warrant inclusion than neither is the incident. Why state Jane met Joe if there’s no further mention of their relationship.
  3. Always tell the ending. Don’t hold back!
  4. Don’t introduce too many characters. You only really need to cover the protagonist, the main supporting characters and the antagonist. I try to stick to 4 characters at the most. That’s it!

And that’s it, that’s how I write a synopsis. I hope you find it a little easier to jump over those shark infested waters.

(Photo courtesy of gaftels via Compfight)

  Stacey is a writer of YA Sci-Fi and YA Fantasy. You can find her on facebook, twitter or at her own blog.


8 thoughts on “My method for writing a synopsis

  1. Hmmm, I like the idea of using the beat sheet to generate the main plot points. I’ve so far come up with a first draft 2 page one and a 300 page one (boy, that felt sparse!)

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