The Fine Art of Synopsis Writing

Right, forget flowery phrases. Sentences that scream ‘look at me!’. Paragraphs that read well but don’t actually tell you anything about the story. Throw them out of the window. Why? Because all your synopsis needs is the setting, the internal/external conflict, the evidence of growing attraction, the black moment and the resolution.

Yes, I have been thinking more about Michelle’s advice, especially when it comes to writing the synopsis. The first one I did was full of the flowery phrases. It said nothing about how the characters grow and what they learn. It was full of ‘he realises’ and ‘she realises’ but nothing about why they realise that. So I wrote another one, and this was full of the ‘why’s, the internal conflict, what the heroine liked about the hero, what he liked about her, what they learned from each other, why they fell in love, why they couldn’t be together and why, in the end, they were. But this one missed the turning points in the story, how it actually unfolded. Wrong again.

So this time I’ve done a third. And this time – I hope – I’ve done it right. This time I’ve actually included the ‘hows’. Like instead of just saying ‘ he shows her that a little risk isn’t a bad thing’. I’ve said how he does this by taking her bungy jumping and rock climbing. And when he comes to realise he needs the heroine in his life, instead of saying ‘he suddenly realises….’ I’ve given him some bad news about his father that the heroine is able to help him through, thus showing him what it’s like to have support when he needs it.

Okay, it’s not perfect, and until I get the okay from the editors, it may not be right, but it’s SO much better than my previous effort. And this is a typical two page deal. Michelle said I should be able to write a synopsis in one page and let me tell you, it was difficult exercise. But I managed it! I would actually recommend everyone give this a go. It certainly boils your story down to the most basic nuts and bolts, and it’s a great way to see if there are any plot/conflict holes. In much the same way as writing a synopsis centered just on the conflict can be useful too.

Anyway, that’s my two cents worth today. This may be self evident to others but it was certainly a big step forward to me. As a pantser extraordinaire, doing a synopsis before I actually start writing is a huge acheivement. Who’d have thought it would help? 🙂 And it’s given me a great start for writing the rest of the story – two chapters down and one to go before spit, polish and send. 🙂

17 thoughts on “The Fine Art of Synopsis Writing”

  1. Oh Jackie. I totally had the same thing. In fact I think the syno was the major learning curve of the whole experience-you’ve described it way better than I could.

    It’s all about chucking your syno away. And re-writing it bare.

    When I finally ‘got’ it (and I’m still learning with each syno) I tried to explain what the syno is for future reference. The only phrases I could come up with were-the ’emotional spine’ of the story. The basic inner emotions route map of their journey to love. How they got where they needed to go. Remove all the urges to write plot and explanations and stuff and get down to the nitty gritty ‘tube map’.
    Sounds twee. But that’s what helped me move it forward.
    I’ll go now. I’m turning syno bore.
    Jude – hugs!

  2. Thank you so much for the last two posts they were so helpful.
    I am just getting ready to send in my partial and had no idea how to write a good synopsis. you may remeber me on the Nano board as ‘Britjane’. it has taken me this long to sort out the mistakes. I too am a pantser and a gemini! Next time I will try writing a synopsis first so I at least have some idea where I am going.
    Good luck with your latest sub, I know you are going to make it.

  3. Judy – you’ve described it perfectly! I love the ’emotional spine’ of the story and putting down a ‘tube map’. That’s a fantastic way of describing it. My problem is not so much plot explanations as the emotional explanations. Get far too caught up with that. Probably because I didn’t have a clear idea about where the conflict was going. Doing a conflict synopsis first is probably a good idea for me.

    Janette, I did a single page, single spaced, and then two pages, also single spaced. You don’t have to double-space a synopsis – at least, I never have (unless it was for a competition).

    Jane, thanks so much and how lovely of you to post! Glad to know my little breakthroughs are useful for other people. Yep, it took me a while to come round to writing the synop first but it honestly makes things so much tighter. Which you need for category. Good luck with your synopsis and your sub – go geminis!

  4. Um, synopsis writing before the story? I’m holding my tongue or should that be my finger???
    Glad you’re going great guns, I go away for a few days and look what hapens 🙂

  5. Really interesting post Jackie – wow am I learning a lot from your journey!

    I think the trick with synopses is to start as streamlined as possible (with as you said h/H conflict, show they fall in love, black moment, resolution) and build to show your voice. If you try to cutback from what’s basically an outline it’s even harder!

  6. Actually Becca, I think the key thing I was doing wrong was going over the top in trying to show my voice! The synopsis should sell your story, but it’s your chapters that should sell your writing. At least, that’s what I got from Michelle’s advice.
    Anyway, glad to be of use. It sounds trite but it’s not until you make mistakes that you learn stuff, and I’ve certainly made a lot of mistakes! Hope that means I’ve learned heaps. 🙂

  7. Yes, use your chapters to sell your voice and the synopsis to sell the story. Many times, the editors are just looking for confirmation that the story is one which will fit the guides. It is all about showing the spine of the story rather than the flesh.
    And a synopsis can help before you write, even though you made end up laughing as I often do for having put into so much external plot.
    It is one page single spaced to getto the heart of the matter.

  8. Hmm, a synopsis before writing the story? So that’s where I’m going wrong. I tend to write before thinking which is why I’ve got into such trouble.

    Btw, I’ve been meaning to ask about the acting/reacting thing you mentioned a couple of posts ago. Would be interested to know how you’d differentiate between the two. In my WIP my hero thinks my heroine has been lamped by a drunk guy in a pond and leaps to her rescue. Is that action or reaction, do you think?

  9. Jackie – I’m becoming as addicted to these pages as I am to the Subcare forum! As I’m hovering around synopsis-writing, this is so useful and helpful – and so generous on your part! Thanks also for posting news of the Harlequin competition, which otherwise wouldn’t have impinged on my fuzzy awareness….
    I have already asked you some silly questions on the Subcare forum, and wanted to avoid bothering you, so delved into your archives, to see if I could find something which would tell me why you decided to write a blog?? I couldn’t find it, hence my query. – Maybe I am congenitally lazy; maybe I have had too many years of associating writing output with tangible money. I ask because I suppose I am still trying to determine for myself whether I do belong to the ‘tribe’ of writers, or whether their DNA is slightly different. I’d love to hear your rationale, when you have a spare second away from Twitter/ Subcare – oh, and your MS….
    Sorry about another question!
    Thanks, Chris

  10. Lucy – Yeah, writing the synop first is good. A couple of months ago I would have said nah, you don’t need to do that, but having come to grief several times… I think if you do it knowing that it’ll probably change as you write, then at least you’ve got a vague idea about where to go.
    And as for your hero, hmmm… It’s tricky. I would say he’s acting because he’s making a decision to do something. It’s the conscious decision that makes it an action rather than a reaction. At least, that’s what I’m thinking now. I’m quite new at this so I may be wrong!

    Hi Chris – thanks for posting! Always nice to know people get something out of this. Sharing knowledge can only be good for everyone (which is the librarian in me coming to the fore!).
    As to why I decided to start the blog, well, I wanted to be in contact with other writers and since everyone is in different parts of the world and have busy lives, a blog seemed like a good way to update people and for people to keep in touch without having to spend time emailing. As to bothering me, don’t worry, I love hearing from people!

  11. action/reaction
    It depends on who started the incident and the why.
    For example if the incident is started by someone hitting the heroine, and the hero jumps into save her, he is reacting. He has not caused the incident. He needs to proactive. And how is the hero jumping into a pond going to make things worse emotionally for the both of them.
    It is the turning points that need to be active.

  12. Ooh, Michelle, thanks for that. I admit, I’m still finding my way around the whole active/reactive stuff. It’s hard keeping so many little balls in the air – I guess that’s why writing category is so difficult!

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