Writing a synopsis is something a lot of writers dread. I think the reason they dread this is because they leave it too late. They have already completed a long piece of work – without any form of synopsis, plan, outline, treatment, summary or even a page of notes. This works for some but to be honest I have no idea how. All I know is that the ‘build it and they will come’ approach never worked for me.
BEING EATEN ALIVE BY WOLVES AND OTHER WRITER’S PROBLEMS.
I prefer to write even a short outline or synopsis before starting on a long piece. Embarking on a 100,000 word odyssey without a map can lead to confusion or disappointment, not to mention the high risk of being eaten alive by wolves…
TEST YOUR STORY
Writing a synopsis is also a great way of testing your story before you actually write it. Surely it is better to find out at page three of a synopsis that it is actually impossible to write an ending that fits the arc of the story – particularly after your original story left the page to go off on tangents at page 189.
I mention this with a little hint of bitterness because tangents are my nemesis. I find it really difficult not to go off story to follow a tangent and have done so to my own cost many times. However, I believe in learning from my mistakes, so now I stick with my synopsis and suck my imagination back in – if it threatens to go AWOL from the story I was trying to write.
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
Now, it is worth mentioning that sometimes ideas for other stories appear when you are writing. That is great, but just make a note of them in your ideas book until you have finished the story you are on – that way you avoid the dreaded tangent and are more likely to end your story the way it should end.
Talking about tangents, I think it is about time I got on with giving you those five quick steps to writing a synopsis I promised you. So, follow me please…
FIVE QUICK STEPS TO WRITING
There are of course, many ways to approach the writing of a synopsis but this way is an easy way to get started and if you incorporate the five elements I’ve mentioned you’ll be off to a flying start.
1. WRITE A BACKGROUND SECTION
This is not always necessary. However, if your story is set in an unfamiliar time period or place, such as Venus in the year 3014 then it is wise to do some scene setting and to place the story in an appropriate context. By the way it is also a good idea to write your synopsis in the present tense – this gives more of a sense of immediacy and pace to the story. (in other words – excitement)
- ‘It is snowing, as John drives towards the airport. The hire car smells like fear. He drives faster.’
In general, do not include dialogue unless there is a particularly amazing piece of dialogue that is sure to drive the action of the story and I am not talking about blatant exposition. If you aren’t sure what exposition is – read on…
- “The priest put down his cup of tea, took a mean bite from his stale shortbread biscuit and said “well be the hookey, Mary, that’s a great story you’re after telling me about murdering your husband to be with your lover and burying the dismembered corpse in one of the freshly dug graves up in yonder graveyard – now, would you like a Hail Mary with that?”
2. NAME AND DESCRIBE MAIN CHARACTERS
Describe your main characters briefly; they will develop further with your story, so there is no need to bury them under too much detail before they have a chance to live. Don’t bore with positivity – be sure to mention weaknesses or flaws – these generate story.
- ‘John is physically strong; with the look of the fisherman he used to be about him. He is not a fisherman now. He owns a fleet and the only fishermen in his life are those he employs. He is a man with a keen sense of purpose. He likes order and routine in his life and has worked hard to establish this.
He knows hard work won’t save him from what is about to happen but killing his wife just might. He does what he’s good at. He carefully weighs the odds.
3. SUMMARIZE THE MAJOR EVENTS IN THE STORY
This is probably the most important part of your synopsis. If you are going to use this document to sell your story – you want to tell your story in such an exciting way that the reader wants to know more, and more…
- ‘Only one person knows the real reason why a ship belonging to John Smith sank – his wife, Nicola. John loves her but he loves his life as it is now. Now, his life is filled with success, money and respect. He doesn’t trust anyone and that includes his beloved Nicola. Still, just one row and she might open her mouth. He has no choice, he must kill her, but there is one thing he doesn’t know…’
4. INDICATE THE POINT OF VIEW
We note from the above that the point of view is that of John. However, if our plan is to switch to his wife’s POV (point of view) in alternate chapters then we need to mention this.
- ‘Nicola knew the moment John kissed her she was in danger. She’d known it from the moment she heard the news. In a way she’d always known it. She didn’t pause before making the call. She’d always had a plan.’
5. THE END
By the way, I can honestly say that the feeling you get from writing ‘The End’ is like no other. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s better than sex but it is an amazing feeling and it definitely beats a cup of tea.
There is much debate about whether to include an ending in a synopsis or outline – or not. I know from experience that if you get a meeting based on your synopsis you will be asked for the ending. So I would include the ending in the synopsis. Don’t forget – you are trying to sell the story.
Think about buyers and sellers. Who is going to buy a story without knowing such crucial information as the ending? For all your buyer knows you might have got fed up and just decided to kill all the characters in your ‘Edwardian’ novel in a plane crash. Or, you may have no clue about how to end a story. You don’t have to be overly detailed but you should indicate how you intend to resolve the issues you have explored – after all it’s your story.
I hope you found this useful and if you liked quick steps to writing a synopsis I am sure you will also like the following exercises too.
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Best of luck with your writing.