Let’s do this thang.

Now, just like there are an infinite, beautiful variety of ways to tackle writing a novel, so too are there various different methods you can use to write a kickass synopsis. We’ve outlined some of them below for your pleasure. YES, PLEASURE. ‘Cause you’re gonna do this, and you’re gonna feel so smug when you get it right. A bit like this

Gif of Data from Star Trek looking particularly smug.
Yeah bitch, I wrote that.

So. Read through the different techniques below, decide which one works for you (or merge together your own combo), take a deep breath, and have a crack at writing a FIRST DRAFT of your synopsis.

[Note: Did we mention this is a first draft? Did we mention that it’ll probably be pretty rubbish first time round? Did we mention that it doesn’t matter at this point? Just get SOMETHING down, then make good use of the forum to hone and redraft until you get it RIGHT.]

THE CHAPTER BY CHAPTER APPROACH:

Take that shiny manuscript of yours and summarise each chapter in a sentence or two. Once you’ve got a nice little list of summaries, start linking them together until you have a decent representation of your story. You might find there are some chapters that can be skimmed over, or merged together. Others might need to be expanded into an entire paragraph. Focus on highlighting the central turning points of your plot, and keep your eye character development to make sure you show how your protagonist is affected by the story’s events at every turn.

HIT ALLLLL THE PLOT POINTS:

Make a bullet list of all the major plot points of your novel: every major turning point in your story; every moment your character changes or has a revelation or reacts to something; every scene that creates forward movement in your plot and causes your characters to develop. And then, just like the chap-by-chap method, find a way to link all those points together – join the dots until they run smoothly into one another and build up an overall picture of your story.

THREE-ACT STRUCTURE:

This one’s a slightly more formal version of the plot point technique, using a traditional three-act structure of storytelling. In essence, you divide your novel into three ‘acts’ like so:

Act 1 sets up the world of your novel and introduces the characters. By the end of Act 1 your protagonist will have encountered an ‘inciting incident’, a catalyst, or a point of no return that sets them on their adventure.

Act 2 escalates the story even further – your protag encounters challenges, learns about their strengths and weaknesses, resolves minor problems and follows the twists and turns of your plot. Eventually, they’ll hit crisis point, where everything seems lost and they’re not sure if they can go on…

Act 3 is all about the climax. The will-they-won’t-they succeed moment. Protag beats bad guy/suffers crippling loss/learns important lesson and resolves the story. Boom.

Tackling your synopsis in three parts can be a bit less daunting, and lets you segment your story into clear sections of set-up, action and resolution. Nice.

FOLLOW THE CHARACTER ARC:

Forget about plot for a minute. What about your protagonist? Where do they start their story? What do they want? What hurdles do they have to clamber over? What losses do they suffer? What lessons do they learn? What relationships do they forge? Where do they end up?

Character development drives plot, and plot develops character. Action, reaction, action, reaction. If you follow the arc of your central character’s emotional and physical journey, chances are you’ve got a good summary of your overall story right there.

THE SHORT STORY:

Start from scratch. Retell your novel in the form of flash fiction, in fewer than 1000 words. Cut to the core of your story – the beating heart that makes it work – and craft a microcosmic version. Now, this might not end up being even close to your final synopsis but it’s an excellent way to make sure that you insert an element of your writing voice, tone and personality into the damn thang. And once you’ve written your ‘flash novel’, you can start to craft it into a more synopsisy-type structure, keeping the bits that make it uniquely yours.

A note on formatting and logistics:

Before you forge ahead and write this mothersucker, there are a few prerequisites and provisos you should be aware of. We don’t want you to spend hours on your synopsis and then fail to format it properly…

So. What are the rules and regs of the synopsis world?

  • Your synop should be around 2-3 pages double-spaced or 1 page single-spaced.
  • That means around 500-800 words. Keep it under 1000 words or we’ll have to slap you.
  • Stick the word ‘synopsis’, your name, and your book title on the first page, as well as in the header of any additional pages (plus page numbers if necessary). Some agents also want the word count in there somewhere. It ain’t gonna hurt to add that too.
  • Write that shit in third person present tense – that means: “Harry Potter is an orphan who lives under the stairs with no hope of escaping his awful aunt, uncle and cousin – until one day an owl delivers a letter telling him he’s a wizard…”
  • Every time you introduce a new major character, type their name in CAPITALS. Thereafter, use normal grammar/formatting like a normal person.
  • Don’t forget to include the ending. A bunch of teasing, leading, partially-rhetorical questions WILL NOT DO. Don’t say: “Will Harry discover who is trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone?” Don’t say: “Face to face with the greatest dark wizard the world has ever known, will Harry find a way to save the stone, protect the stone, and live to adventure his way through another six books?” We’re not looking for a cliffhangery ‘find out next week on Synopsis Time!’ – an agent needs to know how your story ends or they might just go “meh, this person has no idea how to finish a story.”

Alright. It’s about time you buckled down and had a go. Don’t panic. We’re just aiming for a first draft, remember. Even a brainstorm will do. A page of notes. A list of scenes. An outline. We’ll refine and beautify it later.

EXERCISE: YOUR FIRST DRAFT

Pick one (or a few) of the approaches above and just have a go. Then share your attempts on the forum for feedback and pom-pom waving and gold stars. Take some time to critique and comment on other people’s synopses, too – sharing is caring, people.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Your first attempt will probably be hideous. That’s fine. That’s to be expected. Getting something – anything – down at this point is a good start. It’ll also hopefully show you where your sticking points are, so you can post a HELP ME thread on the forum and we’ll all come rushing in to sort you out.

Now go.

Go.

Why are you still here?

GO.

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