Monday, April 4, 2011

6 Steps to Writing a Book Synopsis

Synopsis writing is often dreaded by novelists.

Here are a few suggestions which should help make this difficult task a little easier.

1. Making an enumerated list of what's going on in a story from beginning to end helps a writer see his complete story in a nutshell.

2. From that list the writer should identify major scenes or points in the plot. These plot points, the ones the story needs to survive, should be included in the synopsis.

3. Identifying important facts about the characters is crucial. What they look like doesn't matter so much in a synopsis, but essential facts such as their objectives, motivation, determination, etc. are critical in fleshing out who these people are and what they want. Story relies heavily on characters. As with identifying plot points, it can help to make an enumerated list of facts about the characters and choose from them which aspects of these fictional people must be illustrated in the synopsis.

Once this preliminary work is completed, the writer is ready to put the synopsis together.

4. The opening. Grab the editor's attention with a good opening hook. Here's an example of an attention-getting hook which I could use for my book "Stolen Son."

A year after his wife dies, Rafe Wallace discovers his five-year-old adopted son was kidnapped when he was a baby--by Rafe's wife--and the adoption is illegal.

5. The middle. Here the author writes a novel-like story in a few pages giving the main plot points and character information as gathered from the pre-writing exercises suggested above.

It is of the utmost importance the writer makes it clear in the body of the synopsis just what the essential conflict is between the main characters.

In "Stolen Son" Rafe devises a plan to get to know the birth mother of his son so he can find out what kind of person she is. He knows he must set things right, but he won't risk bringing the birth mother into his son's life if she's a "bad" person.

The conflict: He falls in love with her, and he knows he'll lose her when he tells her the truth about her kidnapped son. Once he reveals the truth, how do they work together in their son's best interest, and how do they handle the strong feelings they have for each other--the good and the bad?

"Stolen Son" is quite dramatic. Therefore, conflict should be peppered throughout a synopsis written for this book in order to convey the intensity of the plot.

6. The conclusion of the synopsis must include the ending of the story. Answer all the questions raised in your plot description. A writer must not "leave the editor hanging" thinking this will encourage her to want to read the book. She needs to know the complete story in order to decide if she'd be interested in reading the book and considering adding it to her publisher's collection.

These six steps are an overview of synopsis construction. It is important to keep in mind there are many details which are essential to making a synopsis flow smoothly and pique an editor's interest. Some quick points:

A. Use present tense in telling the story.

B. Use third person for the synopsis even if the book is written in first person.

C. Keep the synopsis as short as possible while still telling the complete story.

D. Using dialogue in a synopsis isn't usually a good idea unless the writer feels a brief bit of dialogue is essential in illustrating a character trait or plot point.

E. Choosing strong, descriptive verbs and nouns and eliminating adjectives and adverbs as much as possible will give the synopsis more punch with fewer words.

I wish I could say this lesson is "Synopsis Writing Made Easy," but, in the 10 plus years I've been writing, I've always been in the group of writers who think writing synopses is one of the hardest parts of being an author.

Good luck with whatever you're writing this week!


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

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