Writing Discussion

The Joys of Synopsis Writing

I had a beat sheet ready, with one line describing every scene in the novel, so I thought, “Writing a synopsis? No problem!” It didn’t really turn out that way. It wasn’t too difficult, but it took more strategy than I thought it would.  The hardest part was trying to find out which points were the most relevant to the story, while still keeping something of a feel for the tone of the novel.

Things I tried (some of which worked better than others):

1) I started out writing 2-3 sentences describing every chapter in the novel. This resulted in a 13 page synopsis (double spaced) which is too long, but I thought might make a good base to begin cutting from.

2) Next I tried merging sentences, cutting out characters, and culling unimportant scenes. This got the synopsis down to 8 pages, then I tried to get ruthless, and got it down to 5.

3) It still wasn’t short enough, so I removed all subplots. This got the synopsis down to 2 pages (single spaced), which I somewhat liked.

But, the biggest challenge was the 1 pager. I didn’t think I could do it, which is of course is why I had to try. I eyed that 2 page synopsis backwards and forwards, but I couldn’t find anything else I could cut. In the end, I started with a blank page.

4) I wrote a one paragraph introduction, divided the story into 4 parts, wrote one paragraph summarizing each part, then added one short paragraph to conclude. It just fit! Barely!

Even if you aren’t planning on submitting your novel anywhere, I’d recommend trying to write a synopsis (or four – hah!). It’s quite enlightening standing back and weeding the core story out of all those words.

Have you had any experience writing a synopsis of your writing? How did it turn out?

P.S. If you want to see a synopsis of beauty, and have either watched or read The Game of Thrones, check out the plot summary on Wikipedia. Someone’s managed to summarize an 807 page novel into two pages (I copy pasted to check out the length).

10 Comments

  1. Oh gosh, no. Haven’t slayed that beast yet, haha. Though, after reading your methods and results, I will probably try summarizing my story in parts, since I already tend to think of it in this way, and just work from there. (I have a feeling that if I tried to use all my brief scene descriptions it would be much, much too long…)

    I guess the good news is if someone can consolidate A Game of Thrones (which was apparently close to 300K words long) into two pages, then it’s more than possible in my case as well, lol.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Funny, but #1-3 is exactly the process I used! And it wasn’t fun, but I think it turned out well. (Though I guess it’s hard to say since I never got feedback on it…)

    1. Hehe yeah I don’t know if what I came up with is all that great, or how closely someone would read it. Less pressure than query writing though, which is why I wanted to try it out first.

  3. I wrote a synopsis for the novel I was querying and I gave it to my boyfriend to read. He said it was okay, but he didn’t understand why it didn’t read like my flash. Well, because it’s a summary! That of course is not a good answer. So I started over and thought about my flash. I only put in the most crucial items that still left an emotional impact. Every word counts. That one turned out MUCH better so that’s my new philosophy. Write it like a flash. It’s not easy, that’s for damn sure, but I had the best results.

    1. That’s a really good tip Dani! I didn’t consider emotional impact, and I think I’ll go back and check that. It does sound more appealing than just thinking ‘summary’.

  4. Well, there’s no true synopsis for “Book of M”, yet… unless you count my 30-second pitch summary. But the pitch summary focuses in on the first third of the book – which is the only part of the book that I have clearly figured out in my head. I’m slowly working my brain through the second and third acts, but it’s still spotty.

    1. It’s one of those things that needs to wait for the whole story to be written. It’s great that you already have a pitch summary though. I find that can also be tricky to figure out. I still don’t have one for The Golden Thread 🙂

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