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).