Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How to Write a Synopsis

Okay, so I've spent some time on how to write query letters. I've had some people request that I give some secrets for writing a synopsis.

Sadly, I suck at synop's just like everyone else on the planet. But I do have a skeleton system that I use.

First, everything I say from here on out will make a heap more sense if you go to Author Dan Wells' site and read his Seven Points of Story Structure. (I've met Dan and he's written two AMAZING novels, so you should get and read those too (I Am Not A Serial Killer and Mr. Monster), but most of all, click on his video or powerpoint for these seven points.)

Once you've gone through the powerpoint and wondered how on earth you've written a book without this information, you're ready to write a synopsis. Now, don't freak out, but you're going to start with a 7-sentence synop.

So sit down, crack your knuckles, think of your story, and write ONE SENTENCE for each of these areas:

  • Hook - how the story starts
  • Plot Turn 1 - introduces the main conflict - moves the story toward the midpoint
  • Pinch 1 - introduces the villain/pressure to force action
  • Midpoint - the point at which your story moves from beginning to ending
  • Pinch 2 - more pressure/problems, so many that the situation appears hopeless
  • Plot Turn 2 - the MC has what they need to overcome the main conflict - moves the story from midpoint to ending
  • Resolution - how your story ends

In fact, Dan advises that you actually think about all these things BEFORE you write your story (Hey, don't look at me! You know I don't do this), which means that technically, you should be able to write your synop before you write the novel.

So give it a try. I especially like slide #46 as a means to write the skeleton of your synopsis. Okay, so go, write, conquer.

Coming up next week: How to fill out your skeletal 7-sentence synop.

What do you think? Isn't Dan amazing? Can you write a synopsis in only 7 sentences?

51 comments:

Jess of All Trades said...

You are the shin-diggity. I learned those story points at a conference once... and it makes perfect sense to use them for a synopsis.

Thank you! *offers red vines*

Natalie Aguirre said...

I'll have to check it out later, but it sounds awesome from how you broke it down. Thanks for breaking down the synopsis into a few easy steps.

Erinn said...

This is perfect, thank you. Did anyone tell you you're a rock star lately?

Diane said...

Like the formula to plug into. thanks :O)

Scott said...

Yeah, this would work really well for me since I'm such a detailed planning pre-writer that I scare small children.

Okay, you can stop laughing now, Elana!

I never plan so far in advance with my writing. I just sort of let things flow. I'm a rebel like that!

Of course, a synopsis is in my near future, so I'll be checking out the site. Thanks for the info.

S

Jonathon Arntson said...

Elana, the only appropriate response to this is a hug.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Perfect timing! I have to rewrite my synopsis because of numerous changes in my plot. If there's one thing I hate more than queries, it's the synopsis. Fortunately, most agents don't ask for them.

Michelle Sussman said...

I'll be writing a synopsis for the almost-completed WIP soon!!! Thank you so much!!!

I may give this a shot before writing the next book instead of pantsing it... :D

Meredith said...

Oooh, I'm going to work on this today. Such a good breakdown of how to write a synopsis! And, yes, I probably should have done this before I wrote the book, but better late than never :)

AE Rought said...

Great points to share, Elana. I use them too. I've linked this post to a YA group blog to share the love. http://oasisforya.blogspot.com

Jill Kemerer said...

I use a very similar method for my synopsis. Since I write romance, I work the main characters' goals, motivations, and conflicts in too.

Lydia Kang said...

I'll had to bookmark this for the next synopsis I write. Because I hate writing them soooo much!

Matthew Rush said...

Great advice, thanks Elana.

lynnrush said...

SEVEN sentence synop....okay that's just crazy. LOL.

This is great stuff here. Tough, but great!


And--um--No, I can't write a synopsis in only 7 sentences--------YET!

Janet Johnson said...

Wow, my stomach flip-flops at the thought of 7 sentences. But I'll sure give it a go. Thanks for sharing!

Melody said...

So this just might revolutionize my entire writing style. Thanks Elana!

Elana Johnson said...

Hey, thanks, AE! I'll make sure I get to the blog.

And Lynn, it's only a 7-sentence synop FOR NOW. We're going to fill it out. This is just like a diving board. Or something.

Crimey said...

Timely post since I'm going to be writing a synopsis in the coming weeks. I'll start the 7-sentence structure. Thanks!

Renae said...

Great post Elana! I still say writing the synopsis is harder than writing the entire novel!

Tom M Franklin said...

great post with a great challenge.

i'm eager to give it a try. choosing the exact words for each sentence will require considerable thought and patience.

...

Krista said...

Excellent idea! I love Dan's Story Structure. I'll have to keep that in mind. I tend to get a little wordy.

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Dude. That just broke it ALL the way down for me. In the end game now, only a handful of scenes until THE END. Which means this synopsis trick is SOOOO right on time. Thanks!

Jemi Fraser said...

This is great - I'm working on that lovely synopsis right now so this is perfect timing :)

Robert Guthrie said...

Soooooo helpful.

Jan Markley said...

Good post. Lots of good info!

Kenda said...

All my studying up on the dreaded synopsis, and yet in one post you've given me the best help ever! Thanks. Just what I'm needing when I need it :-)

Krispy said...

Ooh, thanks! Definitely bookmarking that. Hopefully, it'll help me clear up some things.

ali said...

Dan IS amazing. Thanks for the points and the linkage E!

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Woohoo tips for synopsis writing! Holy cow I can't believe I just woohooed synopsis writing. Thinking about it kinda makes me cringe.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Thanks! I watched the you tube version of Dan Wells and printed out a couple slides. Who knew... the power was in my...shoes! :) Your posts are so helpful.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's an easy formula to follow.

Medeia Sharif said...

Thank you. I'm going to save this formula.

Christy said...

Perfect timing! I am sludging through my middle and I don't know for sure how it's going to end. I will back up and skeleton it out. I linked to your post on my blog.
www.christydorrity.com

Carolyn V. said...

Dan is amazing. I went to his lecture and had one of those a-ha moments. Great post Elana!

kathrynjankowski said...

I love the simplicity of this. Thanks, E!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Yes! I love how you broke this down. I am bookmarking this post because I have to write at least one synopsis within in the next two weeks and it's scaring me! Thanks!

Paul Greci said...

Thanks, Elana!! This looks very useful:-)

Holly Ruggiero, Southpaw said...

I'll try that the next time around and see if it helps.

Shelley Sly said...

Wow, this is really, really helpful! I struggle a lot with synopses. Thank you for posting! :D

maureen said...

Hi Elana,
Thats a useful scaffold to hang a synopsis on.
Best wishes for WriteOnCon.
I ran a similar conference, a first for our country last year, not online tho. It is a huge undertaking and a crazy mad fun time. Look after yourself...and pat yourself on the back. The sheer organisation of such an event makes you a leader in the industry!
I was happy to talk about WriteOn Con on my blog. Thank you for stopping by.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the helpful insight. I think structure makes difficult tasks like these much easier to handle.

reberto.alberto said...

Hi there!

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We do think that you too might have a marvelous story to tell, one that is your own! So if you can compose it in not more than few words, we would want to hear from you. Also, you stand a chance to get your story published on our site and win cash prize of USD 100.

“Then what are you waiting for? …put on your thinking cap and get writing. For registration and other information check - http://bit.ly/short-story-contest-2010

Happy writing!

Bethany Wiggins said...

I wish I had this two months ago!

Falen (Sarah) said...

i starred this post.
I haevnt' had to write one yet, but i can already tell you i know i'm going to hate it.
Good thing i'm mostly a plotter and have brief "outlines" that will probably help

Regina said...

That's a lot to think about. I don't think I could do it in seven. But it is something to strive for. Thanks for the post.

Margo Berendsen said...

I read the entire powerpoint presentation and I esp. loved where he takes the structure and applies it to romance and other genres.

I did a book review today, and just for fun I applied the seven points to Ever, by Gail Carson Levine. I found a perfect fit! Definitely going to try this with my own stories now too.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I *am* lookin' at you. I'm hacking through one of these bad boys and it is a grueling experience. Thanks for the tips.
~ Wendy

Heather said...

I love the idea of a skeleton to get a synopsis started. Ironically that makes it seem much less frightening! LOL! I'm off to click on Dan's link.

foldingfields said...

I think is very helpful and concise. I've read through and done lots of worksheets that go into some super great detail, which only makes it harder for me to think of the overall picture. I like the number 7. Will be trying this.

Melody said...

First off, this post introduced me to Dan Wells' videos and powerpoint, and they pretty much changed my writing life. So, thank you, Elana, from the bottom of my heart. Seriously. I do not know how I've written without it.

Also, did you ever write a continuation of this synopsis series? I just discovered that I had to write one for my MS {alas, I thought I was donedoneDONE!}, and I'm trying not to panic. :)

Nicky Reich said...

If you are looking for some tips, you should visit this page to find some hints on how to write synopsis or book review.
You will find there tips and examples to learn better

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