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The anatomy of a short synopsis

So...I spent Monday writing a synopsis. I used to love them. But, I am out of practice. So I went through all of my previous synopses and notes on writing them and ventured back into the land of few words. 

And then I wrote this post, just so I would remember how to do this next time.

See, for me, writing a synopsis can seem a daunting task - more so now that editors and agents are asking for shorter and shorter ones. I mean, just how do you take your 70K novel and shrink it into something around 500 words?

It starts with taking a close look at your story arc and your tag line. Yep, that’s right – you need to know your plot!

For me, I find it easiest to use a similar plot structure to our friends in screenwriting. By boiling your story down to 5 or 6 stages, with transitions, you will be able to not only write a concise synopsis, but see any plot holes as well.

Here are the typical stages and transitions I use when developing a story. The labels are called different things, maybe - but the basic flow is the same:

  • STAGE 1: Opening set up – Here the MC and his “normal world” is introduced
    • Transition #1: Initial Challenge or Problem – this is the problem the MC must solve

  • STAGE 2: New Scenario  - A new situation or scenario is developed as a direct result of the MCs choices regarding the initial challenge
    • Transition #2: Mini Crisis – this is the event that changes the initial goal of the MC and sets them on a new path

  • STAGE 3: Edge of Adventure – The MC is working to achieve his goal
    • Transition #3: Point of No Return – the MC fully commits to the new goal

  • STAGE 4: Complications – The MC is tested and the stakes are raised as complications arise, blocking the MC and his goal
    • Transition #4 – Despair – The MC is ready to give-up

  • STAGE 5: Transformation – The MC pulls himself together in order to make a final push towards his goal
    • Transition #5 – Climax – The MC faces the final obstacle to achieving his goal

  • STAGE 6: Resolution – The final outcome is revealed

To write your synopsis, write a sentence or two for each of the stages and transitions outlined above. Start with your long-line or elevator pitch and go from there, carefully addressing each stage. Kept the voice active throughout the synopsis and be careful about overwritten phrasing. You want to keep the synopsis functional. Finally, be sure to tell the entire story – there are typically no cliff-hangers when writing a synopsis.

As I mentioned earlier, reducing your story to a 500-world summary of the major plot stages serves to illuminate any holes in your storyline. For that reason, I like to write the synopsis out at the start of the writing process – just to make sure I have a well-crafted storyline. What do you think?

Happy writing!


  1. yep, best way to do it :) And I think your synop rocks! :D

  2. This was SO HELPFUL, Christine. I'm so glad you posted it! :-)

  3. Awesome post. This one is getting bookmarked!

  4. Very helpful post, and I can see the advantages of doing this at the start of the writing process. If only I were organized enough for it! :)


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