Writerly Weds: The Anatomy of a Short Synopsis - Part 1

Welcome to Writing Weds - a semi-monthly post dedicated to the craft of writing. For the next two weeks I am tackling the dreaded Synopsis. This post, originally written in July 2010, has gotten more hits than any post written on that blog of this blog. Something about it just resonates with people...

So, I've decided to repost it here and write the second part (which never actually got posted back in 2010) next week.

**Originally posted here**

After playing around on the interwebz this week I discovered a theme emerge among my writerly buds...lots of angst over the dreaded synopsis. Now, I'm not saying writing a synopsis is a piece of cake - far from it. But, there is a way to do it that s a little less painful.
The editors, agents and published authors I've spoken with have all said that shorter is better when it comes to the synopsis.

WHAT? SHORTER...It's hard enough cramming the storyline of a 70 - 80K novel into a few pages single spaced. Now I need to cram it into 500 words or so. CRAZY! True...but totally doable too.
That is, once you really KNOW the arc of your story.

That's right, a synopsis can be an easy endeavor, relatively speaking, if you have taken the time to plot out your story arc.

For me, the easy way to do this is to "borrow" a little structure advice from our friends - the screenwriters. All dramatic movies and TV shows follow a similar structure - 5 or 6 stages that lead the viewer from the opening scenes to the final climax and resolution. Nail down these stages with your own novel, including the turning points that transition one stage to the next, and you will have the structure of your story. Here's a quick list of each of the stages and plot turns in a typical story:
  • Opening set up - The MC is introduced in the "normal world".
  • Initial challenge  - The problem the MC needs to solve.
  • Reaction or new scenario - A new scenario occurs for the MC as a direct result of the choice the MC makes regarding that opportunity
  • Mini Crisis - An event occurs that changes everything and a new goal is made
  • Edge of Adventure - The MC works towards his new goal
  • Point of no return - The MC fully commits to achieving the goal - to his journey
  • Complications - The MC is tested and the stakes are raised as new complications arise
  • Despair - The MC in despair as he hits a major set back in his plans
  • Transformation  - The MC pulls himself together to face the final obstacles to his goal
  • Climax - The MC faces the final obstacle standing between him and his goal
  • Resolution - The outcome of the final confrontation.
Now that the stages are clear, go through your story and write a sentence or two for each of these sections of your story.

In the next post, we'll take our sentences and write the synopsis! And yes, I'll use a popular movie as an example.

See, not so bad...right?


  1. Thank you for this concise approach! I'm reworking a synopsis today so this is perfectly timed :)

  2. Great advice! I usually dread the synopsis, but once I dig in, it's not so bad!


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