Not much strikes fear in the heart of a new writer like having to write a synopsis (or suck-nopsis as an author friend of mine likes to call it.) And they’re not a whole lot of fun for the experienced writer, either. But there are some tricks to make the process a little less harrowing.
The hardest way to approach synopsis writing is to think of the synopsis as simply a summary of the plot.
Not only is it impossible to condense 300 pages into 3 or 4, the final result tends to read like “this happened, and then this happened, and this happened, and finally, this happened.” With a synopsis like this, your prospective editor or agent’s eyes will likely glaze over by the time she reaches the bottom of the first page.
Instead of plot, try focusing on story.
The plot is what happens. The story is many things. It’s conflict, emotion, character arcs, theme and more. In a romance, the emphasis is on character growth and relationship development. Tell us about the characters, the situation, what is wrong, what changes and why. You will be talking about the plot points, but with the focus on how they affect your characters. That way you won’t end up with a dry recitation of event after event.
The length of your synopsis will vary, depending on editorial requirements, but whether it’s two pages or six pages, there are several things it must accomplish:
- Give a clear idea of your book’s core conflict. (Conflict is the engine of your story, the organizing element, the spine that supports the rest of the story.)
- Show us your main characters (both hero and heroine for sure, possibly villain or secondary characters who play major roles).
- Demonstrate what’s at stake for them.
- Show how the conflict is resolved.
The biggest pitfall in writing a synopsis is being too wordy. You have to leave stuff out. You can’t include all the events, or even all the characters. You can’t show all the twists and turns. Cut any unnecessary detail, description or explanation. Make every word count.
Now, where to start. Here is how I like to approach writing a synopsis. You may want to use index cards, with a separate card for each step.
1. Introduce the heroine and the story behind her situation, her goals and motivations. What issues does she struggle with? What themes will be addressed in the story? The information here gives us a glimpse of who she is as a person, not what she looks like.
2. Introduce the hero the same way. Where the story is set should be included in one of these first two paragraphs.
3. Describe the situation that opens the story. This is the moment of change for the characters. Make it clear that the hero and heroine are attracted to one another and why one or both of them are fighting it.
4. At this point, I decide which plot turns/conflicts must be conveyed for everything to make sense and how each affects the main characters. Look for turning points in the romance, events that heighten the conflict between the characters, create character growth, etc.
If using index cards, complete a separate card for each plot point. On the back of each card, note the impact the event has on the characters and how it changes their attitudes, goals and motivations. Include how their initial attraction complicates both their agendas, how their goals and motivations are in conflict with one another and the constant drawing together and pulling apart that happens between the characters. Communicate the tone of the love scenes, how sexy they are, how far things get, and how they impact the romance’s development.
5. Describe the climax and how the core conflict is resolved. The hero and heroine should declare their love for each other, and it should be clear that they have found their HEA.
Then put it all together, using some transition sentences between points so it flows. Once complete, it will probably be much too long. You’ve gotten down what you felt needs to be included, and it’s time to start tightening. You will likely have paragraphs that you find can be omitted once you get to this point. Cut out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.
Now you’re finished. Your synopsis is tightened and polished and includes an intriguing beginning, middle and end, the main plot points and their effect on the characters. Now go through it one more time and change the font color to green on everything related to characterization, red on everything related to the conflict/romance between the hero and heroine, and blue on everything related to the plot. If you have big blocks of blue with no red or green, you’re too heavy on plot and need to add in how those events are changing or creating conflict between the characters. (You will, of course, change it back to black before submitting!)
Here is a short (approximately 500 words) synopsis for my first book, Midnight Shadows, showing the balance between characterization, plot and conflict/romance. It’s very bare bones, due to the minimal word count. If you have four or five pages to work with, you’ll have the space to cover more plot points and delve more deeply into the characters’ goals, motivations, conflicts and growth.
MIDNIGHT SHADOWS SYNOPSIS
After fleeing Atlanta to escape a stalker, Melissa Langston has returned to her small Central Florida hometown. She soon learns that someone else has come home, too—her police detective ex-fiance, Chris Jamison. She wants nothing to do with him, even when she finds herself once again being stalked.
Chris has no plans to stay. He is only there because of his father’s death and intends to sell the house and marine store and leave as soon as possible. Harmony Grove holds only painful memories—of the life he lost and the woman who didn’t love him enough to fight for what they had. Melissa has changed her name, and when he learns why, he is determined to protect her because that’s his job. But as they spend time together and talk through their misunderstandings, he wants to do far more. Melissa’s trust, however, was shattered five years earlier when she found Chris in the arms of her best friend, and even when she learns he wasn’t unfaithful, she isn’t ready to let down her guard.
When Melissa comes home to a broken living room window and notes start appearing on her front door, she is afraid Eugene, the man she fled six months earlier, has found her. Although she is afraid, she pushes away Chris’ concern. She has managed just fine without him for the past five years. Soon, however, that well-guarded control begins to slip through her fingers. Even though all doors and windows are locked, she finds subtle signs that someone has been in the house, signs dismissed by the police…until a note is left on her kitchen table. Since her elderly neighbor is the only other person with a key, she believes the neighbor’s artist grandson might be her stalker. Her suspicions are confirmed when she and Chris discover that someone has been staying in the dilapidated stable at the back of her property. Inside is an artist’s sketch pad filled with charcoal images of Melissa and a masked man participating in a medieval ceremony. When Chris’ brake lines are cut later that night and he is involved in a serious accident, she realizes how much she loves him.
After Chris’ discharge from the hospital, the police bring in the neighbor’s grandson. Melissa returns home, believing she is safe, but when a man forces his way into the car, a familiar tattoo sends waves of terror cascading over her. Eugene has her spare keys which he stole when he broke the window. He kidnaps her at gunpoint and, at a nearby park, forces her to act out with him the ceremony depicted in the sketches. When he speaks of taking a journey to the other side, his meaning doesn’t become clear until he tries to drown her. Melissa’s friend figures out where Eugene has taken her from clues left in the sketches, and she, Chris and the police show up just in time. As Melissa watches Chris walk into her hospital room the following day, her heart swells with love. She is finally ready to let down her guard and trust. He asks her to marry him, and she accepts his proposal without reservation.
I hope this helps to make creating a synopsis a little less daunting. Happy writing!
Jessica Parker left Harmony Grove with bad memories and a vow to never return – until she is called back eight years later to deal with her sister’s suicide. When all the evidence points instead to murder, she is determined to find the killer and bring him to justice. Her handsome new neighbor is eager to help, but she is sure he’s hiding something.
Undercover FBI agent Shane Dalton is in Harmony Grove investigating the crash of a plane full of cocaine and gets more than he bargained for when he runs into Jessica. She’s a little rough around the edges, and he isn’t sure whether she’s involved or is just going to get in his way. But soon it becomes obvious that someone wants Jessica gone from Harmony Grove.
As the threats intensify, Shane finds himself in a race against time to solve both cases. Because the closer they get to the truth, the closer the killer gets to making them his next victims.