Writing that dreaded Synopsis

I think putting together a synopsis for a novel is one of the most challenging aspects of writing for ‘new’ writers. I am certainly finding it very difficult. How am I expected to sum up a story that it has already taken me around 90,000 words to tell in only a page or two?

There are numerous methods and techniques out in the either of the web that can help you write a synopsis, and most of these are centred around the various basic story structures that should come together to form a novel.

The basics of a good story...

The basics of a good story…

Here are a few that I’ve been finding useful*:

  • If you need to be taken through every step – maybe because you aren’t clear on your plot, or like to be thorough – try How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel by Glen C. Strathy. This is a Seven Step Programme that will help you identify all of the key points for both the emotional aspects and main arc of your plot
  • If you feel that you have a good grasp of your story and characters, Synopsis Writing Made Easy by James Scott Bell might be better for you. This is a good paragraph by paragraph guide to synopsis writing that starts out with the premise of your novel in just one sentence!
  • I also really like How to Write a One-Page Synopsis, written by Amanda Patterson. This is a great, quick reference to the synopsis writing process – providing you know your main plot points.
  • Finally, I had an excellent recommendation from a friend – actually, my new critique partner, – who has been struggling with a synopsis herself recently. She suggested I check out Dan Wells’ Seven Point Story Structure, recommended by the Self Publishing Toolkit. Not only do they offer worksheets to get you started, but Dan also has some awesome videos on YouTube (Part 1/5 here).
    Having read my friend’s brilliant synopsis yesterday this technique most definitely works.

* It should be noted that if you’re writing a synopsis for querying always check the submission guidelines to see what the agent/publisher expects. 

The biggest issue I have is that my novel doesn’t conform to the standard story structure. The story does – but the novel itself does not. Whilst I have my main story arc (written in 3rd person) between this there are three instances of 1st person story flashbacks from different characters – all of which also have their own story structure included.

Therefore, as it stands, I officially have four stories in one. Writing a standard synopsis, therefore, doesn’t really sum up my novel as a whole. In order to get around this, I’m going to have to play around a little longer with different techniques and see what works best. I suppose I can take solace in the fact that at least it’s not as complex as Cloud Atlas – for which I discovered this basic synopsis.

Once I’ve got a version I’m happy with I’ll be sharing my new synopsis here so you can see how I got on. In the meantime, if you’re interested in the plot of my novel, check out my current ‘book blurb’ on my Novel’s Page.

~~~

Have you struggled writing a synopsis, or did you breeze though it? Any tips or links would be gratefully received via comments. Or, alternatively, Tweet something for my attention @CatLumb

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15 responses to “Writing that dreaded Synopsis

  1. Pingback: The Writer’s Biography | Cat Lumb: The Struggle to be a Writer

  2. Cat, don’t worry about not voting for my story – I’m just pleased to be in such a quality field – anything else that happens to it is a bonus. And I’m glad the story is out there, I was in Iran at the beginning of the revolution and it’s taken me thirty years to distance myself enough from it to be able to write about it, which I have been doing copiously, for the past two years, off and on.
    Love your post on Mindfulness and will now go in search of that cat- why didn’t I think of googling ‘cat reading a newspaper’ – too simple, that’s why.
    best for now
    Sheila.

  3. Cat, hello – sorry, this isn’t about your article here, but I’m not on Twitter and wanted to contact you – At last I can get back to you – I got myself in a bit of a pickle the last time I contacted you a few weeks ago to say how much I enjoyed your blog – I asked you where you got the picture of the cute cat, only to realise after I’d sent it that the cute cat was actually the photo attached to your blog on the Costa Short Stories – and I couldn’t draw your attention to it, as I’m actually one of the writers on the short list and thought that might be too much of a clue! Anyway, the bag is now Costa catless, so I thought I’d say thanks for taking the time to read all the stories and for your thoughtful comments – there have been a couple of blogs where people have taken the time to do that, I really appreciate it when other writers do that, whether it’s my work or not.
    I’m not holding my breath this year – mind you, I didn’t last year either, and was right not to, as it turned out. There are some terrific stories on the list, all with something unique to offer, I think.
    So we’ll see. I guess if nothing else, I can allow myself a little glow about being shortlisted twice. Angela Readman was also shortlisted again, so I’m in good company.
    Thanks again, Cat – and where did you get that terrific cat photo from? ( I’m really soppy about cats).
    Sheila

    • Hi Shelia!

      Good to hear from you again! 🙂 And congratulations for making it onto the short list for the Costa Short Story Award: I’m really pleased for you. I’m also very glad that I commented positively on your story: it really was very sharp and emotional. You should be very proud of it.

      As for the cat photo – it was originally in an email that my dad sent me (one of those round-robin things with lots of cute animal pics to make you giggle) – it did have some words attached but I cut them out to make it fit the blog.

      I have, however, done a quick search and found one that is similar to the email I received here: http://i.weirdnutdaily.com/6bi

      If you do a search for ‘cat reading a newspaper’ it comes up pretty frequently, so you should be able to get a copy for yourself. 🙂 (although, be warned as a cat-lover that image search will distract you for hours!)

      I wish you great luck with the Costa winning announcement – it’s soon isn’t it? Your story would be a deserving winner (even though I didn’t vote for it *embarrassed* – though if I had 2 votes I would have!).

      Thanks for stopping by again, I’m pleased that you did. 🙂
      Take Care,
      Cat x

    • Thanks hon! Hope you find them useful. I’m gearing up to write my synopsis, but still wading through all the info! I think it might be called ‘procrastination’ at this point tho!

      Cheers for the reblog 🙂

  4. Thank you for mentioning me in your post today. I’m proud to be the friend you refer to above 🙂 The number of blog posts on this subject shows just how hard it is to write the synopsis and then as you say, every publisher has different requirements and every story is unique so may not fit any one of the templates suggested above. This is also what I found from my research.

    Will be posting mine up on my blog tomorrow, even though I know it will need more work. All feedback is useful though, right? 😉

    • I’m glad we’re working on our novels together too…learning is a two way process and reading your synopsis has demonstrated how these structures work.
      Hope you get some positive responses from your synopsis – am sure you will, as I loved it! Will be interested to see the responses. 🙂
      Thanks for commenting – and for your support. Novel writing is certainly not a solitary past time anymore!
      Take care, Cat x

    • Thank you for stopping by! Feel free to pop back when I’ve posted up my synopsis to comment! Am going to need all the feedback I can get! 😉
      Take care, Cat

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