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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How To Write A Synopsis the Quick and Easy Way

If you've ever tried to write a synopsis before, you know that it's anything but quick and easy.  Wouldn't it be nice if you could just sink into your beach chair, dig your toes in the sand and toss off your synopsis between sips from a coconut with an umbrella in it?  Obviously, that's not going to happen.  But I'm about to show you the next best thing: a painless way to get your synopsis done in record time.

Ready?

First, grab a stack of index cards and a handful of different colored pens.  (Or grab one pen and a handful of different colored cards.  Whatever works for you.)

Pick a color for your main character.  Take a card and write down the main problem your character faces at the beginning of your novel.  What's wrong in this character's life that desperately needs to be fixed?  Write it out as succinctly as possible.  If you can, get into a single sentence, like this: Jane is a struggling entrepreneur with a great invention but no money to build it.

Now grab another card.  Still using that same color, fast-forward to the end of the story and write down how that problem is resolved.  How are things different now?  If you can, focus on a single specific moment where the protagonist irrevocably ends the problem.  Again, keep it brief.  Example: Jane finally signs a million-dollar deal and starts her own company.

Now, choose a handful of key events that link the beginning of the story to the end.  Write each one on a card, again in a single sentence.  Focus only on the most crucial moments -- no more than, say, six cards.  The trick is to stick with this ONE character and ONE story.  Don't worry about anyone else or any of your subplots.  Just follow this one story line from beginning to end in half a dozen beats.

Once that's done, set those cards aside and take a deep breath.  Now choose a different color and repeat the exercise with your second most important character, then your third.  If you have an important subplot, like a romance, you can do a set of cards for those, too -- but only a few cards!  Focus strictly on the most important events, and leave out the rest.

And yes, you'll have to leave out a lot.  But the simple truth is that your novel is far too long and complex for anyone to condense down to a few pages.  If it was that easy, it wouldn't be much of a novel, would it?

Now comes the fun part.  Spread your cards out on a table (or the floor, if you have to) and put them all in sequential order, from the beginning of the story to the end.  Pretend you’re assembling them into one massive timeline.  If something doesn’t make sense, rearrange the cards as needed.  When you're finished, you should have one thick stack of cards that starts at the beginning of your story and proceeds straight through to the end, like a super-condensed version of your novel.

Which is also known as a synopsis.  How cool is that?

Finally, head to your keyboard and type it all up, straight from the cards.  Put in paragraph breaks where they look good, but don’t worry about changing it too much.  Resist the urge to embellish or explain anything.  If you need to do any of that, you can do it later, when you rewrite it.  For now, just bask in the glow of knowing that you've done an amazing job of writing your synopsis.  Now it's time for coconuts and baby umbrellas!

Do you have a burning writing question?  Want me to look over your synopsis? Just ask!

2 comments:

  1. This is so timely! I'm just about to write a 1,450 word synopsis for a contest, so thanks. This makes synopsis writing slightly less terrifying--good job!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome! Glad you liked it. When you're done, send me the synopsis if you'd like another pair of eyes on it.

    ReplyDelete

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