Writing a Solid Synopsis

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Here is a question that has been niggling at me regarding the challenge of writing a solid synopsis:

Why is it that an author who can craft a novel by churning out an entire 50,000 or 100,000+ words, often finds writing a solid synopsis so difficult?

There are many answers to this question, one being that after you have spent months building a world and populating it with fully-realized, multi-dimensional people, it’s difficult to force yourself to filter that entire multi-layered novel down into a couple of pages containing the heart and bones of the story. It feels a bit like butchering a pet calf.

And, while in some ways a synopsis is a supposed to be the entire story boiled down to “just the facts, ma’am,” a well-written synopsis must also express the point of the story, provide insight into who the main characters are and why they matter, and include the key plot points. “Why not just read the novel?” the frustrated writer may well ask.

But in thinking about the synopsis, I have realized that a big part of why it is so difficult to write, especially for fiction writers, is because a synopsis isn’t fiction.

“What?” I imagine the fiction writer saying as they read this. “But it is a synthesized version of my book, my story, my fiction.”

All true.

However, if you think of writing a synopsis as a form of copy writing (which is very different than crafting a novel, and even a non-fiction book) and apply some of the tools used for that, it might just make the process easier.

Let’s start by exploring what Robert W. Bly calls “The 4 Cs of Effective Writing.” Bly posits that a good piece of copy is Clear, Concise, Compelling and Credible. (These are also useful tools for use in writing a good query, which is a form of persuasive writing. But let’s save that for another post.)

If you consider what makes a good synopsis, Bly’s 4 Cs are especially useful.

  • Clarity, because it is critical to provide a clear picture of what the book is about.
  • Concise, because the story must often be boiled down into two pages and sometimes fewer.
  • Compelling, because you must give the reader (generally an agent or editor) a reason to want to read the entire work.
  • Credible, because you must convince the reader/agent/editor that the story works.

How do you get clarity on your story? Know the point you are trying to make and why you must write it.

Being concise is a matter of cutting away the extraneous components and narrowing down what really matters. Subplots and set dressing are all targets for the cutting room floor.

To make it compelling, you need to show why the reader should care. What is at the heart of the story that will matter to readers?

Credibility shows in the way your plot points tie together. Things happen for a reason. Consider the Pixar Storytelling formula, “Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.”

Thinking of the synopsis as copy/technical writing, might just allow you to let go of the deeper world and character that you have spent so much time crafting, and give yourself the space to step back and see your story from a different perspective. Sometimes, just a little distance from the original creative effort, a small shift in mindset, is all it takes.

If you are still struggling to get your synopsis written and you’re looking for an easier way to develop these 4Cs and get a strong start on a solid synopsis, you might want to check out Blueprint for a Book by Jennie Nash. Or consider hiring a Book Coach to help you with this work.



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