Novel Synopsis: How to Write a Synopsis for your Novel
Deep within the Stronghold of Seclusion, in the Ice Woods of Perpetual Revision, far beyond the Thrice Barred Gates of Insanity, sits a Superhero.
Who is this masked superhero? Nobody knows. All we know is they have given everything. Everything.
A single tear of joy slides from beneath The Writer’s mask as they type the last words on the last page of the Manuscript of Destiny.
The Writer pauses. The very atmosphere shivers with anticipation. The masterpiece is complete. Soon the world shall know of its power.
The Writer consults his Book of Arcane Writing Knowledge. Written in gold on the page is a horrific command. The Writer’s blood freezes at the sight:
Submissions should include a one page summary of the novel.
The Writer’s scream of despair echoes through the frozen corridors of the Stronghold of Seclusion, unheard.
The Dreaded Novel Synopsis
Why do we writers hate producing a novel synopsis? Probably because, as authors, we’re very close to the story. We know every sentence of the novel and how it fits with the others to tell the story. Now we’re being asked to throw 99% of that away. Which makes us feel a bit like this:
Plus, a lot of stories sound a bit rubbish when you summarise them. All the subtlety disappears, most of the characterisation is eliminated. Even the twists and turns of the plot sound a bit lame when stated baldly.
No wonder we hate the synopsis.
Are all these problems inevitable? To an extent. You can’t take a hundred thousand words and turn them into five hundred without something going missing. Does that mean your novel synopsis has to be a limp, pathetic document that doesn’t do your awesome story justice?
We need something powerful, a heroic novel synopsis. One that’s:
- Faster to read than a speeding bullet.
- Clearer than a polished diamond.
- Able to leap entire chapters in a single bound.
We need a:
Short Synopsis of Power!
The Synopsis of Power: Format
Length: 500 – 600 words (one page of A4, single spaced or two pages double spaced).
Tense: Third-person, present tense regardless of how the novel is written.
The Synopsis of Power: Content
Tip : First read Archetypes that Make Your Story Resonate and find your story’s archetypes – particularly the
PROTAGONIST, ANTAGONIST, QUEST, PRIZE/GOAL and GUARDIANS
- Start with the SETTING – when and where the story is set.
- Next introduce the PROTAGONIST.
- Explain the first PROBLEM that the protagonist faces.
- Introduce the ANTAGONIST who is causing the problem.
- Show how and why the protagonist sets out on their QUEST.
- Describe the chronological sequence of GUARDIANS (friends, enemies, clues, events etc.) that the PROTAGONIST deals with.
- Explain how CONFLICT (internal or external) complicates the protagonist’s QUEST.
- Finally, show how the protagonist completes their quest and to what extent they reach their PRIZE/GOAL.
Tips on Writing the Short Synopsis of Power
- Remember the antagonist is not necessarily another person.
- Cut adverbs and adjectives from your synopsis – write as minimally as you canDon’t:
- Mention any characters you don’t have to. Just include the Protagonist, Antagonist and the main Guardians.
- Include the subplots in the synopsis.
- Include any unnecessary detail, description, or explanation.
- Write a ‘blurb’ of the sort you’d find on the back cover of a book, the Synopsis of Power tells all of the story, it does not tease the reader.
How to Boil the Novel Down for the Synopsis
Use the Killogator™ Formula
One trick to try when cutting chapters down to size is the same one we used in Writing a Killer Logline. In the same way we can cut the story to a single sentence we can cut each chapter to a sentence.
So, try using the Killogator™ formula on each chapter:
In a (SETTING) a (PROTAGONIST) has a (PROBLEM) (caused by an ANTAGONIST) and (faces CONFLICT) as they try to (achieve a GOAL).
Having each chapter summarised in a single sentence will be a great start to building your synopsis.
Talk to Someone
Another trick is to get a friend and sit down with a voice recorder. Then tell them the plot of your novel. Listen to the questions they ask. Transcribe the conversation and pick out the best bits. You might find that your story flows more naturally in a conversation.
Do What Works
Test, test, test! Combine the best bits from trying the processes above and keep working until you have the one page synopsis your novel deserves. In the end you should be able to read the synopsis to a friend and their response should be “Wow, sounds great!” Keep working until you get that response.
Examples of Novel Synopsis
My book reviews include single page synopsis.
- The Riddle of the Sands
- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
- The Thirty-Nine Steps
- Casino Royale
- Rogue Male
- Ice Station Zebra
- The Day of the Jackal
By the way: writing a novel synopsis’ of other writers’ books is a great way to practice summarising, because it’s a lot easier than doing your own!
This method of writing a novel synopsis worked for me. When I entered the Terry Prachett Prize I had to submit a one page summary of my novel, A Kill in the Morning. The novel was shortlisted for the prize, which lead to it being bought and published by Transworld.
Read the opening of the published novel for free by clicking here or on the cover:
So, next time you’re trying to write a one page novel synopsis, don’t despair, just remember:
Good luck! And once you’ve got it nailed, remember your novel synopsis is just one of the three parts of an Irresistible Elevator Pitch that you’ll need to sell your novel!
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