How To Write a Synopsis For Your Novel

How To Write a Synopsis For Your Novel, Guest post by Marty Thornley

How To Write a Synopsis For Your Novel, 

Guest post by Marty Thornley 

One of the most difficult things for any writer to do is to take the newly finished masterpiece that they have worked on forever and reworked and edited and reworked and edited… and chop it up into a synopsis. Any long-form project, like a novel or screenplay, will have all the characters and backstory and sub-plots and all that other stuff that was so important, it required well… a long-form story. So how do you tell the same story without all that?

How To Write a Synopsis For Your Novel, Guest post by Marty Thornley
The first attempt at writing a synopsis will be painful. That is okay. That is how it goes. However, it is definitely worth it. In fact, I highly recommend writing a synopsis after you consider the project done, but BEFORE you let anyone else know that you consider it done.

One of the great side-effects of trying to break your own story down into a simpler form, a quick pitch that can get the story across to someone who does not know every detail, is that it will help expose any weaknesses in the concept, the plot, the characters, the tone, the genre, and so on. One of the great joys of writing is that you get lost in that world, the same way you do when reading a book or watching a film. The problem with that is that it all makes sense to you like a dream makes sense as you are dreaming. But, have you ever woken up and tried to explain a dream? It does not always translate, and you realize, now that your awake and not trapped in that dream world, there are some gaps in the logic. Some plot holes, if you will.

I do not want to give advice on how long a synopsis should be, or what it should include, or whether it should be a sales pitch or just the facts of the story. You will usually see those described when someone asks for a synopsis. Oh… Did I mention? You will have to do LOTS of different versions of a synopsis! Maybe a 10-page, maybe a 3-5 page, maybe a 1-page… Then there is the couple of paragraphs for the back of the page or the Amazon listing. Then, of course, there is the one or two line pitch, known as a logline in the film world.

So here is how I approach it.

Start in pieces and don’t worry about length at first. Like I said, you may have to produce any number of these, so if one runs long, that’s fine. Try some realistic goals, like a paragraph for each chapter. Maybe a page for each section, if you break your book up into three or four sections or acts. That might get you anywhere from 3-10 pages. When you barely introduce the main characters, and you are onto page two, you will see immediately how difficult a one-pager will be.

This is where you might start to freak out. How am I EVER going to cram my epic tale onto one page? Don’t worry, just keep going. Or… Look back and start cutting. Summarize that page or two in a paragraph. Then the next page or two in another paragraph. And so on.

One thing to keep in mind, especially if you are working on a shorter synopsis is that you will only have the space to mention the main protagonist and antagonist and possibly hint at anyone else. Keep the story details to the main plot line.

I like to imagine that I am telling someone about a movie I loved, but they have not seen it yet, and I don’t want to give away any spoilers. As much as you want to reveal it all, would you really walk out of The Sixth Sense and tell someone the ending? Would you walk out of The Empire Strikes Back and say “You won’t believe who Darth Vader really is?” No.

So, write it like that. It should be a teaser. You want people to read your book, right? If you tell them every detail, why should they read it? Like describing a film you loved, mention the main character, the opening situation in detail, then use broad strokes for the middle, and build up to a tease of the ending that makes them eager to read your epic masterpiece, where you don’t have to leave out anything at all.

How To Write a Synopsis For Your Novel, Guest post by Marty Thornley
Marty started writing short stories as a teenager, inspired as much by favorite books and movies as the environment and characters that define the South Shore of Massachusetts. The pull of the movies dragged him first to film school and finally to Los Angeles, where he poked at the outskirts of the industry with screenplays and short films.

As his interest in a film career fizzled, he rebuilt himself bit-by-bit as a programmer. He spent the next decade building websites, finally realizing that something had been lost. His stories were collecting dust in the back of his brain while he sat through conference calls and code reviews.

So he returned to the woods of New England and the calming darkness under the trees. He returned to find the things that crawl in the undergrowth and turn them into words on the page. He dusted off one of his screenplays and turned it into his first novel. In the process, a dormant storyteller was awakened and is now seeking the next blank page to fill.

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How To Write a Synopsis For Your Novel, Guest post by Marty Thornley


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