Marji Laine

I Love a Good Mystery!


Writing a Synopsis

I’ve learned quite a lot about writing synopses over the last several weeks. Mostly from my failures. I’m still not sure I have everything together, yet, but I thought I should at least share what I have learned.

The summary has to cover the major plot points and address the protagonist’s journey. Efficient, but inclusive, the writing must give

spoilers, completing the picture of the concept. Vague writing has no place in this type of proposal. And while concise, the synopsis should still interest and enthuse. After all, it’s the first impression that an agent or editor will have of a writer. Geared to hook the reader with an overview, a writer’s entry will go a long way to achieving success when the reader comes to the end and is excited to keep going.

Yeah, well, that’s the plan anyway.

I started my synopsis going through my protagonist’s arc. Her regular life and goals started my essay. Then I explained how my inciting incident thwarted her progress. That much was easy, but I write mysteries and suspense. As I tried to describe the plot and all of it’s twist, my writing became hopelessly confused. Even I was confused and I wrote the thing!

So I started over. This time I thought I had a handle on it! I explained my protagonist’s arc from her point of view, then I added a major plot point from the hero’s point of view. From there, I set up the antagonist’s point of view, describing the details of the plot that way and finishing it up with general paragraphs that tied all the strings together.

It was better. Less distracting. But boring. Thank heaven for my critique partners. Lynne GentryJanice Olson, and Kellie Coates Gilbert took me by the hand and walked me through a new process. With their help, and some blogs that I found on the subject, I finally think I have a well-rounded read that hits the high points without becoming confusing or bogging down into details.

Let me tell you how I did it.

First, I used Beth Anderson‘s suggestion of breaking down my story data into single sentences. Doing that, I could easily see what were actual plot points and what subplots got in the way. This became the skeleton for my synopsis.

From there, I used Vivian Beck‘s suggestion of beginning with a back cover hook. She also suggested  an introduction to my characters. I sort of weaved that into the starting place of the story that I’d already figured out. I added the Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts like she suggested too. I’d learned a lot about that from Susan May Warren’s book on the writing craft From the Inside Out.

After that, I went back to my plot points and added each as a couple of sentences. Making sure I used the Action, Reaction, and Decision that Vivian Beck suggested. (And she gives a great example of it!) I’d also learned that before, from a couple of the craft books I’d read. Just hadn’t thought of using it in a synopsis! Bravo!

From there, I added my ending that I’d penned in my skeleton with some muscle and skin on it. But I wasn’t done yet.

As a final section, per Kellie Gilbert’s advice, I nutshelled the protagonist’s arc and a broad theme of the book culminating in the spiritual lesson that my protagonist learned. (I do write Christian fiction!) It easily fits on a single page, reads smoothly, and covers the most important pieces of my story without getting knotted in the myriad of details.

As with any writing, but especially in this first impression piece, avoid to be verbs (passive), unnecessary adverbs or descriptions, and be careful of grammar rules. Oh, and synopsis writing should always be in present tense.

Your Turn: Do you have any tips for synopsis writing? 

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