Show me a writer who enjoys writing a synopsis and you will have shown me a certified masochist. Writing a synopsis is one of the most excruciating ways to torture yourself. I HATE writing a synopsis.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, here are my checklists for writing the Character Based Synopsis and the Plot Based Synopsis:
(For SF/Fantasy, substitute the words, hero/alien for Hero/Heroine)
STEP #1 THE HOOK:
Either a unique opening line in the first character sketch, a bold opening to the heroine/hero, or a snappy/humorous/opening line with an overview of the book’s premise.
STEP #2 INTERNAL CONFLICT:
Two paragraphs, one of the heroine and one for the hero, describing their relevant back story and the key internal conflict they must overcome. You want to focus a bit on the layers here – the past marriages, relationships with parents or pivotal trauma that has molded your character and made her/him who she/he is. This internal conflict will be overcome in a black moment, when your character realizes her/his weakness/fear & leaves it behind in the name of love.
STEP #3 EXTERNAL CONFLICT:
One paragraph, usually the set up that brings the hero and heroine together and establishes the external conflict blocking their way. It could be the hit men trying to kill them, a planet to save from extermination by another species, a murder to solve, brother’s name to clear, serial killer ex-husband, etc.
STEP #4 HERO & HEROINE WORK TOGETHER:
First plot point is usually the one that makes the hero & heroine temporarily overlook their differences and work together.
STEP # 5 INTIMACY:
The forced contact of working together and of course, raging attraction, make the hero/heroine succumb to physical intimacy – whether it be the first kiss, or making love, whatever suits you at this point.
STEP #5 THE MORNING AFTER:
Hero/heroine promptly remember all their fears, fall back on their INTERNAL CONFLICT and reject each other.
STEP #6 HERO/HEROINE WORK TOGETHER AGAIN:
This PLOT POINT normally brings them back together again. (Court case, space pirates, alien invasion, eviction proceedings, missing person, murder, whatever monkey wrench you want to toss into the story at this point.)
STEP #7 is the SHOWDOWN/BLACK MOMENT:
This is the PLOT POINT/ TURNING POINT where you need a big showdown to bring everything up to a high tension level.
STEP # 8 is the RESOLUTION:
The bad guys are now revealed/caught. The situation changes and is reversed. The Hero/Heroine are reunited.
The advantage of this type of story outline is that it uses the external conflict to develop your characters’ relationship with each other. It also focuses on the layers of your characters and their journey to self-realization. Any editor who is biased toward character will favor this type of outline/synopsis.
The Plot based/focused synopsis is used for those publishers who prefer Action/Adventure instead of character interaction. It focuses on the plot and the antagonist in the story.
IDENTIFY A THEME:
Especially if you have a big novel with a cast of a thousand characters, subplots and conflicts.
• Facing the past
• Finding yourself
• Adapting to adversity
• Growing up
Finding a theme and sticking to it helps you reduce the book down to a three page summary. It eliminates the ‘laundry list’ syndrome where every scene is given one sentence.
STAY FOCUSED: KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid)
The trick is to focus on the key plot points and turning points of the book, NOT the secondary plots and characters.
Barbara Karmazin is the author of Down Came a Blackbird from Atlantic Bridge Publishing. Her novel explores a half-Sidhe woman who joins forces with asteroid miners against an armed corporate takeover of their expedition.