How to Write Novel: Step 4

Write a Short Synopsis

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In this novel writing step, we’re going to create a single page outline of the entire plot of the novel.

What is a short synopsis?

A short synopsis is a single page summary of your novel’s plot. All the important events should be included.

It should not include all of the detail and nuance of the story. It won’t include subplots or non-major characters.

A short synopsis is usually around 500 words long.

What is a short synopsis useful for?

A short synopsis has two major purposes.

The first is useful before you have completed your novel. It is to act as an anchor and guide as you are writing your novel, to ensure the story starts off with and maintains a solid structure, and has clear direction.

The second becomes important after you have finished your manuscript. It is to demonstrate to agents and publishers that your novel has structure and direction, without them needing to read the whole novel to find out.

You may tweak these two documents slightly so they’re not identical, but in essence they can be very much the same.

How do I write a short synopsis?

If you have followed the previous steps of this roadmap, or have used your own plot outline, then that’s a good place to start with your short synopsis.

Simply take each of the elements of the plot outline and expand them into a paragraph or so.

For example an element of your plot outline might be:

"Ben gets a distress message from the Princess and asks Luke to journey with him to help save her but Luke says he can't leave his folks."

This would now be expanded to explain how this key event happens:

"The droid R2D2 escapes and Luke follows him out into the desert where he is attacked by sand people. Ben rescues him and they hide in Ben's cave. R2 shows Ben the message from the princess where she asks for help. Ben shows Luke the lightsaber and asks him to come with him to save the princess. Luke knows he can't leave his uncle to handle the farm alone and so says he can't go."

If you haven’t already got a plot outline, then you can either write the synopsis freeform, or you can use this rough structure:

Paragraph One – The Status Quo

What is life like for the protagonist at the beginning of the story?

Paragraph Two – The Complication

What happens to show that this is no ordinary day?

Paragraph Three – Initial Challenges

What obstacles does the protagonist have to overcome early on in the story?

Paragraph Four – Mid Point

What major event happens roughly halfway through the story?

Paragraph Five – Further Challenges

What further setbacks and obstacles does the protagonist have to overcome?

Paragraph Six – The Low Point

What happens to make the protagonist feel like all hope is lost?

Paragraph Seven – The Climax

What is the final conflict the protagonist must face?

Paragraph Eight – The Resolution

How does the story end?

What are some dos and don’ts about how to write a short synopsis?

The synopsis is not prose, this is no place for dialogue or fancy descriptions. To begin with the synopsis can be nothing much more than a list of the major events in the order they happen. Keep the writing simple and succinct.

While writing the short synopsis you'll probably have loads of ideas that there just isn't room to fit onto one page, that's okay. Write down just the key points and keep the rest bubbling in your mind, you'll have use for them later.

The story should really start to take shape at this point, and writing the short synopsis should be a great deal of fun.

Your Task

In the Novel Factory, go to the Premise and Synopses section. In the Short Synopsis panel, write a short synopsis based on your Plot Outline or the structure listed above.

Or, you can use the PDF Short Synopsis worksheet available here.

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