Building a Synopsis Step-by-Step

By Anita Nolan,
Pearl S. Buck Writing Center Write a Novel in a Year Workshop

 Gather Synopsis Information

Fill out character description sheets.  Create details about plot, theme, setting, and story structure.

Answer the following questions:

  1. Who is/are the main character/s?
  2. What is the overall theme of the story?
  3. What is the central driving force for the main character or group? Be specific.
  4. Create timeline of key events or outline the story.
  5. Create keyword lists to organize what you know about the story. Strengthen the words. These will become the basis of your pitch (one sentence synopsis.)

Build the Synopsis

1) Pitch Line

Start with a pitch line –one sentence to describe your story. Use pitch sentence when describing your book, as an elevator pitch, or as a hook in query or at the beginning of your synopsis. Shorter is better. Probably won’t want to use names, or perhaps just one. Character descriptors are usually better.

2) One Paragraph Synopsis

Should be 3-6 sentences. Can be used as the blurb in query letters, or as the intro paragraph for the longer synopsis.

Bring in other central characters, what drives them, what fate ultimately binds main characters together. What are the climax & the lesson learned? This might be the theme or might be different.

The one-paragraph synopsis is similar to a back cover blurb.

Churn out a bunch of blurbs until you hit a combination that appeals to you. I sometimes use thename of character has a problem, but when problem happens, they realize what they learn format in a blurb. Read the back of book blurbs when ready to write your own to get the flow.

3) One-Page Synopsis

Additional questions to ask:

  1. What does the main character(s) want?
  2. What needs is he trying to fulfill?
  3. What issues drive the main character(s) forward?
  4. What personal issues hold the main character(s) back?
  5. What is the point where the main character changes, moves forward against all odds, etc.
  6. What decision must he make?

4) Longer synopsis.

Include plot highlights:  Detail the beginning and ending scenes, and one or two in the middle that give an indication of the kind of emotional intensity or type of action to expect.

In choosing the scenes, consider:

  • Is the scene necessary to make the main plot hold together?
  • Is the scene necessary for the ending to make sense?

Include an example of the core conflict. (man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. society, man vs. nature)

Tips when polishing:

  • After writing first draft of synopsis, write WHY after each paragraph, then answer the question. This reminds you to focus on emotional arc, not the events.
  • Play with turn of phrase and punch up your action verbs.

Check out my other posts on the PSB Writing Center blog under Resources: Books & Websites for Writers, Submission Dictionary, and Formatting Your Manuscript.