Writing a Synopsis, Pt. 2

by Gordon Carroll

Yesterday we started discussing how to write a synopsis. Today we’re continuing with how to write the Simple 1-Page Synopsis. Up to this point we’ve had to scrunch and delete and throw away and purge until bare bones were all that remained of our once great tale. But now…now we can play a little. However, use caution. A single page seems like a lot compared to a single line or a single paragraph, but it really isn’t compared to an entire novel. Brevity is still the key. And it’s your time to shine.

By the way, more and more editors seem to want this brief one-page synopsis in your proposal these days. Any longer and they may not read it. So it’s worthwhile to learn to fit your story into this format.

Let’s look at what we will need here:

→ What is your hero’s goal? If you have several main characters they may have several goals, and this is where you get to show how they interrelate. If just one, then you get to show off what you can bring to his or her character with your writing.

→ Motivation. What’s the force driving your hero, villain and or other main characters? Without powerful motivation to keep your characters constantly moving forward, the story will drag and that’s death in this fast paced internet driven world. This is the time to show the agent or editor how compelling your story is.

→ Conflict-conflict-conflict! Motivation and conflict are often interrelated, but not always. Either way, this is where you get to showcase the conflict that causes tension that keeps people on the edge of their seat and sells books!

→ Climax. Where your hero crashes through whatever major conflict has managed to defeat him to this point. Here the hero will overcome his greatest fears, overpower any enemy, conquer every challenge. But to do this he must first grow. He must learn how to overcome his fear; discover an inner strength or truth to overpower his foes; reach a decision that allows him to conquer every challenge.

When you sit down to write your synopsis in one page, it feels overwhelming and you’ll have a tendency to want to cram as much in as possible. But don’t! Concentrate on the main character and a single plot thread to avoid getting too confusing. Look at Goal-Motivation-Conflict-Climax to help structure your synopsis.

Ready? Here’s a 300-word synopsis of Bambi.

***

Bambi is a current day story set in America about a deer, born to be king, facing the dangers of man, fire and the loss of his mother.

All the animals of the forest gather around to witness the birth of the new prince, Bambi. He is shy and wobbly, on legs that can hardly stand, but makes friends quickly with a bunny, an owl and a skunk.

Bambi spends most of his time with his mother, awed and cowed by his father, a huge proud buck who is king of the forest. Bambi’s mother teaches him the ways of nature and to always be watchful of man, who hunts the forest’s animals with deadly weapons.

While teaching Bambi where the best grass is they are confronted by hunters who begin shooting at them. Bambi’s mother sends him away while drawing the fire of the hunters to protect her son. She is killed and Bambi’s father takes charge of him.

As Bambi grows he meets a fawn and feels the first tingling sensations of love, which the owl describes as being twiterpated.

Bambi continues to be awed by his father who seems so far above him and all the other animals.

As Bambi grows his first set of antlers he is reacquainted with the fawn who twiterpated him and the two of them begin the courting ritual. But a large buck attacks Bambi and tries to steal the young fawn from him. Bambi fights off the buck, saving the fawn and then is confronted by a fire that is sweeping the forest threatening all their lives.

Bambi helps his father rescue the animals of the forest, while saving the fawn as well.

Afterwards Bambi takes his rightful place beside his father, as the fawn who has become his bride gives birth to the new prince.

***

If you have room feel free to spruce yours up a bit, add some color and more action words. But I think you get the idea. Just work the paragraph and the page in the same way you did the Simple Sentence.

The big thing for me was when I finally decided that writing the synopsis, like writing the query letter, was nothing more than another writing exercise. And we are writers after all. So look at it like that, and have some fun.

(Note from Rachelle: Please leave your synopsis questions in the comments and I’ll try to answer them soon!)

Gordon Carroll is a novelist who has worked as a Deputy Sheriff in Colorado for more than 20 years, the last 13 as the senior deputy in charge of the K9 division. Check out his website at http://www.gordoncarroll.com/.

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  • Jessica

    >This is a great way to narrow it down. Very helpful. :-)
    I wish I would have seen this before I sent my first synopsis to a publisher and got rejected! LOL
    But the story needed work, so I’m glad they did.
    Thanks for sharing your process with us!

  • Pheebles

    >This is very useful information. Thanks for sharing this with us, Gordon.

  • Jeanie W

    >Thanks for this helpful post.

    I have a question for either Gordon or Rachelle:
    Should the synopsis included in a proposal package be double-spaced?

  • lynnrush

    >Thanks for this, Gordon.

    This is very helpful to think of it as a “writing exercise” because it can be overwhelming, that’s for sure.

    Have a great day!

  • Anne L.B.

    >Very nice!

    These last two days’ posts were very helpful. My first (4-6 page) synopsis used guidelines which said something like, “Don’t worry about this being the worst writing you’ll ever do.” That first synopsis seemed boring to me. Evidently it was also boring to the agent who rejected it.

    Then the best agent in CBA advised getting it down to one captivating page. The first editor to pick up that synopsis loved it.

    Writing a one-page synopsis seemed at first more difficult than writing the novel. The precise guidelines given here will make my next synopsis even better. I’ve bookmarked this post in my Favorites. THANKS!

  • PB Sumner

    >Rachelle,

    Gordon Carroll advocates a 1-pager, but here on your blog (RE submitting a Fiction Partial Proposal) you want a 2-6 page synopsis.

    What should we prepare if we choose to submit to you?

  • Marian

    >I remember the first time I saw a request for a one-page synopsis… it was when I was submitting to the Donald Maass Agency. My synopsis at the time was 10 pages. :(

    It’s a good idea to learn to tell the story in a page or even a paragraph, though. If we ever share an elevator with an agent or editor, we’ll be prepared. :)

    Thanks for the posts!

  • Avily Jerome

    >Thanks for that! Great help on getting the main points down to a nutshell.

  • Avily Jerome

    >Thanks for that! Great help on getting the main points down to a nutshell.

  • Amy Deardon

    >Very helpful summary! Thank you.

  • Gordon Carroll

    >Thanks all for your comments.

    Jeanie W asked if the synopsis should be single or double spaced. From what I’ve gathered if you get it down to one (actually only 1) page then it can be single spaced. Anything longer should be double spaced.

  • Sptoku

    >Nicely explained. I am currently trying to write my synopsis, though what I find a tad difficult is: The story is coming out to be more than one book.

    So, I don’t have The End, for the entire book yet. Anyone have any insight into this.

  • Pingback: Writing a Synopsis, Pt. 1 - Rachelle Gardner()

  • Laura

    Just a query. That article was really helpful. It’s definitely got me thinking. I was just wondering what kind of tactics you would recommend if a publisher or agent requested a 5 -6 page synopsis. Would this advice change in any way?

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