Creating a synopsis will help keep you on track for any story that you plan to write. A word of caution, though. You must remember that you’re creating a synopsis at this stage and not a simple blurb.
When is it too simple?
A few weeks ago, I received a message via Whatsapp from a writer. In less than 50 words, he told me that it was an inter-galactic tale and it had an ‘exciting ending’. The manuscript was 120,000 words-long and he wanted me to edit it. He was considering writing the story as a trilogy.
Although I could guess what was happening, I asked him to send me the synopsis for his manuscript. What I received in my inbox the next day was the same message he’d sent by Whatsapp with the addition of one character and the description of the home planet. This was not a synopsis by any means. At best, a blurb. When I tried to explain this to him, he was annoyed and we parted ways soon after.
Now, a blurb is defined as “a short publicity notice (as on a book jacket)”. Here is the blurb from ‘Ladoo Dog: Tales of a Sweet Dachshund’:
‘What makes dachshunds special? Can a dog be ‘Indian’ or ‘Chinese’? Do dachshunds have temper tantrums? These are some of the questions asked and answered in twelve stories about Ladoo, an exuberant dachshund with a big heart. This collection of entertaining stories will make you laugh and you will certainly appreciate dachshunds even more. Above all, these stories show that if you open your heart to a dog, in return, it will give you its whole heart and more.’
The most important thing to note from the above is that the blurb never tells the reader the whole story. It is meant to tease your readers; they must want to know more about this story.
On the other hand, a synopsis will explain the basic storyline and is written in the present tense. In particular, you need to keep these in mind when preparing to write your own story:
- Whose story is this?
- Where is the story set?
- What is the story going to be about?
- When does the story take place?
- What are the main conflicts the protagonist faces and how will he solve his problems?
- How does the story end?
Sara’s response to this was to say, “Isn’t it much easier to write out the whole book first. Then, shorten it to make the synopsis.”
Writing the whole book first
No doubt, it is possible to write the synopsis after the story is written. There is no right or wrong when working on a story. I know writers sit in front of the computer, type away at the keyboard and are surprised at how the story progresses. I also know that I can’t do this because I tried it once. Frankly, I couldn’t understand the completed manuscript. The story was incoherent and not fit for publication.
From that experience, I developed a new idea: writing a book is like building a house. If you build a house without a blueprint, it’s bound to collapse. But if you plan it well, the house will be strong and last a long time. Likewise, if you plan your story well, you can build on it to create a strong structure and foundation.
A synopsis alone won’t ensure the smooth flow of your story. You still need to map out your story from start to finish to finish to have an idea of how it’ll pan out. It will help you see if your story flows in a logical order. As you flesh out your synopsis and prepare a proper structure and plot, you will find out if there are enough dramatic high points and conflicts in the story. This is what we will be discussing in the next topic.
Join the conversation
Do you have synopses that have landed you a book deal? Share the elements that made them successful in the comments below.
- Sundararaj, Aneeta. Ladoo Dog: Tales of a Sweet Dachshund. (28 August 2013)
Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time
This is the synopsis that Sara prepared:
In October 2016, Sara’s father dies. She is devastated and needs time to recover. As an only child, she becomes responsible for her aged mother and shoulders all the burden looking after the household. She tells her boss she needs some time.
Four months later, Sara senses that all is not well in her workplace. Especially when a new writer is recruited, who asks her if she wants to continue working. Sara tells the new recruit that she’s already explained her situation to the editor and, yes, she’d like to continue working. Meanwhile, the editor has started criticising her work, deliberately forgetting appointments, and scolding her. Sara becomes insecure and aware that the editor is calling her names behind her back.
By May 2017, it all comes to a head when the editor shares a private message Sara had sent to her with everyone in the company. Humiliated, Sara withdraws completely from the group and vows to seek vengeance for the wrong done to her.
Start writing your synopsis in 3 sentences.
Expand these sentences so that you have a paragraph of no more than 150 words.
Expand these again to no more than 500 words.
Then, begin to write your story.
Aneeta Sundararaj tells the stories of a diverse group of people from cardiologists and Ayurveda practitioners to independent financial advisors. ‘Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time’ is included in a collection of stories that she is working on. Subscribe to the free newsletter on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’ (http://www.howtotellagreatstory.com).