the Fear of Writing a Synopsis
If you noticed, I didnít entitle this article "Overcoming YOUR Fear of
Writing a Synopsis." I donít think you own the fear anymore than I do or
any other writer. We all share a common emotion, one that can be summed up in
one word: Formidable.
What is it about this particular piece of writing that brings out more moans
and groans from writers than a room full of sixth graders getting a surprise
What is a Synopsis?
Look at the word. Synopsis. Say it with me. "Sin-op-sissss." Even
the sound of the word emanates dread. What is a synopsis? Websterís defines it
as "a shortened statement or outline, as of a narrative. Abstract."
Nothing sounds particularly evil in that definition. Letís look at it a little
closer - "shortened statement or outline." Hey, look at that,
"outline." Now, there is a little word weíre all familiar with. Does
"outline" make you cringe as much as "synopsis"? What about
"shortened statement"? Not me. Probably not you, either.
Start with a Simple Sentence
Letís start with the shortened statement. Iíll use the popular
childrenís story, Lady and the Tramp, to help demonstrate my points.
What is our story about?
"Lady and the Tramp is a story about dogs." True, but the portrayal
is dry and uninteresting. Would you want to just read a story about dogs? What
makes this dog story different? Letís see if we can add some more information
to better describe the story.
"Lady and the Tramp is about two dogs from different sides of the track."
Good. Now we know that there are two main characters. And, we know that these
two characters are different in some way. Letís see if we can do a little bit
"Lady and the Tramp tells the adventures of an upper-class, well bred
cocker spaniel and a roguish mutt from the wrong side of the tracks."
Okay. Now we have some description and a hint at a story. We know that these
two distinctly different characters are going to have at least one adventure.
Describe Your Story in 25 Words or Less
So, now we need to think about our audience. The synopsis generally goes to
an editor, agent, or publisher. So, we must capture their attention. Give them
something to grab onto and not let go. This is where you can really get creative
and meet the "describe your story in 25 words or less" challenge.
"Lady and the Tramp is filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a
lovingly pampered cocker spaniel, and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the
Whew! There it is - 25 words - exactly. Weíve just written a strong hook
for the opening of our synopsis.
Every synopsis should start out with a statement that describes your story in
approximately 25 words. However, donít be a stickler about trying to hit the
"magic" number. There isnít really a magic number. But, keeping your
description to approximately 25 words helps to focus your writing on the key
elements of your story.
Key Elements - Not That Difficult to Identify
Speaking of key elements, those are what we now need to identify so that we
can create our synopsis.
Wait, wait. Stop groaning. I promise weíll go slowly. Okay?
I think Iíve read every article and book written on creating a synopsis and
even though every writer has their own formula for creating the "perfect
synopsis," I admit that authors agree on one thing - You need to practice.
So, my suggestion is that you do what Iíve done here. You find some simple
stories and practice creating the synopsis for them. Once youíre able to pick
out the key elements easily, youíre ready to create a synopsis for your own
So, back to our story, Lady and the Tramp.
First Element - Structure
The basic structure of the synopsis should be a complete summary of your
story from beginning to end, written in present tense. Simple, right? So far.
Letís see how that helps us with our story.
"Lady and the Tramp is filled with exciting adventures of Lady, a
lovingly pampered cocker spaniel and Tramp, a roguish mutt from across the
tracks. Ladyís owners love her but ignore her when their baby arrives. The
owners leave her with a cat-loving aunt who locks Lady out of the house. Lady
runs away and straight into a street-wise mutt named Tramp who shows her how
good he has it being free from owners. Lady is caught by the dog catcher and
spends time in the pound learning some of Trampís secrets. Hurt and jealous,
Lady is returned home and exiled to the doghouse once again. Lady discovers a
rat making its way into the house and is helpless to defend her home. Tramp
helps her by getting into the house and killing the rat. However, heís accused
of attacking the baby and is placed in the dog catcherís wagon to be taken to
the pound. Ladyís owners return home just in time to see how Lady has been
treated and have Lady show them the dead rat."
More Key Elements - Setting, Main Characters, Conflict
Not bad for a first draft. Weíre missing a few items that would make the
story more dramatic and compelling for the editor, but those can be added
easily. First, we should make sure that weíve established the setting for the
story and identified our main characters.
Weíll have to identify real conflict between these characters and their
motivations. Then, weíll have to show the resolution of the conflict. It
isnít as important to name every character in the synopsis, but you must name
your main characters.
Final Key Elements - Tell Your Ending
Finally, we must make sure that weíve wrapped up our story and told our
ending. Yes, thatís what I said, we tell our ending in the synopsis. You must
never, ever tease editors and leave them guessing about the ending of story.
As a side note for romance writers: If your story is a romance, make sure you
always establish the love relationship between the two main characters by
showing how they met and why theyíre fighting against their attraction.
With that advice, letís see how our synopsis shapes up after adding these
"Lady and the Tramp is an early twentieth century story filled with
exciting adventures of Lady, a lovingly pampered cocker spaniel, and Tramp, a
roguish mutt from across the tracks in New England. Ladyís owners lavish
attention on her until a new baby arrives that takes all their attention.
Ignoring Ladyís needs, they go away on a trip leaving her and the baby with a
callous aunt and her two Siamese cats that wreak havoc. Lady, wrongly accused of
the mischievous catsí pranks, ends up in the backyard doghouse and eventually
fitted for a muzzle.
Fearful, Lady runs away and straight into a street-wise mutt named Tramp who
shows her how good he has it being free from owners. He treats her to a night on
the town, complete with a romantic Italian dinner from his favorite restaurant.
Unfortunately, even though he protects Lady from a vicious dog attack, Tramp
canít protect her from the dog catcher. Lady spends time in the pound learning
some of Trampís secrets from his other wayward, albeit intimate,
Hurt and jealous, Lady returns home and is once again exiled to the doghouse.
Ladyís other neighborhood dog-friends advice her to forget this scoundrel and
chivalrously offer to take care of her. Tramp returns, hoping to change Ladyís
mind about him. She rejects his advances and sends him on his way. Moments later,
sheís alarmed that an ugly rat enters the house, but canít do anything about
it because sheís chained. Tramp comes to the rescue by finding a way into the
house and killing the rat before it can harm the baby. However, the heartless
aunt accuses Tramp of attacking the baby and calls the dog catcher who places
him in the wagon to be taken to the pound.
Ladyís owners return home just in time to see how Lady has been treated and
have Lady show them the dead rat. Ladyís friends run to stop the dog
catcherís wagon and everyone is reunited after a thrilling chase scene. When
the commotion settles, Tramp chooses the family life and abandons his drifting
ways to stay with Lady and her owners."
And, there you have it. Your synopsis. Was that so painful?
This synopsis is rather short when compared to the longer books you desire to
write. Donít let that intimidate you. The concept is still the same.
Editors have specific requirements when it comes to the length of your
synopsis. Unfortunately, just like snowflakes, no two editors are the same. One
editor requires a ten-page synopsis while another may only want two pages. My
advice to you is that you follow the requirements of the editor and make sure
you include enough information in your synopsis to tell your story but not so
much to slow it down. Focus on the storyís development from beginning to end
and make sure you emphasize the resolution of the conflict and/or romance.
If youíre having trouble writing your synopsis, donít beat yourself up
about it. Go back to your story. Have you developed the plot completely? Do you
understand your characters and their motivation? Is your conflict believable and
resolvable? If you canít answer those questions, the problem isnít with your
synopsis. If you donít understand your story how do you expect an editor to?
Good luck and remember to practice, practice, practice.
M. Taylor has been writing technically for nearly fifteen years and has recently
started writing fiction. She enjoys writing stories with strong women as the
main characters. When she's not writing, you can find her lurking about the many
writing boards chatting with others and dispensing little pearls of wisdom from
her computer in Tampa, Florida.
"Forever Until We Meet": A
woman faces a lonely life in a small town after her daughter leaves home and
decides to spice up her life by letting loose on a computer bulletin board. An
innocent to computers and messaging, she falls pry to a career
"knight" of the computer realm. Feel her love, pain, and
disappointment as she meets this man and discovers what so many others have
already known, that for this man love is only skin deep. Follow her tormented
path from small mountain town to sandy beaches as she finds out that to love
someone you must find that love inside of yourself and then it's only short
sprint to "Forever."
Coming soon from www.crossroadspub.com.
Vicki's Suite101 Technical Writing website at http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/technical_writing
and the Tramp
is owned by © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.