Monday, May 5, 2014

Writing a Good Synopsis By Nicola Martinez

Originally Published in the Wild Rose Press Greenhouse

Writing a Good Synopsis By Nicola Martinez

Writing a good short synopsis is often more difficult that writing a long, or chapter-by-chapter synopsis, so I thought it might be helpful to some, if we went over the elements of a good synopsis, as well as a brief “outline” of how to write one.


1. CONFLICT: The number one thing that must be conveyed in a synopsis--whether the synopsis is one to two pages, or a chapter by chapter--is CONFLICT. A story isn’t good without conflict, and so you must show the editor that you have woven a story rife with conflict.

2. SETTING: The editor needs to know the time and place of the novel. Be sure to include the significance of the setting, if it’s important to the story. Is there are reason you set your novel in 1850s California or could you have told the same story if you’d set it in 1850’s Louisiana?

3. MOTIVATION: Next, you must show your characters’ motivations. These are the things that shore up the conflict, and they must be believable. If your hero is a recluse and your heroine is reporter trying to get the scoop on the hero, then that sounds like great conflict BUT the reason your hero is a recluse must be believable. He can’t be a recluse solely because that is a great opposite to the reporter getting the story. And your reporter heroine can’t be dogging the hero for a story just because a reporter is a great opposite to a reclusive hero—She’s got to want the story for some fantastic reason that makes the reader want to find out what happens. Perhaps she thinks the hero is a murderer and has become reclusive just to save himself from jail, and so she vows to uncover him—to make the motivation stronger, maybe she’s related to the deceased. Then her motivation for exposing him is even greater than “just a prize- winning story.” Whatever your character’s motivations are for doing whatever it is he or she is doing in the story have to be believable. Which brings us to our next element which is

4. LOGICAL PROGRESSION: Make sure that you present your climaxes and crises in the order they appear in the manuscript. This helps show that you have a firm hold on the story and that your story weaving will build from start to conclusion, rather than being choppy and confusing. You don’t want the editor to think that you plug in a scene or conflict just when you think of it along the way—as in “BTW, the reason I’m writing this now is because this happened earlier and I forgot to tell you.” Logical progression also means showing the growth and change of character. Your broken hero can’t suddenly be fixed at the end without showing the means by which he got fixed. It’s not enough to say, “my hero doesn’t know how to love, but by the end of the story, he learns how.” You have to show what experiences are in the book that teach him how to love. And these don’t have to be bulleted points; they just have to be clearly outlined.

5. RESOLUTION: Just as you have to show the logical growth and change in the characters, you also have to convey a satisfying and believable resolution to the conflicts you’ve created. How does the recluse get over his need to separate himself?  How does the reporter come to realize that she’s tagged the wrong man solely because of her desire for vengeance? What events happen in the book that help the issues resolve?

6. FORMATTING: Once you have all your content in mind, it’s time to format and write. Your synopsis should be double spaced, with a header that clearly defines title- Synopsis in one upper corner, your name and page number (if more than one page) in the other upper corner. 1 to 1 ½ inch margins all the way around

Once you have all these things in your mind, you’ll be able to weave a provocative synopsis. “But, how do I do that?” you ask. Well, let me give you an easy formula which should help you hammer out a one to two page synopsis in no time, but first, let me say that there is no one way to write a synopsis, no magic formula. In that way it’s a lot like writing your story. The synopsis has to convey your own writing style, and so it has to be unique.

That said, I’ve found a type of formula to keep in mind so that all the necessary elements are included. If you’re writing a romance, keep in mind four words: hero, heroine, conflict, resolution. If you’re writing something like suspense, you’ll want to adjust that to: Hero, Villain, Conflict, Resolution. Or maybe Hero, Victim, Conflict, Resolution. It will depend on where your strongest characters and plot drivers are.

So: In the opening, introduce the hero (or heroine) being sure to include his motivations and emotions. Next, introduce the heroine and her motivations. After you’ve done that, introduce the conflict that is between them. It is important to note that oftentimes the conflict will be (and maybe, even should be) woven into the introductions of the hero and heroine. The conflict being more separated from these introductions usually comes in a mystery/suspense novel because the conflicts are oftentimes more external than in a romance—the murder or other crime which initially throws the hero and heroine together—but in that type of novel there are usually more internal conflicts as well, and these will be introduced while showing the hero’s and heroine’s motivations. Even in a straight romance, however, you may introduce internal conflict while talking about the hero, and then the heroine, but then, also have a paragraph which delves into some external conflicts that are included.

Lastly, describe the Conflict resolution. How does everything wrap up to reach the logical end of the story.
It may sound a little daunting, but just remember, you write a synopsis the same way you would tell your friends and family about your book: “It’s about this guy named Joe who [insert motivations here]” And then he meets this girl who [insert motivations here], but they can’t get together because {insert conflict here}but [this happens and that happens {plot progressions}] and so at the end [insert resolution]

Nicola Martinez is an award-winning author who has been writing and studying romance for decades. Nicola was a magazine and newspaper editor.


Mary Morgan said...
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Mary Morgan said...

Thank you, Nicola. I will definitely use your words of wisdom the next time I have to write a synopsis. You've given me some important tools.

Carole Nelson Pond said...

Thanks so much. For those of us just beginning the process of submitting this is great information.