Goals · how to · Pay It Forward · Writing

How To: Write A Synopsis

The Book Pipeline runs every year, where authors can enter their books to be shopped to TV and Film companies. To do this, you need to write a synopsis, which is one of the hardest things an author has to do.

A synopsis literally asks you to write your entire book into 4-5 pages, depending on the requirements of the company/agency request. So, that book you took months or years to write into 100-200+ pages of literary genius must now be cut into 4-5 pages of clinical and boring narration.

You have to limit your entire plot – spoilers included – to barely a few thousand words. That can seem impossible, and was something that I had to do contend with this year.

I had hopes of subbing The Boys Who Didn’t Love Me to this year’s Book Pipeline, but my luck ran out. A week and a half before the due-date, I had a fall and ended up breaking my ankle. I lost 2 weeks of editing time, that would have allowed me to finalise the preparations for submitting. But, in the process of those preparations, I managed to properly and fully edit the book (minus the last 20% which I did when I got home and was able again). I was also able to write a 4 page synopsis.

As much as it killed me, I was able to explain the entire plot in those pages, revealing every plot twist, every spoiler and every important event within the novel. Being over 140k words, it was very stressful, but I found a few helpful tips that made it easier.

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TIPS:

  • before you read your book, make a list of all the characters and events that you remember
  • then read the book
  • note the timeline, as you go
  • make notes at the top of each chapter (or in a notebook), summing up the events of that chapter in less than a paragraph
  • label every important character and their role in the overall plot
  • when you’re done, write up your notes or type them up so that they’re easily moveable, copy/paste-able and easily arranged.

Once you’re at this stage, you can begin to piece it all together. So make sure to save your list and open a new document to arrange it into.

PRO TIPS:

  • most publishers/agencies etc will tell you how they want the file formatted – what format of file they accept, what font, size etc they prefer – so make sure you read it before submitting!
  • put your NAME and TITLE at the top of every new file you intend to send. This guidance will usually be in their submission suggestions.
  • label the first mention of a character in FULL CAPS. For example, if your first line is “Storm Tera was a necromancer, in love with a boy who didn’t love him. Best friends Denver and Foley were human. His crush, Ithen, was a mage and out of his league. Storm could never admit to his crush on arch-nemesis Rowan Copry” then your text should read like this – “STORM TERA was a necromancer, in love with a boy who didn’t love him. Best friends DENVER and FOLEY were human. His crush, ITHEN, was a mage and out of his league. Storm could never admit to his crush on arch-nemesis ROWAN COPRY.” The second, third etc mentions of a character’s name don’t need to be caps, but the first should be.
  • only mention characters if they’re important. For example, don’t name the random maid, butler or waitress, even if they have a name in the book. If they have a pivotal role in the book and reappear frequently, then you can name them. But, if their only role is being the same waitress/maid/butler that appears to offer helpful hints, quirky moments etc, then simply label them ‘the waitress’.
  • ALWAYS reveal EVERY spoiler and plot point. Hide NOTHING. You want the reader – agent, publisher, TV exec – to see every inch of potential your story has to offer. Anything that might be of interest to your plot should be included.
  • Always imagine you’re shopping your book for a TV show – each episode needs a climax or bit of excitement to spur it along, so don’t be afraid to point out that nifty little twist that might not mean much but is fun, quirky, and unique. Don’t be afraid to point out that your MC is struggling with an internal battle or that they’re addicted to coffee if it could be something that leads them into constant danger, angst, or continually throws them up against the romantic lead.

EVERY little piece of your book is important. But, with only a few pages to sum up what can be 100+ pages, you need to consider what is important and what isn’t. This is where your bullet points and lists will come in handy.

STEP 1:

With your helpful list of events, timeline, and characters already noted as you read the book, you have an overview of the book, in order. You want to look at the notes you made on each chapter and summaries those notes into a single paragraph.

e.g. Chapter 1 – [MC 1], 17, is from a small town and has a negative outlook on life, because of [past event]

Summarise each chapter in that way. You’ll probably end up with about 8-10 pages, depending on the size of your book. Once you’ve written each chapter into a paragraph, you need to run through it and limit your paragraph to 2 sentences. Then go through it again and limit each 2 sentence summary into 1 sentence, if possible.

There are a lot of events that you CANNOT limit to this size. But try your best. The more you can summarise the little events, the more space you have to explore the bigger events. You want to make sure you retain enough of your style, the emotion, the feeling of your book as possible. You want to keep it clean, to the point, and still make whoever is reading it want to read more. Try to keep the intrigue, the interest, the mystery, without holding anything back.

And…yup…that sounds impossible, because it basically is.

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So…here are some handy links to help you along.

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