Saturday, April 5, 2014

Writing a Synopsis

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Ah, the synopsis. Though it seems like writing a little piece of less than 500 words (how long a synopsis is depends on who you ask, but it is usually between 20-100) would be a piece of cake once you've written a novel, it isn't. It is hard to get meaning into a small space, and even harder to make it unique. How can you make your novel intriguing in just a few words? How can you strip a story down to its bare essentials without also making it sound boring?

     The first thing to do is look at any synopsis you can find and study it. What do they show? What do they leave out? Try to see what they did well, and what they did badly. Next, take a book you like, and try to make a synopsis for it. Be sure to decide the number of words you get first. For example, I'll say I get 50 words and I'll do The Hunger Games.

In dystopian USA, Katniss takes the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, where there are twenty-four contestants, and only one survivor.

     This works well as a basic synopsis. It tells you the main character, the setting, the plot, even the stakes. It certainly has danger, but it tells a run-of-the-mill story. How can we make this better? When my uncle, Josh Kelley, took me to a writer's event, he told me to write a short synopsis about my book so that I could tell people about it if they asked, which they probably would. The greatest suggestion he gave me was to find two things: what was different about my story and what the true conflict was. Taking that, I rewrote my synopsis, very similarly to how I'm going to rewrite the one about The Hunger Games.

Forced to take part in the brutal Hunger Games, Katniss must compete against twenty-three others for her life, including Peeta. Losing means death and the starvation of her family, but winning means the death of the boy who saved her life.

     Which sounds more interesting? Which would you rather buy? Publish? How can you replicate it? Well, first notice that the second one focuses more on the personal and psychological than the physical. We more easily relate to a hard decision than death, because we have trouble contemplating death. Also, the decision is one that makes us think, one that forces us to ask the same question, as I talked about in my earlier post. Another thing, which is not evident in the changes I made, is that we would prefer something personal than something ideal-based. We would rather hear the story of the boy who fights to free his family from slavery than the story of the boy fighting to free slaves.
     Why is this? Because the boy will care more for the outcome, and we feel vicariously through the main character. It's all well and good if the knight is willing to sacrifice himself for the city, but we will actually care more if he's fighting for something we can relate to, like his children. It's also a lot easier to write the thought process without making him seem like too much of a goody-goody, but that's off subject.

     The true conflict in The Hunger Games is not her trying to win, but her trying to decide between her family and Peeta. More importantly, it's what the fans truly care about. It makes what was simply a survival story into something more. A bestseller in fact. And so, that is what is important to highlight. So, what is it that you need to highlight about your book?

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK. You know you've got the right one if the picture is of a dragon holding a crystal ball.

We have two on-going contests. Our synopsis contest has just started, see the guidelines and how to submit here. Our haiku contest is nearing its deadline. You can see the guidelines here.


  1. Sweet! This really helped getting mine ready!
    Hey, just wondering something... would you and Catsi like to participate in a blog hop with me? You both just answer questions about writing and pass them on to three other people.

    1. Certainly! Why don't you email us with details? :)

    2. I did the post. You can see it here:
      Just answer the questions in a post and find three other author/bloggers to pass it on to!