Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Writing That Synopsis

Nothing solicits groans faster in a group of seasoned writers than the word synopsis. After years of reading and attending different seminars and workshops devoted to the process, my most recent composition still didn't inspire confidence. BUT there is hope.

This past Saturday, it was my good fortune to attend a Writers' League of Texas workshop focusing on writing a synopsis and query letter worthy of submission. I thought  I'd share some of the high points of composing the dreaded one page synopsis as outlined by our terrific instructor, John Pipkin. John is the author of Woodsburner, a historical novel that I can't wait to read. Check out his website - .

I knew already a synopsis must be like a book report that hits the major points, but where John caught my attention, he said it's not a summery--but a sales pitch. No one had ever explained this so clearly. We all know we have few words to catch the proverbial attention of those over queried agents and publishers, but its not about my manuscript, its about how, why, and to whom would a potential agent SELL my story.

That in mind, here are John's five elements that must be stated in the hook--that first sentence or two:
Title + Genre + Character + Conflict + Consequences/Relevance = Opening Sentence or HOOK.

This sounds daunting, but I started by simply writing each element, then I constructed sentences begining with the ONE element that makes my story unique. In my case the protagonist (character) is bipolar, what she has to overcome (conflict) in my story (title, genre) in order to find (consequences/relevance). Not a dust jacket logline, but just the facts developed in a grammatically correct sentence. It isn't easy, but doable. After the hook paragraph, I must develop 3 to 4 concise paragraphs and the conclusion. This is how my single spaced, 12 pt. font, synopsis, sales pitch would break down.
  1. Opening hook
  2. Summarize the story, intro main character
  3. 1st character description (typically protagonist) 
  4. 2nd character description (antagonist)
  5. 3rd character description (important to plot development)
  6. Conclusion, stating story resolution and relevance
This model works for both my Women's Lit fiction and my Mystery novel with some slight modifications. The Plot-driven, Mystery/Action synopsis would read -- 1. Hook, 2. Summary, including three major characters, 3. Intro with initial conflict or what launches the story, 4. First twist, 5. Second twist, and 6. Conclusion including resolution and relevance.

Next week, my post will feature some of John's suggestions on the illusive (at least to me) query letter.


  1. Hi Chris
    Hope you brought some handouts back. I've finished mine, but I can always use more advice. Good post.