Using Your Chapter Breakdown as a Synopsis!

 The Before Draft Zero Series:


Before we get into writing a Synopsis, if I haven’t done it already, write up a query letter! A query letter is basically the blurb on the back cover of a book + a paragraph to agents/editors on your experience, comp titles and word count. I do this even if I don’t have do. It’s fantastic practice and a brilliant way to improve your cover-copy skills.

Visit my blog post on Writing a Query Letter HERE.

Now, on to the fun stuff!

I like to get my Synopsis done in the waiting period between finishing a draft and doing revisions. This way I have somewhere to reference when I’m editing.

If you’re like me and you plot before writing, you should already have a rough outline of your novel. This is what I call a Chapter Breakdown, and you can read more on it HERE. Basically, TL;DR it is an excel spreadsheet full of dot points for each chapter. Usually one broad dot point that describes the scene or scenes.

Copy all of those dot points into a word document and huzzah! You have the beginning draft of the dreaded Synopsis. You can do this without having done the Chapter Breakdown before writing. I like to use index cards, but it’s just as easy to work through your MS and write the dot point in a separate word document.

I use that rough outline as a starting point and polish from there. This step helps to reinforce my entire story before I dive into revisions. A synopsis MUST give away the important twists and ending of your story. This is so an agent or editor can clearly see what direction you’re trying to go and if the ending will satisfy them enough to put the years of effort and time needed into your work. Some agents DON’T want to see a synopsis, be sure to check the Agency Submission Guidelines before sending anything off.

A good rule to stick by is to eliminate all but 3 main characters. You don’t want to overwhelm someone with all your fantastic names.

Now go through your block of text and find these points. If you don’t have them, you need to take another look at your outline or MS and figure out what they are. The key to a successful Synopsis is all of the below points.

1. Opening: The first image of setting/concept that sets up the story you’re about to tell.

2. Protagonist Intro: Who is the main character? Give 1-2 descriptive words and say what he/she/they wants.

3. Inciting incident: What event/decision/change prompts the main character to take initial action.

4. Plot point 1 (or the Turning Point): What is the first turning point or twist? What action does the MC take or what decision does he/she/they make that changes the story’s direction? This is usually a decision they can’t come back from.

5. Conflict: Now in a new life, the MC meets new people, experiences a new life, and meets the antagonist/villain.

6. Midpoint: What is the middle turning point? What happens that causes the MC to make a 180 degree change in direction/change in emotion/change in anything?

7. Winning seems like a sure thing: What happens that makes the MC think he/she/they will win? They think they have the upper hand and then bam! The antagonist beats them and they are worse off than before with no where to go.

8. Dark Night of the Soul: The MC is lower than low, they must pull themselves back up and find the strength for the final battle.

9. Climax: What happens in the final fight between the MC and the antagonist?

10. Resolution: Tie up all the loose ends and leave the reader feeling full.

11. Final image: Usually the last chapter. What is the MC’s way of life now? How are they different from the person they were in the opening image.

Once you have all of these points marked out in your outline, you simply cut all the excess story and simplify what you have left.

A handy tool for the elements of a synopsis can be found HERE. Susan Dennard is a pro at the 1 page synopsis.

Dannielle Wicks

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