October 22, 2019

Writing a Bare Bones Synopsis

Writing a Fiction SynopsisBeth Anderson has a helpful technique for writing a bare bones synopsis.

Coming to this task, Beth recommends that you have in hand your character’s motivations, emotional unresolved issues, back story, and so on–all part of some internal conflict. You need to know what your main characters want and how they plan to get it. You may not have an evil character, but your characters–even if they agree on some outcome–need to disagree as to how to go about getting it. Finally, you need to be clear about what is at stake.

Now, how is it done?

  1. Write in a single, concise sentence as to what your book is about. You might even begin your first draft with “My book is about …”
  2. “Write one sentence describing your beginning.” Beth recommends leaving out all the fluff and just focusing on the action.
  3. Now describe your ending in one sentence. Just write what happens at the end and capture real action.
  4. Go back and remove any secondary characters who are not part of the main action–that is, who mostly interact with each other. Focus on action that affects lead characters.
  5. Between your sentence describing your beginning (item 2) and your end (item 3), list your major points of action–action by action; roadblock by roadblock. Again, just the key actions.
  6. Now smooth it out by editing these sentences into paragraphs. You may have some open lines on your half-page, single-spaced synopsis (or one-page, double-spaced synopsis). Consider adding a dab of paint here or there.

Now you have a brief synopsis of about 300 words. Next you need one of about 600-900 words. How do you create this? Add more details, more roadblocks, more action. “Leave out all descriptive phrases” because you won’t have room for such “window-dressing details,” even your secondary characters or sub-plots. Again, smooth things out a bit and save this as a separate document.

Are you ready to expand this into 1,200 to 1,500 words? Do this in the same process as your previous expansion. Beth notes:

You can do this any number of times, always remembering to save at one, three, six, eight, ten, twelve [double-spaced] pages, however many you want, never changing the initial details that were on each page, because every time you embellish these pages into a larger synopsis, you want all of the prior details to remain the same on all copies. That way, your synopses will all say the same thing and be the same story, except that there will be more in the longer synopses.

I have tried Beth Anderson’s system, and it works well, especially for those with practice in identifying the major elements. If you still are unclear about those elements, I still recommend Mike Wells single-sentence approach.

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