How To Write A 1-Page Synopsis

24 Nov

by Susan Dennard

~~

Note:

This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from HarperTeen on July 24th, 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

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69 Responses to “How To Write A 1-Page Synopsis”

  1. Biljana November 24, 2010 at 12:51 AM #

    This is so awesome!!!!!!

    • sdennard November 24, 2010 at 5:36 AM #

      Why thank you, Mademoiselle Biljana. I daresay I do try. ;)

      • Javier February 28, 2012 at 12:46 AM #

        Susan, great article! What if I´m writing an ensemble piece. Can I follow these same questions? Cuase the MC keeps changing all the time.

  2. Judy November 24, 2010 at 1:31 AM #

    I love how straight-forward you made it.
    It’s intimidating condensing so much into less than 500 words, but you have a great example here!

    • sdennard November 24, 2010 at 5:37 AM #

      Intimidating is exactly the word, Judy! The first time I had to do this for (The Spirit-Hunters) it took me FOREVER. :) But then after all these workshops/guides, I realized the key is to highlight turning point events. The next synopsis I wrote was only an hour ordeal!

  3. Lindsay November 24, 2010 at 1:36 AM #

    Thanks, this is a great format for short or longer ones too.

    • sdennard November 24, 2010 at 5:38 AM #

      Absolutely, Lindsay. I haven’t needed a long synopsis (at least not longer than 4 pages) yet, but I’m sure I’ll use this same approach whenever I do.

  4. kaemccrae November 24, 2010 at 2:58 AM #

    My favourite part is ‘The Hairy Friend’ as a character title.
    Gold.

    : ]

    • sdennard November 24, 2010 at 5:39 AM #

      Hahaha. Yeah… I wasn’t sure I should call him a Wookie because that’s just another name an editor/agent would have to remember. So I went with “hairy friend” — glad you liked it!! :)

  5. authorguy November 24, 2010 at 6:53 AM #

    This is a great method for a linear plot. What about non-linear plots? Or stories with more than one resolution?

    Marc Vun Kannon
    http://authorguy.wordpress.com

    • sdennard November 24, 2010 at 7:06 AM #

      Great question, Marc.

      Stories with more than one resolution — I’m not entirely sure what you mean here. If you can specify, I can try to help… Do you mean multiple endings? Or resolutions for multiple POVs?

      Non-linear plots — Admittedly, this worksheet would be trickier for that. :) The key is the same, though: find the main events and/or main turning points.

      If you can boil your story down to the critical components (i.e. the story simply would not exist without these scenes), then you can build your synopsis around that. Even a plot as non-linear and complex as Pulp Fiction** has key events. Remember, though, to make this kind of synopsis work (and not be confusing for a reader) you’ve got to have very clear transition phrases!

      **Wikipedia does a great job of summarizing the key events for Pulp Fiction while also transitioning between different sequences smoothly.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulp_Fiction

      I hope that helps. :)

      • authorguy November 24, 2010 at 11:24 AM #

        A non-linear plot is not simply a linear plot told in a non-linear way. I mean a story in which the resolutions of the major goals are achieved through the separate and simultaneous but unconnected actions of many characters. All are needed but none are sufficient, nor do any of these actors know about the other actors.
        One character, the main protag, comes among them on a minor mission, and sets them all in motion simply by being there. The main protag is the only point of intersection for all the others, but not always in the same way.
        There are at least two major goals, which divide the other characters into at least two groups, each of which consists of actors pursuing their own separate agendas. Each group’s resolution can only occur if they interact, which can only happen by means of the main protag, who does not otherwise do anything at all.

        Trying to describe this sort of plot feele like tracing the seams of a soccer ball until you get to the end.

        • sdennard November 24, 2010 at 11:33 AM #

          I see what you’re saying, but that doesn’t sound like a non-linear plot to me so much as a multi-thread plot (a là CRASH or even PARIS JE T’AIME). A multi-thread plot could be non-linear as well.

          In a multi-thread story, you would still have to isolate the most critical events that lead to the resolution — you’ve only got 1 page, right? :) IF YOU CAN’T (like you couldn’t isolate critical events in Paris Je T’aime), then you would have to pick the plot threads you’re most interested in sharing — the threads that give the tone of your story and illustrate the story’s purpose best.

          Maybe I’m still misunderstanding, though. Can you give me an example the sort of story you mean? A book or movie?

          • authorguy November 24, 2010 at 11:46 AM #

            I have linear multithread plot in my second novel, A Warrior Made. Unfortunately, with the exception of my third novel, St. Martin’s Moon, which hasn’t come out yet, I don’t have an example of the a Catalyst story, which is the name I gave to the type of story I’m describing. The problem is that I have to mention them all, leave out any one plot thread and the whole story fails.

            • sdennard November 24, 2010 at 5:14 PM #

              Tricky tricky!! Then perhaps I *can’t* help you! As long as your editor/agent/etc. doesn’t need a 1-page synopsis, though, then it shouldn’t be a problem. :)

              Catalyst story — cool name. Sounds like a complicated but interesting kind of story!

              • Marc Vun Kannon November 24, 2010 at 7:27 PM #

                Fortunately my current publisher is willing to take my work on faith. I’ll let you know when it comes out, 2/11 some time.

              • authorguy October 26, 2011 at 5:28 PM #

                I was just reminded of this thread, so I thought I’d just mention that St. Martin’s Moon was released in May 2011.

  6. Julie Eshbaugh November 24, 2010 at 10:11 AM #

    Susan, this is so terrific! Love the use of the ideal example story… STAR WARS! This is a fantastic post; you have such a knack for simplifying the overwhelming. ;) Great job!

    • sdennard November 24, 2010 at 10:23 AM #

      Ah yes, STAR WARS. The Hero’s Journey down to the letter. :)

  7. katharine November 24, 2010 at 10:17 AM #

    LIFESAVER! thanks!

    • sdennard November 24, 2010 at 10:22 AM #

      Yay! I’m glad I could help, Katharine! :)

  8. Jessica Souders November 24, 2010 at 10:24 AM #

    This is PERFECT! I hate synopsises (sp?), and I thought once I found my agent I’d never have to write another, but she keeps asking for them! WTHeck?! LOL. Now I’ll use this. Thank you!

    • sdennard November 24, 2010 at 10:26 AM #

      And your editors will want them too! I had to scramble to get a synopsis written for the sequel to THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS (for editors interested in buying the whole series). I followed this formula, and my agent declared the result “perfect”. :D

  9. Liz Czukas November 24, 2010 at 12:13 PM #

    This is fantastic! I can especially see using it to plan a new project. Thank you for sharing this with us!

    - Liz

    • sdennard November 24, 2010 at 5:12 PM #

      You’re totally welcome. And I definitely recommend using it to plan a project — it’s a great way to organize your ideas. :)

  10. katharine November 24, 2010 at 2:29 PM #

    Hey– Happy Anniversary! And you won a little prize in my contest. Let me know the type of button you’d prefer and I’ll send it over!

    • sdennard November 24, 2010 at 5:12 PM #

      Weeee!!!! YAY FOR PRIZES!

  11. Sierra November 24, 2010 at 7:48 PM #

    I actually find it incredibly helpful to write a synopsis before I start writing the story. It helps me focus and define the story from the get go.

    • sdennard November 25, 2010 at 5:03 AM #

      Me too, Sierra! In fact, I wrote one for THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS before writing the book, and though the book changed a gazillion times (so many drafts!), the synopsis was still the same! Since the main external plot never changed, I never needed to write a new synopsis! :)

  12. catherineryanhoward November 25, 2010 at 7:19 AM #

    Thanks for this – really useful! Especially as I am trying to write a one-page synopsis for a book I’ve just started, and don’t really know where everything will fall yet – I think I was supposed to see this today! :-)

    • sdennard November 26, 2010 at 9:01 AM #

      It’s FATE, I tell you! My fingers were compelled to type this just for you, Catherine! :)

  13. Paul November 25, 2010 at 10:44 AM #

    I like this method for synopsis writing. Thanks!!

    • sdennard November 26, 2010 at 9:01 AM #

      You’re quite welcome, Paul. I hope it comes in handy for you. :)

  14. M. Howalt November 26, 2010 at 8:48 AM #

    This is very useful! Thank you for writing this!

    • sdennard November 26, 2010 at 8:59 AM #

      Sure thing, M.! I’m glad you can use it. :)

  15. farahh December 12, 2010 at 12:44 AM #

    Thank you! This is very usefull article.. since i always got trouble on writing synopsis :)

    • Susan August 30, 2011 at 12:58 PM #

      You are so VERY welcome, Farah! :D Those synopses sure are tricky…

  16. Brenda Kezar December 13, 2010 at 3:57 PM #

    Thanks you for such a great post! I haven’t started writing a synopsis yet, since I’m just beginning to edit my novel, but I was already dreading it! This post helps me feel a little better about trying it!

    • Susan August 30, 2011 at 12:59 PM #

      Yay! I’m glad to hear that, Brenda, and I hope the writing all goes smoothly (or went smoothly since I’m answering this comment SO LATE!).

  17. Amanda Hoving December 31, 2010 at 6:37 PM #

    This post is very timely for me — thanks for breaking it down. It’s always interesting to see the process another writer goes through.

    Glad to have found you via shout-out’s on Twitter. All the best to you in 2011~

    • Susan August 30, 2011 at 12:59 PM #

      Yay! I’m so glad it was helpful, Amanda!! :D

  18. vamput January 10, 2011 at 7:06 PM #

    ah, thank you! thank you! thank you!
    this is very usefull <3

    • Susan August 30, 2011 at 1:00 PM #

      You’re welcome, you’re welcome, you’re welcome!! <3

  19. Girl Friday January 16, 2011 at 5:16 PM #

    Just found this site and wanted to say THANK YOU for this amazing post. I always thought synopses were evil, but thanks to you I’ve just written mine in no time at all!

    • Susan August 30, 2011 at 1:00 PM #

      This is FANTASTIC! I love hearing it helped!! :D

  20. Christina August 30, 2011 at 12:55 PM #

    VERY helpful. I am very thankful that my professor has shared this post with us.

    • Susan August 30, 2011 at 1:01 PM #

      Good to hear!! And now I’m incredibly curious what professor is passing this link around! It’s great to know my posts are that helpful!! :D

      • Christina August 31, 2011 at 11:57 AM #

        It is my professor for Creative Writing Research. I am currently in the writing program at Full Sail University.

  21. lyfstorm October 5, 2011 at 1:26 PM #

    I am humbled by this very well-written piece! Having just entered the catacombs of attempting to get published (and new to this blog site), I greatly appreciate your crafted thoughts.

    • Susan November 12, 2011 at 6:48 PM #

      You are so welcome! It’s so hard to write a synopsis, but once you know the “formula”, it’s much less intimidating. Good luck!!

  22. T.C. Stevenson November 12, 2011 at 6:45 PM #

    This was so helpful. The synopsis I wrote using this guideline in one hour is so much better than the one that took me over a week to write on my own. I will definitely be using this in the future.

    Thanks so much,
    TCS

    • Susan November 12, 2011 at 6:49 PM #

      Awesome! I’m so glad you found it helpful. It’s easy to find yourself floundering with a synopsis, but once you know the “formula”–easy as pie. Well…easi*er* at least. :)

  23. Heidi Craig February 1, 2012 at 9:20 PM #

    Wow, what a great how-to. Thanks for posting this, it was very, very helpful!

    • Susan February 2, 2012 at 8:55 PM #

      Oh good! I’m so glad to hear you find it helpful, Heidi! :D

  24. John February 4, 2012 at 9:56 PM #

    This is really cool. I write screenplays and this will really be helpful. Will also be helpful writing outlines as well.

    Thanks

  25. Alison February 5, 2012 at 5:37 AM #

    Hey there!
    Thanks for a great and useful post. I am happy to report that I just tried it and it worked! It was so much easier than the usual poke-your-eyes-out-with-a-blunt-instrument-torture of writing a synopsis. I will be sending readers your way!
    Ali

  26. Whine and Cheese Life February 7, 2012 at 10:14 PM #

    This is immensely helpful, and quite possibly my favorite blog post, ever! Thank you SO MUCH!

  27. whimsicalwerecat March 1, 2012 at 11:50 PM #

    Thanks for posting this, Susan! This is a great technique to use in creating a good synopsis. I’ll definately be trying this out for my story. Thanks again – this has been very helpful :)

  28. Jeffrey A. Friedberg March 4, 2012 at 4:09 PM #

    Yeah, I loathed every single moment of this, but your outline made it work. I’m not happy, but I am satisfied (same as with my ex wife, I guess :)

    Thank Kew!!

  29. Peter Mensforth March 28, 2012 at 1:01 AM #

    Hi guys

    I was given your website address by the local office of the Australian Writers’ Guild as a place I might find what I’m looking for.
    I’m obviously an Australian, not quite a first-time writer, but, close, and what’s happened is that my latest feature script has generated some positive feedback here, but to be honest, I’d rather have someone, be it a Producer, Director, or whatever, operating out of LA, with some proven ability to get bigger budget ‘actioners’ made, take on my project … in a ‘perfect’ world.
    I now have some people, who ‘know’ people in Hollywood, apparantly, who are willing to take a look at my script, but before they read it, they first want to read its synopsis, which is a bit of a problem, because I haven’t really written one.
    I started off with a general overall story bouncing around in my head, I played around with it, and finally wrote the script.
    What I was hoping to do is find some website somewhere where I might be able to see examples of synopsis, written by Hollywood professionals of actual ‘actioners’ like ‘Clear and Present Danger’, ‘Body of Lies’ or ‘The Shooter’, ones like that, that I can recall in my head, while reading the synopsis …. Can you point me in the right direction ???
    Can you help me find examples like your ‘Star Wars’ synopsis, which is pretty damn good, but, as I said, for other ‘actioners’ if at all possible … I’m trying to understand just how well written these ‘industry’ standard synopsis are, and, in some way, use the better examples as a bit of a blue-print for my own, as of yet, un-written synopsis.
    I’d be most grateful to you guys if someone might be able, and willing to help me out.
    And also, while I’m talking to other writers, do you guys know how to ‘plug into’ the Hollywood ‘who knows who’ network, in order to get scripts read, noticed, or at least, get ideas heard and discussed???

    Anyway guys, I very much look forward to hearing back from you, with perhaps some ‘pearls of wisdom’ … I’ll be most grateful.

    Thanks.

    Peter Mensforth.
    Brisbane AUSTRALIA.

    e-mail : peterjmensforth@bigpond,com

    • Susan March 28, 2012 at 1:13 AM #

      Hi Peter, I’m afraid we’re all novelists–screenplays aren’t really in our realm of knowledge. With regards to the Hollywood-connection though, I *do* know that the usual piece of advice is: Move to LA. It’s such a cutthroat biz, you have to live there, start small, and work up. This advice is from a former Hollywood agency assistant (married to one of our members). I’m sorry I can’t offer more info. This just isn’t an area in which I work… Good luck, though! And congrats on the interest!

  30. Diana Manley April 19, 2012 at 8:43 PM #

    Great article but I need to do it in 250 words. Suggestions???

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