Writing a synopsis for a novel can be one of the most grueling exercises for an author. How can you compress your story full of twists and turns so much that it fits into the 3-5 pages range (or the scarier 1-2 page range)? It takes a lot of effort in making the reader feel the motivations of the characters of a novel. And it is really tough to make the literary agent or a publisher understand those feelings in so few words, and in words which convey the right mood of the story. If you search for methods to write a synopsis of your novel, you will come across many, many results. Some are good. Some will offer nuggets you know of already.
So, what I am going to tell you about writing a synopsis is nothing extraordinary. However, a good thing about it is in its simplicity. Below are two methods of retelling your story in the form of a synopsis:
The Explosion Method: This method is akin to building a sand castle on a beach. Begin by assuming your page limit for the synopsis to be one or two pages at the maximum. Take your main 3-4 characters and weave the story around them. Offer only the major twists and turns of the story. The purpose of this 1-2 page summary is make it read fast. When you are done with your write-up, go through it. Is it fast? Yes. Does it convey the right mood? Yes. Is the soul of your story intact? Yes. Does your story run smooth? Yes. Does it make the reader want more of your story? Yes (after letting a few of reviewers go through it).
Fine. So, you are ready with the bare-bones structure. It’s time to build further on it. This time, the page limit is 3-5 pages. That means 2-4 pages extra. Now you can take the liberty of adding an extra character, a sub-plot or maybe even an extra shade to your existing characters.
Once you are done, ask yourself the same questions again, till you are done.
The Implosion Method: The implosion method is the explosion method in reverse. It is quite similar to what the waves do to your sand castle. They shear the sand off. That’s exactly what you need to do. You begin by writing a 6-7 page lengthy descriptive of your story. It will be easy.
Now, cut off characters. Remove some of them completely. For others, you may replace them with their professions or their relations with the main characters, e.g. ‘the professor’, ‘the journalist’, ‘his researcher friend’, ‘his henchman’. Remove the minor sub-plots. Reduce backstories. For thrillers, you might want to do away with sentences which eat up space without adding any value to the story. For example, you can remove phrases which convey how a character ‘feels’ in a particular situation or what the character does in his/her pastime.
Keep reducing the write-up till it reaches the 3-5 page limit (if that is what your agent wants).
If you want to reach the dreaded 1-2 page limit, you will have to continue with the same process and keep ‘right sizing’. Don’t forget to ask yourself the same critical questions over and over again.
Which method is easier? The Implosion method is easy to begin with. But, it becomes tougher as you start reducing the length of your synopsis. On the other hand, the Explosion method is so tough to begin with. But, the effort is worth it. Once you are done with that 1-2 page summary, you will realize the beauty of this method. You will get extreme clarity over what you are going to add next and how many extra words/lines it would take. Personally, I prefer the Explosion method. The choice is yours though.
A few examples of synopses
For thriller authors, below are some good examples of Synopses of a few thriller movies (thanks to Writer’s Digest and Chuck Sambuchino): Just click on the movie names…