Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Writing a One-page Synopsis...Yes, it CAN be done!

I'm unusual amongst my writerly friends - you see, I LIKE writing the synopsis. In fact, I typically write a synopsis after my "zero" draft to help me find the plot holes and start the revision process. 
I know, I know - I am strange. But then, I warned you, right? What's even more strange? I like crafting SHORT synopses - ones that average 2 pages or less, no matter how long the novel.
Before you call the insane asylum, how about I share my tricks for writing me, follow these guidelines and you, too, may use the synopsis as a way of highlighting your story and finding the plot holes.
I am a dying hard believer in the structure used in screenwriting. This structure can be found in books like Save the Cat and others. Regardless of which of these basic structures you use, all stories can really be broken down into stages and turning points (or "beats" to use the lingo from Save the Cat). Nailing down these major stages and turns that transition from one stage to another gives a novel the structure it needs to effectively tell a story. And going through this process gives a writer a tool to see what may or may not be lacking within the story.
Here is a quick run down of the basic stages and turns - the terms are not really important, but what happens within each section and transition is:
  • Opening set up - The MC is introduced in the "normal world".
    • Catalyst  - This first turn introduces the problem or event that causes a change in the MC and his world.
  • Reaction or new scenario - A new scenario occurs for the MC as a direct result of the choice the MC makes regarding the catalyst
    • Mini Crisis - This is typically the end of the first part of a three-act plan structure and is typically an event that occurs and changes everything, resulting in a new goal for the MC
  • Edge of Adventure - also called "Fun and Games" in Save the Cat lingo - In this sec tion, the MC begins working towards his new goal. It carries in it the "promise of the premice" of the story. Subplots are typically woven into this section of the story
    • Point of no return - Typically the half-way mark of the story, this is the turn in which the MC experiences a false victory or defeat and can't ever turn back on his journey
  • Complications - Stakes are raised as the "bad guys" close in and the MCs resolve is increasingly tested
    • Despair - All is lost for the MC as it seems he will never achieve his goals
  • Dark Night of the Soul - The MC falls into a depression, believing there is no hope
    • Transformation  - This turns marks the end of the second act in the three-act structure and represents the "ah-ha" moment for the MC, as he figures out a way to face the final obstacles to his goal
  • Climax - The MC faces the final obstacle standing between him and his goal
    • Resolution - The final outcome of the final confrontation.
This type of structure has worked for me with plot-driven stories like Lacrimosa, my YA Gothic Romance, and character-driven stories like Transcend, my YA psychological thriller.
With this structure, you can easily craft a short synopsis by going through your story and writing a sentence or two for each of the stages and turns. Then link it all into paragraphs and before you know it, you have a basic synopsis to help guide your revisions, or to polish and use. 
What do you think? Not so bad, right??? For more information on synopsis writing, check out Jane Friedman's classic post and her links at the end. 
Christine Fonseca is a critically acclaimed author of edgy YA fiction, psychological thrillers and non-fiction self-help books. Her upcoming releases include DOMINUS, the final installment in the Requiem Series, and the highly anticipated GIRL GUIDE, a self-help book for teen girls. When she is not writing a book or working to develop programs for children with emotional and behavioral needs, she can be found hanging out at her favorite coffee house, drinking Skinny Vanilla Lattes. 


  1. Just when I needed help on this, it's as though you read my mind! ;)

  2. This is just perfect. Will have to refer back to this when it's time for me to write one of these up :-)

  3. Christine, this is such great wisdom. As we all know the one-page synopsis is one of the greatest challenges in the industry. I suppose if we can write that, we can write anything!

  4. This really helped me to re-plot my MG rewrite. Thanks so much!

  5. I'm only in the draft 1.5 stage and working toward a tighter outline. I think writing up a synopsis _now_ will help immensely. I'll be looking up Save the Cat -- thanks a lot Christine! I'm a softie for YA so I'll look up your books :).