Writing a Synopsis Before Drafting

Story time! Last winter, I got the green light to write a sequel/companion novel to REBEL SEOUL. One problem: I had no plot! I had characters & concept, with several scenes that I was super excited to write, but I was missing all those elements pivotal to plot structure: an inciting incident, stakes/motivation, subplots, escalating action, side characters, a climax, an ending, you name it! So what did I do? I wrote a 5-pg synopsis (and honestly, I’m going to do this with every new book I draft because it changed my writing life).

This synopsis isn’t like the standard 1-pg synopsis that some agents ask for. This is a synopsis that you write in order to help you draft.

Here are two reasons to write a synopsis before drafting:

REASON 1: A detailed synopsis is the sweet spot between a query and an outline.

By writing a synopsis, you’re essentially formatting your outline into a structure so it hits all of the important plot points that make up a book (see: dramatic structure). I love outlines – but mine are always just bullet points (perhaps I just haven’t stumbled on a good format. If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!) And bullet points, to me, don’t equal structure. A synopsis is putting an outline to a structure.

REASON 2: Amidst drafting, you can refer back to your synopsis to keep on track.

While subplots tug you in one direction and side characters attempt to steal the show, at least you know, as you refer to your synopsis, that you have a strong through line. If you lose your way, your synopsis will hold your hand and pull you inevitably forward.

Now, how does one write a synopsis exactly?

STEP 1: Find a structure you prefer. Most, if not all, craft books will have some version of the dramatic structure. Or you can just google: “plot structure.” I love Susan Dennard’s worksheet for “Summarizing the Perfect Book,” the link to the worksheet is in point 5. In any case, once you find one that fits your style, start filling out the parts.

STEP 1.5: These are the parts I wanted to include in my synopsis:

  1. Concept/world
  2. Character/1st image/What the character desires
  3. Inciting incident
  4. Side characters; including allies & potential love interests
  5. Motivation/backstory
  6. Villain
  7. Midpoint/1st climax
  8. Low point
  9. 2nd climax
  10. Resolution/last image

Don’t forget to weave in throughout:


STEP 2: You’ve got the cake, now decorate it! Like I said, this isn’t the 1-page synopsis, so go to town. Add in the scenes that you’re excited to write, include the ones that if/when you imagine your book as a movie, those are the scenes you’ll want to see the most. Include your characters’ emotions, their hope, love and despair. Make the synopsis exciting to read so that when you refer back to it, you’ll remember why you were so excited to write this book in the first place.

STEP 3: Have a friend/CP read the synopsis. What do they want to know more about? What questions do they have about the world and plot? Answer their questions in the synopsis to make it even more detailed – the more detailed it is, the more you’ll have to work with. And what’s even better, your friend is now someone who can be excited with you. Now you need to finish your book so that they can read it!

That’s it! You’re done! If you’re a plotter, this might be a good opportunity to go even more into depth, breaking up your synopsis, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. If you’re not a plotter, this could be a way to give yourself the broad strokes and goalposts you need so that you don’t veer too off course, especially if you’re writing under a deadline, while allowing yourself the freedom to make things up on the spot. With this synopsis, you now have a solid foundation to build your palace. Remember, draft with confidence, and have fun!

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