By Shannon Donnelly
When I first started writing, I found out you needed a synopsis to submit to agents. Okay, I thought, I can do that. Well, I did, but not so well—twenty pages later I had a synopsis that rambled, wandered, and just did not do the job. Thankfully, someone pointed this out to me.
These days, I actually like writing the synopsis—yes, that’s right, I like it. Well, okay, maybe, not like, but I find it’s an invaluable tool.
- A good synopsis shows you where your plot holes are before your book falls into them.
- A good synopsis points out weak conflict and places where character motivation is thin.
- A good synopsis can save you lots of rewriting and thrown out chapters.
Usually, I like to get about 50 to 100 pages done, and then hit the synopsis to make sure I have all the story beats and conflict in place. It’s my road map. I may wander from it, but it helps keep me from getting bogged down.
I’m teaching my “Sexy Synopsis” workshop again this March for Low Country RWA, but in the meantime, here’s the checklist I created to keep me on track with getting a synopsis to be like a little black dress—stylish but covering all the important bits.
Feel free to adapt this to your own list—this came from years of taking apart every synopsis I could read to find out what worked and what worked best for me.
1. Does it cover the hero and heroine’s relevant character traits and goals in a fresh way?
2. Does it tell the scenes with the most conflicts–internal and external–for the hero and the heroine, with an emphasis on the main character’s conflict?
3. Does it offer specific dramatic scenes for the main turning points, detailing what happens, where it happens, escalating the risk to the main character’s goal, and offering harder and harder choices for the main character in each of these scenes?
4. Does it have scenes that show a developing relationship, including attraction and hero and heroine compatibility, with mention of the feelings of the characters, and also telling what is keeping a relationship from working between these two?
5. Does the story include scenes with sexual developments between the characters and how those scenes impact character conflicts, compatibities and emotions?
6. Does it tell all characters’ motivations–including for any villain or antagonist?
7. Are the characters fresh? Are they developed by looking past cliché to what is core and specific to the characters?
8. Do the characters make choices that come from within that specific person, rather than from the writer manipulating the story? Can you say, “Yes, if I were this person, I would make this choice.”
9. Does it raise questions to keep interest going–and then provide answers to all questions raised?
10. Does it include a scene that is the climax or black moment, and make clear the resolution of the story with an ending that wraps up all story elements?
11. Does it include a strong theme that is woven into the scenes and character choices? And which is revealed strongest in the climax of the book and the character’s ultimate choice?
12. Is the voice active, with all extra words cut, and with the best possible word choices with the clearest, most concise writing possible in a tone that matches the tone of the book?
How do YOU feel about synopsis writing? Do you love it, hate it, or are you somewhere in between?
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the “Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer” contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA’s Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: “simply superb”…”wonderfully uplifting”….and “beautifully written.”
Her newest book, Riding in on a Burning Tire, the second book in the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series is just out from Cool Gus Publishing. Her work has been on the top seller list of Amazon.com and includes Paths of Desire, a Historical Regency romance. Her Regency romances can be found as ebooks on all formats, and with Cool Gus Publishing, and include a series of four novellas.
Shannon is the author of several young adult horror stories, and computer games. She lives in New Mexico with two horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and only one love of her life.