Friday, March 13, 2009

The Writer's Life: Writing the Dreaded Synopsis, Caridad Pineiro

Five Scribes is pleased to host the awesome Caridad Pineiro as she kicks synopsis and takes names later.

(Sing this to the tune of Disney's A PIRATE'S LIFE FOR ME)

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Writer's Life for Me!
We plot and we type,
We write and rewrite,
A dreaded synopsis we seek!
We sweat and we tweak,
We cry and we freak
That dreaded synopsis we seek!

As you might be able to tell from that intro, my mind is focused on one thing today – the dreaded synopsis. Funny how so many writers refer to it that way, but in truth many writers find it harder to write a synopsis than to write an entire book.

I know I do. Having been basically a pantser all my life, I find it difficult to translate onto paper the plot that I have in my head.

I am not alone.

So how do you approach writing the dreaded synopsis? What things can you do to make it easier to take that story line in your head and turn it into something that an editor will like and decide to buy?

My first step is to try to reduce the concept for the book in a few short paragraphs. Think of it as the jacket blurb that will end up on your published book. That blurb should contain the basic concept of the story and the conflict between the characters.

Use it for the introductory paragraphs to your synopsis. Refine it to use as part of your query letter.

What next?

Know the length of your book and based on that, give yourself an approximation of the number of chapters you will include in the book. For example, in a 90,000 word single title novel, which is approximately 360 pages, you may have 36 ten page chapters. Again, just an approximation as there is no set rule as to the right length for a chapter. You can have a one page chapter if that’s all you need to move the plot from point A to point B.

Make a list from 1 to 36 and beside each one, write down one or two short sentences about what you imagine will take place in that chapter. As an example, here are some ideas I jotted down for my March 2009 release, FURY CALLS:

Chapter One: Meghan is hard at work as a chef when she senses something unusual as do the other vamps at her place. An investigation reveals two vampires draining themselves to death in one of the restaurant’s private rooms.

Chapter Two: Blake is hanging out at the Blood Bank, looking to satisfy his hunger when he encounters a blonde who reminds him too much of Meghan. After a short interlude with the blonde leaves him cold, Blake decides to pay Meghan a visit.

Chapter Three: Meghan is trying to recover from the violent death of the two vampires when Blake strolls up to the back of the restaurant. A fight ensues between them. Flashback to their first encounter.

When you are done with this, you will have a basic chapter outline for your novel. The problem is, most editors do not like chapter outlines, but you will now have the groundwork for your novel and as well, for your synopsis.

From this chapter outline, distill the conflicts and themes that are running through the points you have written down for the outline. You may find that there are some themes that you had not noticed as you were making the outline and now is the opportunity to beef them up in key sections of your book. There should also be a clear arc of the conflicts to be resolved by your protagonists.

Redact those conflicts, themes and the basic story line into a shorter summary of the plot – your synopsis.

Remember one thing – this is one of the most important selling tools you will have so let your writing voice and style shine through. Again, try to think of it as the jacket blurb, only a little longer. Possibly imagine it as a teaser at the front of the book.

Then take a moment and sit back. Consider if what you’ve just read has you so interested that you want to read the book. If not, go back and tweak a little. Punch up some of the sentences with strong action verbs. Make sure the conflicts you imagined for the protagonists ring true and even more importantly, are enough to drive the story for all those chapters.

Now, having said all that, I still dread the synopsis, but using the above, I know I can provide my editors with the information they need to decide whether or not they will acquire the book.

If you’re having trouble creating your chapter outline, consider using something like the Hero’s Journey to help you through the rough spots.

About the Author: Caridad Pineiro is the USA TODAY and NY Times bestselling author of over twenty novels. In 2009, look for HONOR CALLS, a February Nocturne Bite, FURY CALLS, a March Silhouette Nocturne, both from the popular THE CALLING Vampire series. Also look for SINS OF THE FLESH in November 2009, the first novel in an exciting new paranormal romantic suspense series from Grand Central Publishing. For more information on Caridad, please visit or


magolla said...

Wow, Caridad, talk about a light bulb moment for me! Always remember the KISS rule!
A couple of weeks ago, I started writing a MG novel, vaguely plotted, and, of course, I got stuck. . . until I figured out the chapter names. Once I bullet pointed the names of each chapter, I had the road map that I needed to continue writing.

RachieG said...

Love the KISS Rule! I enjoyed your blog, had no idea how much really went into writing a synopsis.

Have a great weekend!!

Donnell said...

This is a fantastic method, Caridad, I can't wait to share it. Thank you from all of us pansters! Thank you:)

Tiffany James said...

I love this! Actually writing the synopsis isn't as dreaded for me as trying to figure out my plot, character arcs, etc. I think the chapter blurbs will really help me with this. Thanks so much!


Liz Falkner said...

Hi Caridad!

Amazingly, I'm working on a synopsis at the moment and your blog reinforced the need to keep things simple. I'm a hybrid pantser so I have to get myself in the mindset of writing a synopsis before things will flow.

As you mentioned, I use the intro paragraphs and then list the major plot points as well. I think we have such a writer's block toward synopsis that we instinctively make it harder than it actually is.

If we consider that the synop is the response to someone asking "what is your story about?" it makes it easier to put it on paper.

Thanks for a great post!

Fannie said...

I am not a writer but even I benefitted from this. It can be applied to more than writing. The KISS rule should be applied to all aspects of our lives. Thanks for sharing.

Helen Hardt said...

Caridad, I'm a huge fan of your work! How fun to see you here. This is a wonderful system, one I'll be sure to try. Looking forward to your upcoming releases!


jwhit said...

Here's a tip that made the synopsis approach much easier:

This is the time to tell, not show!

Keep your voice, but tell the reader what the story is instead of showing them. Write in present tense, 3rd person.

I love the idea of creating a chapter outline. I'm doing that on my completed work first draft right now as an analysis tool to uncover the flow and holes. Nothing like having something do double duty!!

Jamieson Wolf said...

What a FANTASTIC way to write out a synopsis! I never thought of doing it that way. I usually don't plot my novels and just go where the story takes me.

But this gives me a great way to not only do a synopsis but also plot a novel! Spot on!


Caridad Pineiro said...

Thank you all for visiting! I didn't normally plot either, but now I have to generally send the synopsis way in advance of the actual writing of the book. As I said, dreaded for me, but I think if you work on it as a chapter outline and then use those talking points, it becomes less of a challenge. I'm working on my synopsis this morning! Have a great weekend and thanks for dropping by.

Julie Robinson said...

Your pirate writer song is hilarious. We LOVE the Pirate of the Caribbean ride at Disney World. It's my hubby's favorite one. I'm going to post this song next to my pop-up pirate ship kid's book I have on my desk. Then I can smile and be motivated every time I see it.

robynl said...

Hi and welcome Caridad. What is the KISS rule? You have given great info for even non-authos(as Fannie said).