Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Writing Wednesday: How Not To Suck at Synopsis-Stage - A Practical Application

Hello beautiful people!

I can't believe a week's gone by! Last Wednesday, on this same spot, I wrote a post about pointers on the dreaded suck-nopsis. I tried to demystify the idea of a synopsis, lay down its basics in a clear, non-author-threatening way.

I promised to follow with the practical application of all these pointers, and I also promised that I'd share what I found to be the perfect formula for writing a synop.

So let's get to it - a formula. Yes, it exists. I can't tell you exactly if I've read this somewhere and how it's morphed into my own method of working a synop. If anyone sees anything similar on the Web, credited to someone else, let me know and I'll acknowledge the creator. I've read so much writing advice over the years, and each has stuck with me in bits and pieces, morphing into something/ a method that is totally me.

Now, I need to point out something else. I write romance, and as such, my synopses are for romance books. I don't know how this formula and method I have devised will apply to other genres. Generally, with most fiction you can apply the gist of it. The pointers from last week are universal to all synops though.

Let's recap something - a synopsis is an outline of your story, that tells what it's about, who it's about, and what happens to get these 'who' to HEA (at least it is for a romance. To a big extent, dependent on HEA of HFN, same goes for women's fiction).
A synop doesn't need to be in the same blow-by-blow, showing manner as the book, it doesn't have superfluous detail, it tells of the how without delving too much in there. The gist of the story and its tone should be in there. It's in short, an abstract road map of your story from start to finish.

What do you have as components therefore?

  • A premise
  • Characters (in Romance, both the Heroine and Hero. Typically, this is GMC aka Goal, Motivation, Conflict for each protagonist at the start of the story)
  • Plot
  • Complications (including and especially, the Black Moment)
  • Resolution

That's the lineup of your formula for writing a synopsis! Nothing more complicated than that. You bring your story down to these aspects - flow it from one to another, make sure you cover the most important for every one of these elements, and you got it.

Let's try an example. I'll use the synopsis I wrote for my first book, The Other Side, written under the pen name of Aasiyah Qamar. You'll see how this formula is applied and how it all gels together.


Synopsis – The Other Side

If marriage is the end of the road for a woman, what does she do when she gets divorced?
(This is my story premise. Right off the bat, you know what the story is about. It's the hook, the driving idea behind the whole story, the starting point as well. A lot of people use their story's tag line here. If you can bring down the idea of the story down in a line or two, do it and place it here.) 

Lara Reddy is twenty-eight years old when her ten-year marriage to Roy Reddy blows up. He wants a child; she wants a career.
Born and raised in England, her parents are of Mauritian origin.
A year after her divorce, the sight of her ex-husband and his pregnant new wife drives her to Mauritius, where she’s been offered the job of Managing Director of a conference centre.
(This is my heroine. You have who she is and her GMC here. See here that I don't delve into a character picturisation of her. I give the basics, especially the ones pertinent to the story and for moving the plot forward. There's no huge detail, like the fact that she can't boil an egg to save her life, that she's a chronic smoker and a control freak. All these are her characterization, but they contribute nothing to moving my plot forward. Synopsis is about plot/story. Not characterization)

Eric Marivaux is thirty-one years old. A successful and renowned paediatrician, he lives a quiet life in Mauritius. But happiness eludes him, as he misses the only woman he’s ever loved, and lost- Lara.
(The hero, who he is and his GMC. See again that all this, GMC, is what is pertinent to the story, the romance. A romance too has its focus more on the heroine, so consequently the hero is less emphasized beyond the basics necessary for the plot progression to make sense.)
(From here onward, I get into the plot, and how it develops. I start with the start - Lara's arrival on the island - the meeting with Eric mentioned here happens at Chapter 3, after many 'episodes of being made to feel like the cast-off divorcee and numerous head-thumping encounters with Lara's culture-stringent and neurotic mother. The 'proposal' to marry the man much older - Chapter 6. yet it is mentioned before the meeting with Eric, because it is pertinent to the plot as I am making it progress along. See the progression here - where backstory is needed for it all to make sense, I add it in.
The whole synop is plot progression presented in a way that makes sense for the person reading it.)
Upon her arrival on the island, as a divorcee, Lara is shunned by the local society. Her own mother tries to marry her off to a widower and father of two who is more than twenty years her senior.
Lara wants to flee, but she cannot, as she’s already accepted the job proposal. Resigned, she throws all she has into her career, until she meets Eric again.
Twelve years before, Lara and Eric had been high school sweethearts when she’d spent three years in Mauritius. When Eric leaves for medical studies in France, a misunderstanding leads her to believe he is engaged to an aristocrat there. Feeling hurt and betrayed, Lara accepts an arranged marriage in London.
(Above paragraph is backstory - implied but never shown in a scene in the book)

When they meet again, neither knows the other is single. Lara still feels the brunt of his abandon, and Eric doesn’t want to wreck her marriage.
Fate throws them together on numerous occasions (Chapters 3, 5, 7). Eric comes to learn she’s divorced, and he decides to go after her.
However, though Lara knows Eric is single, she doesn’t want to get hurt by entrusting her heart to a man again- especially one who’s already broken the same heart so many years before. She tries to evade him by every means, and convinces herself she’s better off without him. (Chapters 3, 5, 7, 8)
When a cousin of hers gets too insistent in his pursuit of her, Eric steps in and drives the other man away. (Chapter 7 - he pretends to be her boyfriend when she is laying the bloke off but the guy isn't taking the hint. See, I don't give this detail here, because it is understood what happens and how it happens in the above sentence) Lara is thankful to him, and she lets her guard down as the weariness of her complicated life engulfs her.
Eric sees the opportunity, and he steps in to woo her off her feet again, as he’s decided his happiness lies with Lara, and he’ll rest only when she’s his wife- nothing less.
Through Eric’s gentle persistence, Lara falls under the spell of his tender and caring ways all over again (Chapter 8, where he drives to her home to stay with her during a thunderstorm, because he recalls she was afraid of thunderstorms. Chapter 9, when he asks her out on a movie date. Chapter 10, when she agrees to have dinner at his house). Yet, a part of her is reluctant to give in, as there is one big obstacle between them- they are of different cultures and background. She’s of the Indian Diaspora; he’s of French descent, with an aristocrat mother.
(Plot complication/obstacle to the romance)

The lure of her heart wins her over, and Lara gives in to him. The kiss they exchange on their first ‘official’ date leads to full-blown loving when she spends an evening at his house in Cap-Malheureux.
(In between here are romantic encounters between them, meeting Lara's spoilt-brat little sister, the relationship between the sisters. All these details are fluff for plot progression though, and contribute to characterization)
A few months later, they are well settled as a couple. Lara revels in the peace and the comfort his presence brings her, and Eric knows happiness like never before with her by his side.
On a spontaneous urge, he asks her to marry him. Her reaction shocks him and drives him away, as she faints and tells him there’s no hope for them to exist in Mauritian society. He tells her she’s never trusted him if she thinks that way, and leaves. Desolate and lost, he cannot bring himself to reconcile with the idea that Lara doesn’t trust him. (Black moment)
With Eric gone, Lara knows hurt and pain like she never imagined existed. Yet, she’s convinced it wouldn’t have worked, since they had issues to deal with.
Her father prompts her in asking herself if she isn’t the only one with issues. Her best friend tells her to give their couple a chance. And when her nagging and usually categorical mother tells her to go for love instead of conventions, Lara sees all the barriers she’d erected for their love fall one by one. (All these happen over 6 chapters. I brought about 100+ pages down into 5 lines. Without giving you details, you know what has happened to bring about the change in Lara.)
The last barrier to fall is when Eric’s mother, the proud daughter of a French duke, seeks her out and tells her she wants the life back in Eric’s eyes. Without going as far as giving them her blessing, she asks Lara to give her son, and their love, a second chance. (2 chapters, 2 encounters here)
As Lara ponders over the implications of all these happenings, her ex-husband appears on her doorstep. Roy is lost in family life, and he comes to her for reassurance that he hasn’t made a mistake when he divorced her.
When Lara realises it all happened for the better, she and Roy talk, and a deep friendship settles between them. When he leaves, Roy tells her to go for her love, since she deserves to be happy.
It finally dawns on her that she’s always been in love with Eric. With torrential rain and a raging thunderstorm battling outside, Lara sets out for Eric’s house, and asks him to marry her when she falls in his arms.
Eric answers her with an embrace, sealing the proposal with a kiss.
(See how the plot progresses from establishment to complication to resolution? Everything is covered up till now, yet unless you read the book, you'll know what happens but not exactly how it happens in nitty-gritty.)

The story concludes on their first wedding anniversary. Lara announces to him that she’s pregnant, and happiness is tangible between them as they celebrate the news.
Eric is happy she’s finally with him, forever.
Lara is glad she’s dared to step across to the other side, where she’s found love and the happiness she’s always craved.
(Resolution - how it ends)

There you are! I hope this has helped. Remember - a synopsis is composed of 5 broad elements:


Any questions are more than welcome!

From Mauritius with love,



LM Spangler said...


Excellent follow up to last week. Thankfully I already had your blog bookmarked so I can readily use this info when it's needed.

Great post!

Viviane Brentanos said...

Thank you thank you. I am close to hitting the dreaded synopsis stage for my recently completed wip. I hate them but this has helped tremendously. Good post


Zee Monodee said...

Thanks Lynn. I hope it'll come in handy for you.


Zee Monodee said...

You're welcome, Viviane! Best of luck for the synop. I still break out in cold sweat when I contemplate writing one. :)


Erin Kern said...

that's good and informative. I'm just glad I don't have to write those anymore. I hated them!

Brenda said...

I can't thank you enough, Zee. I'm going to keep referring to your syn and how you broke it down while I'm writing mine. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

Zee Monodee said...

Lol Erin. You're one of the lucky people who don't have to deal with these any longer.


Zee Monodee said...

Hey Brenda

I hoped this post and example would prove helpful for you. Glad it's the case. :)

Best of luck, girl! You know we're all just round the corner if you need any help.