After playing around on the interwebz this week I discovered a theme emerge among my writerly buds…lots of angst over the dreaded synopsis. Now, I’m not saying writing a synopsis is a piece of cake – far from it. But, there is a way to do it that s a little less painful.

The editors, agents and published authors I’ve spoken with have all said that shorter is better when it comes to the synopsis.

WHAT? SHORTER…It’s hard enough cramming the storyline of a 70 – 80K novel into a few pages single spaced. Now I need to cram it into 500 words or so. CRAZY!

True…but totally doable too.

That is, once you really KNOW the arc of your story.

That’s right, a synopsis can be an easy endeavor, relatively speaking, if you have taken the time to plot out your story arc.

For me, the easy way to do this is to “borrow” a little structure advice from our friends – the screenwriters.

All dramatic movies and TV shows follow a similar structure – 5 or 6 stages that lead the viewer from the opening scenes to the final climax and resolution. Nail down these stages with your own novel, including the turning points that transition one stage to the next, and you will have the structure of your story.

Here’s a quick list of each of the stages and plot turns in a typical story:

  • Opening set up – The MC is introduced in the “normal world”.
  • Initial challenge  – The problem the MC needs to solve.
  • Reaction or new scenario – A new scenario occurs for the MC as a direct result of the choice the MC makes regarding that opportunity
  • Mini Crisis – An event occurs that changes everything and a new goal is made
  • Edge of Adventure – The MC works towards his new goal
  • Point of no return – The MC fully commits to achieving the goal – to his journey
  • Complications – The MC is tested and the stakes are raised as new complications arise
  • Despair – The MC in despair as he hits a major set back in his plans
  • Transformation  – The MC pulls himself together to face the final obstacles to his goal
  • Climax – The MC faces the final obstacle standing between him and his goal
  • Resolution – The outcome of the final confrontation.

Now that the stages are clear, go through your story and write a sentence or two for each of these sections of your story.

In the next post, we’ll take our sentences and write the synopsis! And yes, I’ll use a popular movie as an example.

See, not so bad…right?


37 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a SHORT Synopsis

  1. Wow! I’m impressed with how you’ve broken this down. I wrote a synopsis awhile ago, and it was so, so difficult. I never did come up with a sure-fire way of doing it. It was just messy. 😦

    Anyway, thanks for this! I’ll definitely use your list next time. I’m bookmarking this post. 🙂

  2. Hey Kat – when I finish up the post with the examples you’llsee…so much easier!
    Glams – Thanks!!!
    Meredith – I hope it helps.

    1. Awesome, Christine!

      I’ve found that for me the easiest time to write a synopsis is after I’ve revised. At that point, the story’s fresh on my mind and I have an easier time summarizing it. I love your structure! Will have to try. 😀

  3. This is a really helpful breakdown! I wonder how much deviation from this sort of setup the plot of a book can actually have. I imagine some, but not much.

  4. I hadn’t thought of using the screenwriters’ template approach before, what a useful post! I totally agree that you need to know your arc with clarity before you embark on the synopsis – and in fact I often use synopses to sharpen up my storytelling mid-rewrites. I’m tweeting this!

  5. I loved this post so much and looked all over your blog for pt. 2 but couldn’t find it. Did you do another one where you give some examples using movies? Please help.

    1. I would say, yes – you can. My novel Transcend features a main character that serves as both protag and antag

    1. My bad – the post was inadvertently deleted. I will be reposting it on my writer’s blog – – within the next month though. Sorry!

  6. This is a big help although I didn’t know what MC stood for since I’m not a texter much. As a predominantly short story writer and journalist the synopsis is easier for me although I dislike the summary. I keep book synopsis to as little as 150 words if it goes on the book jacket and I never tell the actual ending as i would in the summary. Reblogging this on

  7. Thanks soooooo much. I’m now writing my first synopsis for my first book and I must admit it seem so hard until I read your steps… Thanks you for giving me the steps to complete my synopsis… 😘😘😁😁

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