Wednesday, March 7, 2018

1 WoW: Writing a Synopsis with Pintip Dunn

Ah, the dreaded synopsis. An agent or editor request for a synopsis can strike fear into the heart of seasoned and newbie writers alike. Today, we're SO lucky to have NYT Bestselling Author, Pintip Dunn with us. She's put together an incredible, step-by-step post sure to make writing a synopsis stress-free. Stay tuned after the post for a bit more info about Pintip and her books. 

Writing a Synopsis
by Pintip Dunn
Show of (virtual) hands . . . Who loves writing synopses? Who hates them? Ha. Why do I get the feeling that there are more of you in the latter category?

Unfortunately, synopses are a necessary evil, no matter where you are in your writing career. I hope you’ll find the following tips helpful in writing a synopsis. Remember, this is MY perspective on how to write a synopsis. You may not agree with me, and that’s totally okay! There isn’t one correct approach.

First and foremost, I’d like to share a strategy I use to tackle this arduous task. I set the timer to one hour, and then I write, as quickly as I can, without stopping. By the time the hour is finished, I have a draft with which to work. I've found that it is WAY easier to revise and improve upon a draft than to start from scratch. 

Secondly, do NOT include every single event, every single scene, every single detail in your synopsis. The most common mistake I see are synopses that read like this: "...and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened..." Your synopsis is not a summary of events. The purpose of your synopsis is to TELL A STORY. If there's only one thing you should remember about my post today, it should be this. 

Remember in elementary school, when our teachers taught us how to structure a paragraph? One main topic sentence per paragraph, with three supporting details. I'm not saying you should necessarily have three supporting details, but if the fact or event you want to include doesn't support your main topic sentence in some way, it shouldn't be there. 

But let's take this idea one step further. The topic sentences of each paragraph need to connect to one another, and each successive one needs to show forward progression through the story. In other words, taken together, the topic sentences should form a short summary paragraph of your story. 

Put another way: your synopsis should focus on your TURNING POINTS, with as minimal information as possible to connect them and have the story make sense. If I had to sum up how to write a synopsis in one sentence, this would be it. 

What is a turning point, you ask? Clearly, the above statement would be much more helpful if you knew the answer to this question. Simply put, turning points are the key moments in a story that incite the most change. I would venture to say that the better grasp you have of story structure, the easier it will be for you to write a synopsis.
I can't sum up story structure in a single blog post about synopses. There are many different forms a story can take, and my own novels employ different structures depending on the story’s needs. However, I will provide a quick overview of basic turning points, and these will correspond to the paragraphs of a synopsis.

If you’d like to learn more about story structure, I'd recommend the following sources: Michael Hague's Story Mastery, Blake Snyder's Save the Cat, and Laura Baker's Story Magic. 

The first paragraph: The introduction. Some people like to put in the hook or the story premise here -- that special something that sets your manuscript apart. Or, they like to give some background on the world. However, unless the world-building is intense and I need to explain it immediately (which I have done on one occasion), I like to jump right into the story. This means that I usually skip this paragraph, but that's just my personal preference. In my opinion, this type of summary paragraph belongs in the query letter, not the synopsis.

Second paragraph: The inciting incident. This is the moment that takes everything the character thought he or she knew and turns it on its head. It is the incident that throws us into the story and sets it in motion. A rule of thumb is that it occurs about 10 percent into the story, but it can start earlier or later. In some YAs, which tend to move faster, you might see the inciting incident by the end of the first chapter. 

A note about Ordinary Life, which is who the character is at the beginning of the story. Remember what I said about including the minimal information necessary for the story to make sense? This is necessary information for readers to understand exactly how and why the inciting incident rocks the main character’s world. 

Third Paragraph: Act I Climax: around 25 percent. The point of no return. Your character doesn’t have the option to go back to his normal life. She has no choice but to move forward. At this point, the character is still clinging desperately to his ways, but he is coming under more and more stress.  

Fourth Paragraph:  Midpoint: 50 percent. For most plots, this is the moment when the main character feels like she has a handle on the situation and that everything is going to work out. In a W plot, this is the top of the curve, right before it all goes to hell. (In an M plot, this would be the bottom of the curve). Also, if there is a romance, this is typically the first moment of intense emotional connection, whether it be a kiss (in YA) or something more (in adult genres).

Fifth paragraph: Act 2 Climax: 75 percent. This is when it all goes to hell. 

Sixth paragraph: Black Moment. All Seems Lost. Lost Night of the Soul. There are many names for this moment, but this is the point when the character has retreated completely to his old ways and it doesn't seem like anything can pull him out of this awful situation. 

Seventh Paragraph: Act 3 Climax. This is the main character's big moment. When she makes a decision that shows how irrevocably changed she is as a result of the story. Sometimes, this action also saves the day (if you're telling that kind of story). Most importantly, your main character should be driving the action here; the ultimate resolution should come about because of his action, not someone else's.

Eighth Paragraph: Resolution. Yes, you give the ending of the story in your synopsis. Remember, the agent or editor or contest mentor does NOT want to be surprised here. You lay it all out on the table, because you want to show the agent or editor or mentor how well you understand story structure. So, don't keep those twists hidden! 

And, that’s it: my basic advice for writing a synopsis. I hope you’ll find it useful!

Pintip Dunn is a New York Times bestselling author of YA fiction. She graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B. in English Literature and Language. She received her J.D. at Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the YALE LAW JOURNAL. 

Pintip’s novel, FORGET TOMORROW, won the RWA RITA® for Best First Book. It is also a finalist for the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, the Japanese Sakura Medal, the MASL Truman Award, and the Tome Society IT list. In addition, THE DARKEST LIE was nominated for a Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award. 


She lives with her husband and children in Maryland. 

Find out more at

The third book in the New York Times bestselling and RITA®-award-winning Forget Tomorrow series is a thrilling conclusion to an epic trilogy.

Seventeen-year-old precognitive Olivia Dresden is an optimist. Since different versions of people's futures flicker before her eyes, she doesn't have to believe in human decency. She can literally see the path to goodness in each person—if only he or she would make the right decision. No one is more conflicted than her mother, Chairwoman Dresden, and Olivia is fiercely loyal to the woman her mother could be. 

But when the Chairwoman captures Ryder Russell, a boy from the rebel Underground, Olivia is forced to reevaluate her notions of love and faith. With Ryder's help, Olivia must come to terms with who her mother is in the present—and stop her before she destroys the world.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for the great tips.... these will definitely help me with my next synopsis!


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