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the Foundation of a synopsis

This was originally going to be a big post on the foundation and composition of a synopsis, but it turns out I have a lot to say on the subject. I'm going to break up my synopsis "tips" into two posts and will post the other half later this week or early next.

What it is


  1. A brief summary or general survey of something.

  2. An outline of the plot of a book, play, movie, or episode of a television show.

Got it? No? Well, neither did I at first. The bookish definition of a synopsis wasn't really helpful, so I did what every good writer does: research.

There are so many articles out there regarding the what-fors and how-tos. Just google and you'll find tips from authors, agents, and even the occasional publisher. I'm not going to tell you what advice to follow. Pick sources you trust and apply their advice to your own work.

The essentials

Here's the thing with me. I used to "pants" my way through my stories, and I often found myself painted in a corner with no logical way out. So I'd find illogical ways out. :P

That is until I ran across a site I trust about four years ago. Though the article is years older than that, I found the advice invaluable and still apply it today.

Author Larry Brooks provided a structure to writing called Story Milestones and it was exactly the information I needed to make sure my stories: 1) provided peak moments 2) kept a quick pace 3) eliminated unnecessary information/scenes and 4) got me to The End.

He breaks down a novel into 4 parts and each part has specific high points, at specific benchmarks, that should be addressed. In addition, make sure these points are about the MC as often as possible. If a point doesn't/will not affect your MC, then it's prob not necessary.

He provided a great deconstruction of The Hunger Games here and here and here. Once I understood what Larry Brooks was saying, these breakdowns really helped me see what was wrong/missing in my own piece.

I've provided my mentee (and others) the below table to identify their story milestones and to ensure they are happening at the right place. And trust me, I apply this format to myself as well, to the point that I restructured my entire first draft to follow this format. Cause I'm creative-but I like to have a foundation. This is my foundation.

Applying what you know

Your synopsis better touch upon the eight points I mentioned above. After all, they're supposedly the glue of your whole story! It's my believe if your plot lacks these milestones, at their kinda specific points, you *might be* synopsising wrong. ;)

Remember, I'm not just arbitrarily giving you this advice: I've done this myself. I tore apart my piece, rearranged entire scenes, to fit this structure. Why? Because my piece is stronger for taking the time to do it.

So give it a try. See if you can find these points in your own piece.

  1. List what you believe these points are. Take your current synopsis/outline/beat sheet and find the points you believe fill the criteria for the story points above.

  2. Then take your manuscript, divide it into these parts, and see what's actually happening at these markers. Example: If your MS is 360 pages, then page 90 is 25%, page 180 is 50%, page 270 is 75%, etc.

The first time I did this analysis I was amazed by the story points I thought I provided versus what was actually on my pages. What I thought was a fast pace actually dragged. What I thought I slowly revealed was actually bunched up in the middle. And what I thought were "necessary" scenes were actually just padding.

So how can we apply the story points to the different types of synopsis' (long, shorter, shortest)? Well, tune in for the next installment to see. :)

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