Thursday, June 22, 2017

Why You Should Write a Synopsis Before You Start Writing Your Manuscript

If you'd like a primer on how to write a synopsis, see my posts here and here. And if you want your synopsis critiqued on this website, fill out the form here, or email your 1-2 page synopsis to me at, and I'll post one critique per week (NOTE: I'll email my critique to the author as soon as I'm done, so the author won't have to wait to see his/her synopsis on the site). Thanks for participating!

For many writers, drafting a synopsis is the most painful part of the novel-writing process. You've finished writing, editing, polishing, incorporating critiques, and your novel shines! But now you have to go back and summarize your entire plot in a 1-2 or 4-5 page document? It's painful, it's difficult, and you'd rather spend the day cleaning your house or going to the dentist. Since this is such a common complaint, I found myself wondering if there was any way to make the synopsis-writing process more enjoyable.

As it turns out, there is: Write the synopsis before you start writing the book.

You might be thinking, "But I don't even know what's going to happen in my book until I start writing!" Or, "My synopsis is going to change significantly once I'm done with the book!" But hear me out. Even if you're not a strict (or even casual) outliner, you have some idea of what's going to happen in your book before you start writing. At the very least, you know something about your main character, what happens to her, what choices she is forced to make, and maybe even what happens at the end. 

So, using just that information, you can start writing a synopsis. You won't know all the plot details, and that's okay! Writing a synopsis is a great way to start brainstorming the types of scenes you want to include, what the main character's arc is going to look like, and how to incorporate a satisfying ending into your narrative. Seeing the most basic beginning-middle-end of your plot on a single page (or two pages) is the best way to see what the plot needs to be complete. Are you missing action? Tension? Resolution? A basic synopsis can tell you all of that.

Of course you'll go back and revise the synopsis as you write the book. And you'll need to revise it extensively when you're done writing the book, to make sure you're accounting for the entire plot. But you'll have the skeleton of the synopsis already written, and revising it tends to be far less painful than starting from scratch.

EXERCISE: Write a Pre-Novel Synopsis

1) Know who your main character is, the basic setting, and at least the most basic answers to the questions of 'what happens?' 'what does my main character want?' and 'who/what is standing in the way of my main character getting what he wants?'

2) Brainstorm a list of at least ten scenes you want to see in your book.

3) Using that list and the answers to the questions in (1), put the scenes in the order that makes the most sense for your narrative (usually chronological, but not always)

4) Add details (no need to include too many at this point) to each of the critical scenes, using a paragraph for each one (at least at this initial stage)

5) Flesh out transitions between scenes - because 'X' happens in paragraph 1, 'Y' must happen in paragraph 2, and that leads to 'Z' happening in paragraph 3.

6) Read over your synopsis and note areas where the main plot and main character arc are missing important elements (change, tension, action, resolution, etc.). Note where those elements need to be added.

7) Use this Pre-Novel Synopsis as your guide for writing your novel!


  1. Great tip, Jaime! It makes the pre-synopsis into a first draft, and then when you go back after writing the novel, you get to edit! And who doesn't like editing better than drafting? 😬

  2. What an interesting approach! I have a novel I put aside a while back when it bogged down that I'm ready to take up again. I may try writing a synopsis for the rest of the book. Thanks for the idea.

  3. This is awesome. Thanks! I'm trying to plot my next book, so I think I'll try this approach.

  4. I love being a pantser, but really hate all the time it takes to reorganize things after basically free-writing an entire novel. I also happen to loathe synopsis writing. But if I can write a synopsis before I write the book, it will be building something instead of feeling like I'm deconstructing, and it'll give me some anchor points to pants between. I'm bookmarking this for my next project, thanks!


Add your awesome here: