Thursday, June 8, 2017

Writing a Synopsis When You Have Two (or More!) Viewpoint Characters

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!

One question I'm frequently asked when I teach my Tackling the Dreaded Synopsis class is "how do I incorporate multiple narrators/viewpoints into a synopsis?" Many novels are written from the perspective of more than one main character, and since a synopsis needs to account for the entire plot, drafting it with only one main character's viewpoint represented isn't going to work.

So how do you handle this unusual kind of synopsis? There are a few different methods (assuming two narrators; for more than two narrators, the structure would be similar):

1) Write the plot/character arcs for each viewpoint character, one after another. This isn't my favorite approach, because you might end up rehashing plot details more than once, and that can quickly get confusing for the reader. This approach would work well if you've got viewpoint characters on different timelines, so there wouldn't be repetition in plot points.

2) Work chronologically, alternating paragraphs between viewpoint characters to reflect the scenes in the book. Again, this can get confusing to bounce back and forth between characters. If you do choose to try this method, make copious use of the word 'meanwhile' to indicate a transition between what one character is doing in one synopsis paragraph, and what another is doing in the next.

3) Use a hybrid approach, working mostly chronological, and following each viewpoint character when it makes the most sense for the plot. I think this method is most effective. This way, you don't have to bounce back and forth between characters every other paragraph. You can even include details about what both viewpoint characters are up to in the same paragraph. Using a chronological approach, even when accounting for multiple narrators, is usually the best way to present your plot in a straightforward, coherent manner.

At the end of the day, the best way to know what works best is to draft one or more of these synopses, read through them, give them to critique partners, and determine which one reads most clearly. That's your goal with a synopsis, after all: Giving your reader the basic through-line of your story and showing you've written a book with a clear beginning, middle, and end. If you find a synopsis-writing technique that accomplishes that, that's the one to use!


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