A Synopsis Template

Take my 100,000-word novel and condense it into a few pages? No thank you. It feels like I’m taking a brand new outfit and dicing it up until only the buttons and a string of fabric remains.

Despite my lack of love for the synopsis, every novelist who writes for publication needs to know how to write one, and how to write one well.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been spinning two potential story ideas through my brain. In order to flesh them out, I decided I would write the premise, back cover blurb, and a synopsis for each of the two ideas. I was floundering with my first synopsis. Until last week.

Stories have structure. At least they should. So I took a hodgepodge of structure points from Jim Bell’s book, Plot and Structure, Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck’s blog, My Book Therapy, and Dwight Swain’s book, Techniques for the Selling Writer, and used these points to create a synopsis template.

After I created the template, writing the synopsis got a whole lot easier.

Here it is, for you to use if you’d like. Keep in mind, I write romance. Also keep in mind, that while every story has a structure, it is not this rigid thing. You’re allowed to move around the paragraphs to best fit your story. I find that paragraphs nine through eleven are particularly fluid.

Synopsis Template for Romance:

First paragraph:
Introduce the heroine (include the lie she believes, her greatest fear, and/or her greatest dream) and her disturbance. What event interrupts the status quo of her normal life?

Second paragraph:
Introduce the hero (include the lie he believes, his greatest fear, and/or his greatest dream) and his disturbance. What event interrupts the status quo of his normal life?

Third paragraph:
The first doorway. What hurls hero and heroine into the story to the point where they can’t turn back?

Fourth paragraph:
Heroine’s statement of story goal and her motivation for the goal

Fifth paragraph:
Hero’s statement of story goal and his motivation for the goal

Sixth paragraph:
Turning point. How do things get worse and how does the goal matter even more for hero or heroine?

Seventh paragraph:
Another turning point. How do things get even worse and how does the goal matter even more for the hero or heroine?

Eighth paragraph:
Second doorway. What is the catalyst that hurls hero and heroine into their black moments?

Ninth paragraph:
Heroine’s black moment and epiphany. The point where the lie she believes is overwhelming, her biggest fear comes true, which leads to her discovery of the truth (freedom from the lie).

Tenth paragraph:
Hero’s black moment and epiphany. The point where the lie he believes is overwhelming, his biggest fear comes true, which leads to his discovery of the truth (freedom from the lie).

Eleventh paragraph:
The climax. What situation will force hero or heroine to choose between two concrete, alternative, irrevocable courses of action? One way leads to hero or heroine accomplishing his/her goal. The other leads to hero or heroine sacrificing goal for the sake of love and/or principle.

Twelfth paragraph:
The Resolution. What results because of the hero or heroine’s choice? Since I write romance, this typically involves a kiss and a profession of love.

And there you have it. Twelve paragraphs to sum up an entire novel. I hope you find it useful!

Questions to Ponder: How do you feel about writing synopses? Do you write them before your write the novel or after? What’s the best tip you’ve ever received when it comes to writing one?removetweetmeme

38 thoughts on “A Synopsis Template

  1. Celia

    Very helpful, Katie. At this point in my writing, I’m thrilled to find a step-by-step approach that I can follow – until I get more confident in writing these oh-so-important synopses. Cheers!

  2. B Lee Draper

    Thank you so much for being generous enough to share this, and make me laugh at the image of reducing an outfit to its buttons & threads. Most useful. πŸ™‚

  3. Gina Conroy

    I'm dreading the synopsis writing, but as ACFW approaches, I know I need to finish my WIP or at least have an impressive synopsis! I love you made it look so simple!

  4. Steven E. Belanger

    Sorry if this appears twice…

    Anyway, great post. I'm not a romance novelist, but this looks so helpful that I'll ::borrow:: this and tweak it to fit my stuff. Thanks for the post! Good luck with your writing!

  5. Steven E. Belanger

    I don't write romance, but this looks so good I'll copy (Ummm, I mean, borrow) it and tweak it a bit to fit my stuff. Thanks for the post!

  6. patti.mallett_pp

    Katie, I read this last week and came back for another peek, and Voila!, it was exactly what this brain needed for some things going on today. So glad you don't mind the stealing. : > It's fully copied in a notebook in front of me to take with me for the week-end with the grandkids. (Am I being realistic to think there will be time for such things?) Thanks so much for sharing the fruits of your labor!

  7. Susan R. Mills

    Holy cow! I posted about the dreade synopsis today, and asked for any suggestions. Someone pointed me in this direction, and I'm so glad they did. I linked to a few websites in my post today, but do you mind if I link to here tomorrow? This is great info!

  8. Carol J. Garvin

    Great template, Katie! I struggle with a synopsis every time, template or not. It's not so much *what* goes into it but how it's worded… trying to ensure it reflects my style of writing and isn't just a boring account. It's more of a challenge than writing the novel. Blechhh!

  9. Jessica Nelson

    That's a really, really good template. Thank you for sharing! Synopses got a lot easier for me after I took Camy Tang's class. Like you, she breaks them down really well.

  10. Jill Kemerer

    My process is very similar, but I love how you explain each point. I'm e-mailing this link to my local writer buddies. It's great!

  11. Shannon O'Donnell

    Great post! Great template! You rock! πŸ™‚

  12. Ryan and Melanie

    Thanks for this post, Katie. I've written down the name of those books.

  13. Catherine West

    Ugh. Now I have hives. But maybe your wonderful breakdown (of how a synopsis should go, not the other kind), might help. But you have to promise nobody is going to hunt me down and torture me when the finished book turns out to be nothing like the original synopsis. Can we put like a warning or something at the top: The thoughts, actions and emotions relayed here by the author are not necessarily those of the characters.

  14. Katie Ganshert

    Great question Stefne. Regardless of sequel or stand alone, every story should have a structure, along with a character who has a solid story goal. So I think it would work for a sequel too, but it might look a little different. πŸ™‚

  15. Stefne

    Thank you so much for this article!

    For some reason, the thought of writing a synopsis practically gives me the hives. It seems like a near impossible task.

    Just last night, via Twitter, I was asked for a synopsis on my next novel. It is a sequel that it comes out in the spring, so people are wanting to know more about it.

    Do you believe this structure stays the same for a sequel?

  16. vvdenman.com

    Saving this to my permanent files right now.

    BTW, I'd love to read your final synopsis to see how you worked the template.

    Thanks so much for posting!

  17. Jennifer Shirk

    I love this breakdown!

  18. Dean from Australia

    I never worked from a synopsis for my first novel, I only ever really had a rough outline that I built on as I was writing the story and it never became a true synopsis.

    As I begin work on my second novel I am looking to craft a synopsis to work from. This template is brilliant! Very easy to follow and sequential.

  19. Kristen Torres-Toro

    So hard! But this is great, Katie! Thanks!

  20. Robyn Campbell

    Jill Kemerer helped me with mine. But I lost it and all my notes when my computer crashed. So thanks Katie. Bookmarking!

    The query and the synopsis and all of this other stuff is MUCH harder than writing the book.

    How did Brogan's celebration go? Man oh man, I bet he had a time. *Hugs*

  21. Rosslyn Elliott

    Great template! I will also return to this the next time I have to do it. Ugh. Not my favorite task. πŸ™‚

  22. Susan J. Reinhardt

    Hi Katie –

    Excellent job! I wish someone would write a template for a futuristic suspense novel. I'm sure I'll be able to take some of your points and use them.

    Susan πŸ™‚

  23. Katie Ganshert

    Hey T – I don't mind one bit. I'm thinking of making it a page on top with my other blog pages.

  24. T. Anne

    Oh I love this! I'm going to copy this to word if you don't mind. it's priceless!! I have the worse time writing these. And I love you analogy of taking an outfit and reducing it to threads. It's a perfect synopsis of the entire process. πŸ˜‰

  25. Patti

    I wish I wrote Romance, that was great. I hate writing synopsis, but I think writing them before you start a book is a good idea.

  26. Katie Ganshert

    Erica – you betcha!

  27. Jaime

    Synopsis – love/hate relationship. I love them once they're done – they give SO much organization to the book. I hate writing them. period. not fun. nope. πŸ™‚

  28. Erica Vetsch

    Yay! Nicely done! Will I get a peek at the two synops before they go out the door? πŸ˜€

  29. Diane

    Since I do childrens' books, mine must be shorter. I will have to search out my synopsis form. Love how you make it look so simple. :O)

  30. Slamdunk

    Excellent organizational tips.

    I'd have to write it after the work was complete, and just stick with a well-erased outline in the beginning.

  31. Katie Johnson

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

  32. Cindy R. Wilson

    Thank you, Katie! I am definitely going to use this when I write my next synopsis. I have a template for a one-page short synopsis, but it gets more challenging when I create the longer one. I usually do it after I write my story, which means in another month or so, I'll be approaching the synopsis again. This will be soooo helpful πŸ™‚

  33. Sarah Forgrave

    This is great, Katie! It reminds me a little bit of Camy Tang's synopsis class, how she recommended structuring it. I may marry the two for my next synopsis. πŸ™‚

  34. Lisa Jordan

    Terrific synopsis, Katie. I'm totally stealing this…ahem, borrowing this for my next synopsis. Thanks for sharing!

  35. Katie Ganshert

    Good question Wendy. My synopses ends up being about 3.5 pages, which I know is long for proposals, but I just can't seem to make them shorter!! It's something I'm working on.

  36. Wendy Paine Miller

    I got to the word doorway and I thought–oh hello Bell! πŸ˜€

    This truly is excellent, Katie.

    Wondering how many pages this bad boy adds up to. Guess you could vary it, but with twelve paragraphs this looks like the kind of synopsis you'd find in a proposal, eh?

    ~ Wendy

  37. Terri Tiffany

    Wow– you did great! I'm not longer writing romance and dread the awful synopis writing. But a book does have a structure and taking and working with it like you did makes so much sense.

  38. Jeanette Levellie

    I cringe at the word synopsis. It's like trying to fit a whole turkey into a ziplock bag, or the Grand Canyon into a 3×5 print.

    Your list excels them all, my dear.

    The best tip? Pray for wisdom and expect to get it. Jesus' brother, James gave me that one.


Comments are closed.