How To Write A Novel Synopsis

Today, we are going to tackle what I would argue is the most difficult part of your entire submission package: the synopsis.

When I realized I was going to need to write a synopsis for some of the literary agents I was going to submit to, I was absolutely terrified. Every single English teacher I have ever had has commented on my inability to stay within page/word limits. It’s just impossible! If my point needs four pages instead of three to be argued beautifully, how can they expect me to cut myself off? But of course, when you’re submitting your manuscript, you want to nail the guidelines. You don’t want your submission to be thrown out without a chance just because you couldn’t follow an agent’s directions.

The consensus among the writers I’ve spoken to is that the synopsis takes the most time to create and is the most complicated to figure out. So when I was approaching the synopsis for the first time, I took to Google to do some research. I read lots of articles about the subject, and to be honest with you, most of them were no help whatsoever. There isn’t a good consensus about how to write a great synopsis except to just…. well… write one?

But I did find one article that took a different approach to writing a novel synopsis. Instead of trying to deal with a lot of moving parts at once and writing straight through from beginning to end, the author offered a suggestion to break down your book into parts. Analyzing what is important from different elements of your story makes it a lot easier to write your synopsis. I’m going to break down this technique for you right now, so get ready, get a pen, and take some notes.

Basics of A Synopsis

Most literary agents are looking for a one to two page synopsis in size 12 font and single spaced. Single spacing is a lifesaver, trust me; use it well. There’s a few points you’re going to want to make sure to cover: the narrative arc, your characters and their motivations and emotions, and the ending, to name a few. Do NOT forget to reveal your ending. In your synopsis, an agent is looking for the full main story and as many nuances as you can include within your word limit. You need to be concise, yet detailed at the same time.

Breaking It Down

Step One: Get a piece of paper or open up a document, whichever you prefer. And get ready to make multiple lists. We’re going to start with the plot basics. Use a number list or bullet points to detail the main plot events in order. Emphasis on MAIN. Do not worry about your subplots at this point; we are solely focusing on the clear steps that move your protagonist from inciting incident to the climax and resolution. Include the turning points that set your protagonist on a clear path for either success or failure.

Step Two: Now, we’re going to make a separate list for the main character’s character arc. Introduce your main character and list the points where we see the protagonist thrown into situations where they are forced to make decisions. List the events throughout the novel where the reader sees the character change and grow as well as places where the character maybe takes a step back and reverts back their old ways.

Step Three: Next, let’s bring the secondary characters into the mix. These characters influence the main character in various ways and push them towards or draw them away from their goal. Showcase the ones who play a major role in your novel, and track their progress. Do those characters stay fixed? Do they change as the protagonist changes?

Step Four: Following the introduction and journey of these secondary characters, pick out the major relationships in your novel. This can be a romantic relationship between main and secondary character, or it can be the hero/villain relationship. Or both, depending on the story! Track the main events of each relationship like a mini plot, from beginning through the climax to the end.

Step Five: Take a look at what you have so far. Can you identify any key themes that are addressed throughout your book? Are there any messages that you are trying to convey, blatant or subtle? If these are crucial to the book, write these down and find ways to weave this into your synopsis.

Step Six: Organize your numbers or bullet points into plot order. Now you have a list of everything you should include in your synopsis. Now it’s time to write! One other note, especially for fantasy: make sure you introduce the world that the story is operating in. Include a few important details about the world that are important to your story.

There you have it! By the end of this, you should have a synopsis in your hands! But don’t stop after a first draft. Make sure you edit, edit, edit this document. Have someone look it over, whether it’s another writing friend or a professional. Polish until you are happy with the state that it is in. Spend some time on this! A synopsis can be what gets you that manuscript request!

Why Are Themes Important In A Story, And How Do I Find Them?

Despite being a writer, I couldn’t stand English classes. We rarely did any creative writing, mainly academic. We read endless books, which for me, wasn’t horrible except when they just weren’t interesting. (Don’t even get me started on Catcher in the Rye. How is this a classic?) I would get in trouble all the time for reading something else from the library during class.

My hugest pet peeve about English classes, however, was ever present: English teachers’ burning desire to always find the themes of a work of literature. I could never understand what the necessity was. Why did it matter so much that I, a 14 year old child, understand the intricacies of what an author intended to drive forward? How did the teachers know if they were even right about the author’s intentions? What if a writer writes just because they want to tell a good story? I just wanted to enjoy a book, not get into endless discussions about imagery or central themes. (Also as an introvert, round table discussions were my nemesis.)

As I began to write, however, I realized that it was possible for both my English teachers and I to be right about themes in writing. As a writer, my initial goal wasn’t to push forward some central idea let alone several themes that would ring true throughout my novel. But as I wrote the story, I realized that certain ideas naturally began to come to the surface and show examples throughout the book. So perhaps themes are important after all because they drive the story in the undercurrent where enjoyment blends into the importance of reading.

Why Are Themes Important?

I am beginning to recognize that themes are important because they capture the heart of your story. They present a moral or a lesson or teach the reader something about themselves or their fellow man. They represent pieces of advice from the author about what’s the best way to live. Themes also allow readers to connect to the story better. Without some truth and something of real world importance and connection to make your readers want to see your characters grow and change, your book will never get picked up off the shelf.

In Chasing Fae, I’m starting to formulate what my themes look like. PSA For future readers of my book, here’s the real answers to what my story stands for.

First and foremost is a lesson about the people who may not look like much, but at the end of the day are much more powerful than one would believe them to be. Don’t underestimate the dark horse. Don’t underestimate the quiet people around you because they just might be doing the most in their lives. I also want to communicate how family is what you make of it: if your family is chaotic and messy, then you can always create your own. Blood only means so much; it’s trust, loyalty, and love that builds the strongest family. I also want to talk about what it means to build up trust in someone and learning to trust.

These themes are still evolving, and I suspect they’ll transform into more clear thoughts as I move through the publishing process.

How Do I Find The Themes in My Story?

Let them come to you.

In my opinion, it doesn’t often work to have three or four ideas for themes right off the bat before you start writing. Perhaps you’ve got a basic idea of what you want your readers to draw from the story, and that’s okay. That’s fantastic, actually; go ahead and run with that. But you don’t have to know right away exactly what kind of messages you want to send to people. Enjoy writing your novel first. That’s the most important thing.

Then, while you’re revising and editing, let yourself start looking beyond the plot and into the heart of the story itself. Trust me, even if you’re not sure you’ll find answers there, somewhere in the revision process you will. They will find you, and most times you’ll realize that’s what you wanted to say all along.

And if it’s not.… change it! It’s your book.

Happy writing!

Writing Sex Scenes

When you’re working with a romance subplot in a fantastical universe, it is entirely probable that you will run into the questions that many writers face when creating a believable relationship.

Should I incorporate a sex scene? Where is it appropriate and where is it not? How do I create something that’s going to flow well and not sound absolutely ridiculous?

Despite my age, I’ve had a decent amount of run-ins with sex in literature, and I can absolutely tell when something sounds good and when it sounds like the author is trying way too hard. Or sometimes not enough. If done right, it can add a fiery or finessed detail to your character relationships that can allow one or more to develop and change. Sex means a great many things to a lot of different people. Just as people navigate those meanings in reality, your characters can have the opportunity to explore them on the pages of your novel. Here are some tips and tricks to help you create the perfect sensual moment.

Tip #1: Make sure your scene fits your audience.

Sex in middle grade novels is never acceptable. Let’s get that tidbit out of the way first. Easy enough to remember. When it comes to young adult vs. adult, the lines begin to blur a bit. Some prefer YA books to have more sublte sex scenes that consist of maybe a few lines to get the point across or enough language in a longer scene that it’s not incredibly explicit. Others don’t care if YA has more explicit sex scenes. Adult books can usually run the gamut including tipping into the heavier, way too much for YA kind of explicit.

Tip #2: Keep it real.

Please please please. Keep your sex scenes real. Don’t come up with ridiculous positions that would put obvious physical strain on any characters. Keep your timeline of initiation to foreplay to penetration realistic. But at the same time, don’t feel like you have to be stereotypical. Every couple has their own process and their own style of having sex, even if they have just met and it’s a quick hookup.

If you’ve got a spouse or are in a long-term relationship, try out your scene in the bedroom! Draw inspiration from your sex life. If this isn’t your thing, fanfiction is your friend. Searching your favorite pairings from books, TV shows, or movies in some of the most popular fanfiction platforms (fanfiction.net, archiveofourown.org, etc.) can yield some fantastic steamy stories. You can find one-shots to short chaptered stories to full length manuscripts. Trust me, you can INSTANTLY tell the difference between well written scenes with any kink you can imagine and absolutely horrible prose. And I mean, horrible. Scar you for life kind of horrible writing.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tip #3: Use the right langague.

“His engorged member” is not the right language to use.

Why, why do writers choose to embellish body anatomy and sexual acts with ridiculous words that when put together, conjure some very weird mental images?

Just tell it like it is. Don’t excessively embellish your descriptions. Point A to Point B can be communicated with detail without being flowery and ultimately, unrealistic.

Have fun with it!

Happy writing!

Reference List of Writing Resources

This list will expand as I encounter new programs and websites.

Character Building

Epiguide’s Character Chart for Fiction Writers: A detailed chart that allows a writer to dive into a character’s appearance, personality, and daily life.

Labotomy of A Writer – Epic Character Questionnaire: A comprehensive interview to conduct with your character. Highly recommended.

Worldbuilding

SFWA Worldbuilding Questions: A comprehensive set of worldbuilding questions that cover a wide range of categories to fully immerse a writer in the world they want to create.

World Anvil: A place to create an encyclopedia of your world through articles, profiles, and other posts. Both a free and a paid service.

Outlining

Iulian Ionescu – Master Outlining and Tracking Tool: A high powered outlining tool that allows a writer to summarize their book and split that summary into 81 scenes to aid in the plotting process.

Drafting

Marissa Meyer’s blog post series From Idea to Finished: An article series that walks a writer through the process of writing from the idea all the way through the publication process.

Scrivener: A word-processing program designed specifically for the writer. Combines a research binder, an outlining board, and a typewriter.

Google Docs: My preferred word processor.

Revisions

How To Edit Your Novel – The Ultimate Crash Course: A crucial guide for understanding the editing process and how to tackle it.

Autocrit: An online book editor for fiction writers that analyzes your writing in the context of your genre and gives you specific tips to improve your prose.

Grammarly: An online grammar and spell checker perfect for writers of any profession.

Prologue or No Prologue: The Debate

One of the biggest debates in fantasy writing is whether or not to include a prologue. While prologues are popular in certain subgenres, nowadays we are starting to see less and less of them. This stems from a large shift in opinion in the eyes of both authors and literary agents. Today’s post is going to summarize this debate and hopefully offer a few pointers no matter what decision you ultimately make.

The Argument For Prologues

  1. If the prologue adds to the story, it can be incredibly useful. – Make sure that if you do use a prologue, it is going to add to your story. Introduce characters that are directly relevant to your story, and make it unique. Lead your readers into the main story.
  2. Keep it short and sweet, and your prologue will stand out. A short prologue (typically under 1000 words) can be a great tone setter for the rest of the story. Are you going to set up high intensity action or a tragic event?  Make it match.
  3. Prologues are great for switching point of view. – Sometimes you may want to introduce a character in first person or third person and then switch to the opposite point of view for the rest of the story. This can be great to get inside one character’s head and see what they are thinking before leaping into the story. Conversely, you may want to observe a character or event from an outside perspective before diving into the story.

The Argument Against Prologues

  1. Authors often use prologues as an infodump. – If you’re using your prologue to get across vital information that you feel like the reader has to know before reading your story, nine times out of ten you can get rid of it. Part of being a great writer is the ability to weave vital information into your story seamlessly without sending up a blatant flare for your readers.
  2. Sometimes your prologue will make a much better first chapter – If you’re introducing action in the prologue and then continuing on (even if there is a time skip), think about if your prologue can actually become the first chapter. You may find that it’s a lot better to start right away. People who may read the first few pages of your book (especially literary agents!) will want to know everything they need to know about if they want to keep reading your story without the prologue in the way to muddle things.
  3. Readers often skip prologues. – Enough said. Why write them if readers might skip them anyway?

So which one is best? Well, I believe that’s entirely up to the writer. Do what you feel comfortable doing. Remember, during revisions, you can always change your mind. Writing is never set in stone. You can always build off of it or from it in different ways (just look at the popularity of fanfiction!).

Happy writing!