Writing the Synopsis with Diana Cosby

Dana MermaidNot so long ago, I was certain that no one on the planet despised writing a synopsis as much as me. I would rather have put my beautiful, complete manuscript in a drawer, and moved on to write another entire book than to condense a 100k story into the 3-5 pages necessary to submit my work to an editor or agent. I always found it difficult to know what to put in and what to leave out, or how to convey the ever-important backstory that makes the hero and heroine who they are, without overshadowing the story actually being told. And then, I was fortunate enough to win a synopsis and three chapter review from the fabulous Diana Cosby, an international bestselling author who also happens to teach a class on writing the synopsis. Besides being one of the nicest people on the planet, she did such a wonderful job of helping me to understand and conquer my fear of the synopsis that I begged her to swim over to the mermaid pond and share some of her secrets with us..

Diana Cosby

Diana Cosby

A retired Navy Chief, AGC(AW), Diana Cosby is an international bestselling author of Scottish medieval romantic suspense.  Her award-winning MacGruder Brother books are available in five languages. Diana has appeared at Lady Jane’s Salon, in NYC, in Woman’s Day, on USA Today’s romance blog, “Happily Ever After,” MSN.com, and in Texoma Living Magazine.

After her career in the Navy, Diana dove into her passion – writing romance novels. With 34 moves behind her, she was anxious to create characters who reflected the amazing cultures and people she’s met throughout the world. In August 2012, Diana released her story in the anthology, “Born To Bite,” with Hannah Howell and Erica Ridley. 

Writing the Synopsis

©2013 Diana Cosby

Without question, one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal is the synopsis.  It ensures your story is cohesive, well-motivated, a template for writing your manuscript, and used for agent and editor submissions.

Without question, one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal is the synopsis.  It ensures your story is cohesive, well-motivated, a template for writing your manuscript, and used for agent and editor submissions.

Understandably, authors approach writing the synopsis with trepidation as the synopsis challenges the author to ensure they have a sound, well motivated plot/story on every level.  Instead of asking, “How do I write a solid synopsis?”  A better question may be, “How can I write a brief narrative of my story that will portray the full impact of my novel and ensure all story points have strong motivation?  To do this we need to get back to basics.

The story is about the characters, their lives, the decisions they make under pressure along with the emotions and feelings that arise from these situations.  Only through forcing our characters to make decisions under pressure can we ‘show’ the reader exactly who the character is.  Over the years in writing synopses, I’ve noticed that my protagonists’ introductions have lengthened with emphases on who they are and what significant events have crafted them into the people they’ve evolved into at the beginning of the story.  The reason for the increased character time is because our synopsis tells the agent or editor a story, but it’s our characters who hook them emotionally and make them care.

The external conflict’s purpose in the story is to force the characters to deal with their internal conflict, which is why the “black moment” is really the time of truth as the plot reaches its critical point.  Essentially, the black moment is when despite everything obstacle the character has overcome from page one, they realize that what they thought they wanted [outer goal] isn’t what they want at all, but their inner goal.

The outer goal must be important enough to drive the story forward.  If the outer goal could wait, it’s too weak.  The inner goal is a personal issue that characters have yet to face; even though the characters begins their journey with an outer goal in mind, the story must turn personal.  This is how I view the story.  Whatever the outer goal is, the protagonist MUST sacrifice it during the black moment.  The key word here is sacrifice.  The good things a hero and heroine do throughout the story are nice, but what makes us really love and respect our characters is what they sacrifice.  And to the reader, it’s this ultimate sacrifice that makes them heroic.

The outer goal must be important enough to drive the story forward.  If the outer goal could wait, it’s too weak.  The inner goal is a personal issue that characters have yet to face; even though the characters begins their journey with an outer goal in mind, the story must turn personal.  This is how I view the story.  Whatever the outer goal is, the protagonist MUST sacrifice it during the black moment.  The key word here is sacrifice.  The good things a hero and heroine do throughout the story are nice, but what makes us really love and respect our characters is what they sacrifice.  And to the reader, it’s this ultimate sacrifice that makes them heroic.

The middle of the book should be an exciting time.  It’s where romances are recognized whether the hero and heroine want it or not, where the stakes increase, because now they have emotional involvement which convolutes the protagonists original intent.  And suddenly, the goal that started out so clear, is blurred by emotional needs.  Another tip, the middle is usually where a major plot point occurs.

As I go through each step of writing the synopsis, I ask myself, “How can I make it worse.”  For me, this is the key question to ignite my mind’s creativity.  My goal is to write each paragraph in a clear and concise manner that transitions the story smoothly forward from one major event to the next while keeping true to my characters.  To do this, I’ve created guidelines for each paragraph I write, they are:

As I go through each step of writing the synopsis, I ask myself, “How can I make it worse.”  For me, this is the key question to ignite my mind’s creativity.  My goal is to write each paragraph in a clear and concise manner that transitions the story smoothly forward from one major event to the next while keeping true to my characters.  To do this, I’ve created guidelines for each paragraph I write, they are:

Goal.

Problem/Romantic Problem.

Decision/Action.

And at times a Transition Line.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to set up your synopsis, but the way that works for you.   Also, when you’re writing a synopsis, it’s imperative to be concise, to make each word count.  Be specific!

Note:  The synopsis is written in the present tense.

*Using the above stated guidelines, here are two paragraph examples from synopses in the bestselling MacGruder Brother’s series:

His Captive:

Nichola wonders when Alexander will give in to his obvious lust and take her.[Problem]  Before then, she is determined to escape.[Goal]  The next day as they travel, Nichola feigns illness.  After Alexander helps her dismount, when he turns, she strikes him with a tree limb.  As he lies on the ground, she presses her ear against his chest for a heartbeat, but finds none.  Horrified, Nichola believes she’s killed him.[Problem]  She’s devastated.  Though he abducted her, she doesn’t hate him, nor meant him any serious harm.  Grief-stricken, she starts home.[Decision/Action]

His Destiny:

Carrying urgent news of England’s planned attack on Moray Firth,[Goal] Patrik comes upon two English knights who are about to rape a woman.[Problem]  Furious, he charges.  After a brief scuffle, the knights ride off.  Patrik offers to help the beautiful lass, stunned that the stranger looking at him with fear in her eyes steals his breath.[Romantic Problem]  He shields his reaction.  With Scotland’s fight for its freedom, the perils he faces daily and until he finds a way to redeem himself in his brother’s eyes, a woman has no place in his life. [Decision]

***If you feel your synopsis is weak in an area, this formula will show you why.  By having to define the Goal, Problem, Decision and at times using a Transition Line for each paragraph within the synopsis, you, the writer, are forced to write clear, well-motivated synopsis and you instantly see where your story needs to be strengthened.  For additional story layers, you can have more than one problem in a paragraph.  Besides the outer or plot problems, you can add romantic issues, which is your romantic conflict.  The Goal, Problem and Decision format can also be used to condense your book for a cover letter blurb.

Example of a cover letter blurb from the second MacGruder Brother’s series, His Woman:

On a death bed plea, Sir Duncan MacGruder vows to save Lady Isabel Adair, [Goal] the one woman he despises.  But when their escape turns deadly and unearths secrets that could threaten Scotland’s freedom,[Problem] Duncan must choose between his country and a woman whom he realizes he’s never stopped loving.[Decision]

A really great book that breaks down the story well is “The Comic Toolbox,” by John Vorhaus.  Chapter seven is called, “The Comic Throughline.”  It is the most incredible and easily understood breakdown of how a solid story works, I would recommend it highly for anyone who would like a solid yet simple to digest view of a riveting plot.

With this arsenal of information at your fingertips, you’re now ready to have fun with the story you want to write, are writing, or have written.  Don’t fear writing the synopsis, enjoy and savor each plot twist.  That’s why we write isn’t it?  For the love of the story.

Diana Cosby, International Best-Selling Author

Click here to Pre-Order

Click here to Pre-Order

Click here to Pre-Order

Click here to Pre-Order

If you can’t get enough of Diana, her next release is the fifth book in the award-winning MacGruder brother’s series, His Seduction, due to release August 15th, 2013, with the 6th book in the series, His Enchantment, coming December 19th.

Diana loves writing and always enjoys meeting the amazing people who are sharing this journey with her. You can find out more about Diana at www.dianacosby.com

Focused on giving back to the community, Diana’s latest project is near and dear to her heart–Diana Cosby’s Romance Readers Build A Habitat For Humanity Home. If you are interested in contributing, or just spreading the word, you can find the details at: http://www.dianacosby.com/authorevents.html (To date $2015 has been raised, with a goal of $55K.)

Thank you so much for joining us Diana, and for all that valuable advice!