Saturday, January 16, 2010

Writing the One Page Synopsis

In November I attended John Pipkin’s workshop on query writing sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas. Impressed with the first session, I couldn’t wait to attend the second workshop and sink my teeth into the difficult task of the creating the one page synopsis. Let’s face it: squeezing your 90,000 word novel into one page is a chore, and for most of us, not a fun one. However, after walking away from the class, I did feel like I had a better understanding of not only how to write the synopsis, but of it’s importance in guiding and editing the final drafts of the manuscript.

First of all, stop thinking about the synopsis as one of those crappy book reports you did in elementary or middle school. (No wonder most writers dread them!) Try to think of it as a simple summary of ideas that tells the reader about your characters or plot. If possible, write it before you finish the final draft. In this way, the synopsis can actually keep you on track and help guide you through the editing process.

We focused on two styles of creating a one page synopsis: Character based (my favorite) or plot driven stories (mystery/thriller/Action-Adventure). They both involve the use of 5-6 short paragraphs and start with your opening paragraph being the hook. Depending on what your genre and style is, there are two ways to approach the next paragraphs. If you are character driven, try this:

Opening hook (This can be cut and pasted from your query)
Summary of story (intro of main character, back story)
1st character description
2nd character description
3rd character description
Conclusion—resolution and consequences/relevance

For you plot driven genres, it might look like this:

Opening hook
Summary of story (description of main character and secondary characters)
Plot: initial conflict (who sets the story in motion)
Plot: 1st twist
Plot: 2nd twist
Conclusion: resolution and consequence/relevance

Of course, both of the above are designed to get you to a one page, single spaced synopsis. If you are writing a synopsis that needs to be one page, double spaced (manuscript contest, freaky agent requirement, etc.), then the same rules apply. You have to get less wordy though. Use your single spaced synopsis as a guide and cut to the bare bones. It’s a good idea to have several versions of the synopsis anyway.

We did cover lots of Do’s and Don’ts, most of which you can find on any website or book about the subject. The big one is still the importance of telling the end of your novel. No cliffhangers! Always write in present tense, as if the action is occurring right in front of us.

Mr. Pipkin offered a lot of insight, and I would highly recommend taking a class from him. As a result of his query writing class, I tweaked my letter and sent it out to several agents I'm interested in working with. Within the first four days, I had three requests to read my manuscript. Thank you, Mr. Pipkin!


  1. Mary Ann,

    Most excellent information, especially for first time authors. I, for one, will definitely be putting it to use.