Before I was published – before I even submitted my first book – I learned. I attended conferences; I networked with other authors; I read books; I joined RWA. And during my time with RWA I learned a method of writing a synopsis that has allowed me to NEVER be concerned about writing one. Seriously!! It’s not that I look forward to writing it – it’s still challenging at times, but it is not the dreaded process for me that so many writers speak of.
It was created by Karen Harbaugh and it is known as the Seven Index Card Method. I can tell you from experience — it works. I have sold completed books using it, and I have sold books where the synopsis was all I had.
This is how she describes it:
Get seven 3×5 or larger lined index cards (depending on how large you write longhand). What you write on the cards must be concise and brief, and you are not allowed to write on more than one side of the card when going through steps 1 through 7 below.
- The first card has the character description of the heroine.
- The second card has the character description of the hero.
- The third card describes the opening scene, the set-up for the book.
- The fourth one describes the most important scene before the midpoint of the book.
- The fifth describes the crisis/climax/transition of the book–the midpoint.
- The sixth describes the most important scene between the midpoint and the ending–usually the “dark moment.”
- The seventh describes the ending scene.
After you’ve done that, look over the cards. Have you omitted any crucial point? If so, add it to the back of the card. Do this for each of the cards if you need to.
Now, put them in order. This is where you actually start writing your synopsis.
Take the 3rd card (the one with the opening scene) and flesh it out a little, TELLING the scene instead of showing it. When you first mention the characters, describe them briefly (using the 1st and 2nd cards).
After you are done, get the fourth card (the most important scene before midpoint). Write only one paragraph (at most, two) to connect those scenes.
IMPORTANT NOTE: These “connecting” paragraphs should tell what the motivations and emotions are that make the scene in the next card necessary.
Take out the fifth card (midpoint) and do the same–one or two paragraphs to connect the scenes.
Do the rest of the cards in the same way until you finish with the 7th card.
About Secondary Characters: Do not describe secondary characters or mention them unless they are crucial to the plot. For instance, if you have a heroine who is escaping a stalker and that stalker is her cousin, mention him, since he is the villain and is crucial to the plot. However, if she has a cousin with whom she stays for a month while she looks for an apartment, and this cousin doesn’t do anything but allow her to stay with her or makes some commentary on her life, don’t bother to describe this cousin. It’s enough to say that she’s staying at her cousin’s house while she’s looking for her own apartment.
Karen adds: Using this method, I found I was able to keep my synopsis short, generally under 10 pages (although 15 is not unreasonable). I have even shaved them down to 5 pages on occasion. If you’re writing a longer book, however, it’s fine to write longer synopses than that–you’ll want to if you’re writing a long book. I’ve heard the general rule is 1 page of synopsis to 20-25 pages of book.
If writing a synopsis gives you the heeby-jeebies, I hope you’ll try this method – and I hope you’ll let me know if it works for you! You may never love the process, but at least it won’t make you break out into a cold sweat… or worse, not submit your work. You can do it!