Condense a Novel into One-Page Synopsis
I decided to enter a writing competition. All I needed to do was send my first fifty pages along with a “highly polished” one-page synopsis.
I thought: No problem. I just need to spiff up my first fifty pages and dash off a quick one-page summary. I can do that over this coming weekend.
After I told everyone I knew about entering the contest, reality set in. How is it possible to condense an entire novel down to one-page? Answer: Google is your friend.
My search results included:
- The Dreaded Synopsis by Jessica Faust
- Writing the Dreaded Synopsis by Carolyn Jewel
- That Dreaded Synopsis by Anne Gracie
- Mastering the Dreaded Synopsis – Condensing Your Novel by Lee Masterson
Suddenly, filled with dread, I thought maybe I had been too optimistic (again).
I decided to get down to business. I researched online until I had a solid grasp of what I was trying to do. The biggest help: a compilation of successful synopses from Charlotte Dillon. (Some of the samples exceed one page, but were helpful. )
Once I got educated, I stopped procrastinating and started working. Here are the steps I took.
- Decided I needed help and hired Novel Publicity to assist.
- Summarized each chapter into a one or two sentences. Result: eight pages.
- Sent eight-page summary to my editor as background material to understand big picture.
- Identified important events. Removed references to unimportant events.
- Identified major characters. Removed references to any other characters.
- Rewrote synopsis, seeking to condense remaining sentences into coherent sequence of events.
- After a couple of passes, result was three-page synopsis. Saved for later use.
- Realized shrinking to one page would need different approach.
- Stepped back and asked myself, “What’s the story really about?” Remembered the Kurt Vonnegut diagrams. Decided to apply this approach.
- Starting with blank slate, wrote one-line summary.
- Expanded one-line summary to one paragraph.
- Wrote first draft of one-page synopsis using one-paragraph summary and three-page synopsis as aids.
- Sent first draft to my editor.
- Editor didn’t do line edit, instead pointed out major
problemsopportunities for improvement. Basically, he asked about major characters and plot elements that were missing.
- Cursed and swore it was impossible to add these and still keep size to one-page. Then figured out how to do it.
- Sent revision one to editor.
- Received praise from editor followed by line edit version that flowed red ink all over my screen when I opened it.
- Repeated step 16.
- Sent revision two to editor.
- Received kind words from editor and a few final recommendations.
- Completed by adding the final polishing touches.
Yes, I had been overly optimistic. What I originally thought I could do in spare time over a weekend took much longer. But I’m really pleased with the result.
At some point, every author needs to write synopses. I’m sure there are many roads to success. Drop a comments below and tell us what worked for you.