What’s in a Novel Synopsis?

Psst, I have a secret to share: I’ve written a synopsis of the next book! And I like it…

First, let’s pause for a quick definition:


  • A brief summary or general survey of something. 
  • An outline of the plot of a book, play, movie, or episode of a television show.

Why is this worthy of a blog post? Because it feels—strange. With previous books, nothing could induce me to write a synopsis until I was ordered to by my agent. It’s basically a form of outlining; something I’m really quite bad at. I write novels by creating scenes and then seeing how characters develop. And in the beginning, I always try to include every thought, idea, and conversational gem that seems at all relevant. Then, to make it readable, it must be whittled down to a clear-cut story: something with a beginning and middle that leads not off into the weeds, but to a logical and satisfying ending. 

Dare to Fail

Devoted blog followers may assume I’m just making good on my 2018 pledge, in which I promised to try a more organized and less seat-of-the-pants approach with this book. Honestly? I’d forgotten all about that pledge. But deep into the first draft, I was struggling to see which of the characters vying for my attention really mattered.

Thanks to last year’s class on novel planning, I had already figured out the story I really wanted to write… so I decided to write a synopsis based on the scenes I’d written so far, if only to figure out how far off course I had drifted. I managed to finish a draft of the synopsis just before I left for my final big regatta of 2021—which was, as usual, the perfect, all-engrossing way to clear my head. When I returned, physically exhausted but mentally refreshed, I could clearly see what was missing—and which beloved pieces needed to go. The definition of “done” is clear once again.

Is that all of it?

Mind you, this does NOT mean I’m even close to finished… there is still much connective tissue to create and details to whittle out (or beef up). I’m not even quite ready to share my two perfectly polished pages, even though I’m proud of them—and even though my agent has been asking for a glimpse of what’s next. I’m still wondering if this is really the whole story, or if I’ve whittled it down a little too much? And I’m also still hoping for a few more “A-Hah!” moments to come out of the writing fog that always lies ahead.

Regardless of whether this synopsis is the “final” version or just a step toward “done,” I feel like I’ve made good on that forgotten 2018 pledge to work toward a less crazy, less random approach to writing novels. Only by stepping back and looking at the story’s arc can I see what characters really matter—and that’s when things start to get really, really good.