Wednesday, March 7, 2018

How to Write a Synopsis— Without Turning Homicidal, Part 2

by Sarah Sally Hamer @SarahSallyHamer

Part Two

So, now we take our blueprint from last month.

Wait a minute. Have you bought Gracie O’Neil’s book, How toWrite a Synopsis—Without Turning Homicidal?  Have you written your 50-word high-concept pitch?

If not, go do it now. I’ll wait.

Got them? Good!

The ‘blueprint’ – that 50-word pitch – is the skeleton of both your synopsis AND your story. It gives you a yellow-brick-road to follow, so you won’t get distracted or even - horrors! - get lost.

Now, we expand.

Gracie states that, “A mistake many writers make is imagining that a synopsis is merely a summary of their story. It’s one of the aspects, sure, but it’s far more than that.”

So, she suggests that we think of it more as a marketing tool, which actually makes it easier to write.

Why? Because we focus on both our target market AND the story. Both of which make our story easier to sell.

The way we start is to follow a Ten-Step Outline:
1. Hook: something that grabs the reader’s attention

2. Protagonist, back story, internal conflict: what happened to the protagonist that has brought her or him to this point? What is his/her flaw or lie? (You probably won’t tell your audience this information until later in the story, but it’s imperative to give it early on in the synopsis.)

3. Main antagonist, back story, internal conflict: same here. But keep in mind that the antagonist is NOT necessarily a villain. In fact, the main antagonist can be someone who is emotionally close to the protagonist—a best friend, for instance. Bottom line, it’s someone who puts up obstacles which prevent the protagonist reaching a goal.

4. External conflict: what happens to the main characters to bring and keep them together? No sub-plots or additional characters in a one-pager, please.

5. First stage cooperation: at this point, the protagonist and antagonist find a mostly uneasy point of agreement. No problems have been solved, but they will work together until it all falls apart again.

6. Intimacy: can be a spot of love-making but often is where they share a flash of real understanding, or one of them has a true ‘ah-ha’ moment.

7. Reversion: the struggle begins again. Some vulnerability has been triggered in that intimacy moment and the protective walls come up again. But now, a new alliance has been formed.

8. Second stage cooperation: this time, there is “emotional involvement,” according to Gracie. This time, the protagonist is willing to work WITH instead of AGAINST.

9. Black moment: everything seems lost. “Betrayal, looming death, destruction.” And, a sacrifice must be made.

10. Resolution: now, the turmoil is over. The battle has been won. The dead are buried (usually figuratively) and the protagonist has found a new path home.

The end.

Sounds like a lot for only one page, doesn’t it? But, you’re already half-way there, if you’ve done your 50-word high-concept pitch.

All you have to do is build the rest of the page—and, ultimately, the book itself—into a story that hangs together.

Because, the absolute beauty of this process is that, once you’ve done all this hard work, you’ll have a really amazing framework to build your story on.

Many thanks to my friend, Gracie. Her little book is full of story-building ideas, from that 50-word pitch to an eight-page synopsis. I recommend you buy it and keep it near each time you plot a book.

You can buy Gracie’s book on How to Write a Synopsis – Without Turning Homicidal on Amazon.

How to write a #synopsis without turning homicidal - @SarahSallyHamer on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

10 Things to include when #writing a synopsis - @SarahSallyHamer on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Sarah (Sally) Hamer is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in good stories. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres - mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction – she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for over twelve years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors. You can find her at or on Twitter @sarahsallyhamer.

I wish to express gratitude to the giants whose shoulders I stand on, from whom I learned the craft of writing. I would list every one, if it were only possible.


  1. Great advice, Sally.
    Your tips make writing a sinopsys easy.
    I need to add your friend Gracie's book to my writing reference library

    1. Her book has certainly helped me. Hope it helps you too! Thanks so much for your comments!!!

  2. Wonderful advice ma'am. Now the fun begins; applying it to nonfiction. God's blessings for always sharing such great info.

    1. Thank you!
      And, I actually have a theory about non-fiction. Unless it's a 'documentary'-type book, non-fiction is a lot like fiction, in the way a writer puts the book together. In fact, I think that non-fiction writers benefit by studying fiction.
      Good luck!

  3. Perfect timing! I'm digging through elevator pitches, trying to gather my thoughts for a synopsis on a new book. LOL, I should have checked Facebook earlier. :) Thanks a million.

  4. Sarah, This post is fantastic. I printed it. Thank you so much.

    1. Thank you, Cherrilynn! Glad it helps.

  5. Thank you so much for this, Sarah! This takes out some of the mystery of the dreaded synopsis.