SIMPLY WRITING - The Not-So-Scary Synopsis - Orientation


Michelle SomersSimply Writing tips Leave a Comment

In light of my upcoming OWL with RWA, I thought it great timing to visit my favourite – and everyone else’s not-so-favourite – writing friend: the synopsis.

When most writers think about writing a synopsis, the thought is often closely followed by a roll of uncontrollable shudders. And an incurable thought – why, when we’ve already written our story, must we write it again, but – OMG! – shorter, smarter, savvier?

The answer lies in your goals as a writer. If you wish to be traditionally published, then the synopsis is a necessary evil to opening up that world of possibility. If only you had the key J

If traditional publishing isn’t for you, and you’re travelling the indie route, how do you ensure your story contains all the vital elements that make it structurally sound and a riveting read? There must exist a key to discovering your story’s readiness to send out into the big wide world of readers.

So, what is that key?

The synopsis.

And the key to crafting that synopsis?

Structure, and a deep understanding of both your story and characters.

Let’s visit the second part of this statement before we visit the first.

If you have a deep understanding of your characters and what’s driving them through the story, and a deep understanding of the plot points that are critical in showing this, you’re already half way toward drafting your synopsis and ensuring your story is ready. Then all that remains is structure.

That’s where Simply Synopsis comes in. Simply Synopsis is the structure, that when put into practice, ensures you’ve incorporated all the necessary elements to hook your reader – that editor or agent – and demonstrate just how well you understand what constitutes a great story.

So, what is this structure?

  1. Orientation
  2. Major Plot Points
  3. Resolution
  4. Conclusion

Over the next few months, we’re going to visit each part of the synopsis in turn. By doing this, I aim to provide you with a basic understanding of what information you must include, in both your synopsis and your story, and how best to structure this information for maximum impact.

First off, let’s begin with the Orientation.


This comprises the opening paragraphs of a synopsis and is made up of four vital parts:

  1. The Hook – Nabs your reader’s interest and builds their expectations, clearly signalling that something interesting is about to take place.

If you remember nothing else about the hook, remember this. It should be short, sharp and suspenseful.


Lies never stay secret forever (Mr & Mrs Smith)

  1. World-building – If your story takes place in a world or time that’s not our own, or involves different rules or species, it’s important to set the scene immediately. Whatever the setting, include only enough information to orient the reader without bogging them down in a quagmire of detail.


In a time where machines rule the world, the only hope for human survival lies in the past (Terminator)

  1. Central Theme – This is the premise of your story – what happens to your characters as a result of your plot. It’s high concept, consolidating all the plotlines of your story into one simple idea that immediately attracts interest and can be quickly and easily communicated. Like a tagline or elevator pitch, it should be no more than ten words.


Men and women can never be friends (When Harry Met Sally)

  1. Central Characters – Your characters and what drives them through your plot is the lynchpin of your story, and therefore the lynchpin of your synopsis introduction.

What does your character want? Why do they want it? What’s stopping them from getting it?

Each and every character in your story MUST have a goal, motivation and conflict (GMC). If not, they’re nothing more than cardboard cut-outs who’ll fail to grab your readers’ interest.

In a romance your central characters are your main love interests.

These four parts of your orientation paragraphs are not mutually exclusive. You can hook a reader with your world-building statement or your central theme. And your central theme will link very closely to one or both of your characters and their GMC.

Just make sure when you’re done that your orientation paragraphs tick all four component boxes.

So, now we know what makes a killer synopsis introduction, let’s write one.

Example: Disney’s Aladdin

In the Arabian town of Agrabah, only a prince can marry a princess.

Street urchin ALADDIN wants the family he never had, the security of a home and to win the heart of a princess, if only he weren’t poor, penniless and as far from a prince as a boy can be.

PRINCESS JASMINE is sick of stuffy suitors who want to marry her for her father’s kingdom. She wants to meet a man she likes and to marry for love, if only it wasn’t for that little matter of a law.

What do you think? Have we ticked all the boxes? I think so.

Consider the opening line. It’s a hook, a world-building statement and the central theme all rolled into one. And then, with each of the following sentences, the reader is given a clear picture of the two central characters, their goals, motivations and conflicts. Not bad for a 92 word paragraph, is it?

And there it is. Our first, orienting paragraph of our synopsis using Simply Synopsis.

Don’t miss my next post when we look at the body of our synopsis, the Major Turning Points. But more about that next month . . .

As always, thank you to all my lovely followers, who’ve read and commented on my previous posts – either directly on the blog post or on the social media mentions. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support.

Sooo, as a thank you for reading and supporting this post, I have a special prize for this month’s winner. I’m offering one lucky commenter a half hour skype session to discuss the Orientation of their synopsis. Yes, you heard right. We get to chat, face-to-face – or computer screen to computer screen – and chat about whatever it is about the opening lines of your synopsis you’d like to discuss.

To enter the draw, please comment below and share what worries you most about writing synopses.

Any and all comments welcome! I love reading your feedback and input each month J and much as this blog isn’t set up for notifications, I always ALWAYS answer your comments. So make sure you pop back to check my replies 🙂

If you’d like extra chances to win, share links to this blog on any or all social media sites. Tag me so I know you’ve shared, and the more shares, the more times I’ll place your name in the draw.

A name will be drawn on Friday 10th August, by 5pm DST and winners will be notified on the blog, so keep your eyes and ears peeled 🙂

And if you’d like to hone the fine art of the synopsis, consider signing up to my online workshop – more fondly known as an OWL. It kicks off 6th August and over the course of four weeks I will guide you through the four key elements of the synopsis. During that time, you’ll receive heaps of hands-on practice, as well as my advice and guidance, so that by the end of the course you’ll walk away with a synopsis that’ll rock any agent or editors socks clean off their feet.

Registrations close soon, the moment the course starts on Monday 6th August, so sign up early and make sure you don’t miss out!

Here’s the link:

Thanks so much for stopping by. Have a fabulous month, and I’ll see you all again in September.

Michelle xx


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