How to Write a Better Synopsis with the News Method

You’ve done it. You’ve written your novel. You’ve edited it to perfection and you’re ready to put it out in the world. I currently can’t relate and am a little bit jealous, but finishing a novel is a fantastic fulfilling situation. Whether you do traditional publishing or go through the indie path, you’ll have to advertise your novel in a way to make people want to read it. The best way to do that is with the synopsis.

Synopsis can be the hardest part of writing. You know the story inside and out, but how do you tell someone in just a paragraph how great the story is? You have over fifty thousand words, some over a hundred thousand words. How are you to simplify your story into a few lines of text?

Synopsis Versus Back Blurb

The synopsis is much longer than the back blurb for your novel. A back blurb is around one hundred to two hundred words while a synopsis (or a general summary of your book) would be around one to two pages (five hundred to a thousand words). Both are important when promoting your book, almost a requirement. If you go the traditional route, a synopsis is how you show publishers and editors what your novel is. They won’t read thousands upon thousands of words without knowing it could be profitable. That’s just the way of the traditional publishing world.

If you go the indie route, a short synopsis is great for the information section on digital platforms, plus you’ll need that blurb for the back of your book.

Personally, I create the synopsis first. For me, it’s easier to write out a bunch and then remove words for the blurb than it is to expand the blurb into a synopsis. I also use some of my journalistic background to create a better synopsis.

News Method

New York Times newspaper image provided by Jon Tyson

My background is journalism. I’ve talked a bit about that while discussing best ways to write dialogue since broadcast news has always been focused on being conversational. You can also learn better taglines by watching the beginning of news segments and listening to their “top news” summaries before the news hour begins.

But writing a synopsis is different than television news. It’s a lot more long form. The best way to look at this is with written news. From newspapers to station blogs, they use a specific method to write their news stories.

Inverted Pyramid

In journalism we are taught the inverted pyramid with three important sections: the lead, the body, and the tail. This has been the main way I’ve written articles and how I write synopses. I tend to forget about it during these blog posts and honestly, I wonder if I should pull more of my journalism background and less stream of thought. But that’s a topic for another day.

The Lead

Readers break down into two groups: those who want the important details quickly and those who will read the whole story. With the inverted pyramid, we take into consideration the people who need the details quick. We start with the who, what, where, when, why, and sometimes how. The first paragraph or two has all this information. I say sometimes how, even though the image I gained from the Ohio State University includes it in the top of the pyramid, is because ultimately those gleaming information don’t care and the how can be explained in the lower paragraphs.

Break down the who, what, where, when, and why specifically before writing these paragraphs. Then in a few short lines, put them all together. This is a perfect time to start with a “hook” which is just a line or question that will peak your readers interest. This is perfect for both your book proposal and also your book blurb so I recommend creating one. If you can’t think of one right away, keep writing and come back to it.

If on your first draft of your synopsis (yes I said first draft), your “lead” is actually pretty boring a a bit too factual, that’s fine. I recommend going through a few revisions once you’ve finished it completely.

The Body

The body part of the pyramid is the critical information. These are the story elements that make your story shine. In journalism, this includes the controversy, issues, quotes, and details. The how essentially. This is why I don’t exactly agree with putting the how in the first lines.

This section is also the “why is this important to me” section. Why should we care about what’s happening? In a synopsis, this is the hard part. It’s condensing how we fall in love with the characters over those hundred pages. It’s setting up the suspense of the conflict. It’s where you make the person reading your synopsis go “what’s going to happen?” In journalism, this part isn’t as important as the lead. But in book writing, it’s just as important.

The Tail

This section isn’t necessary to be honest. It’s the filler. It’s the extra content that you might see fit or interesting. Ultimately, when revising your synopsis, you might question keeping it.

A Conclusion

Not included in the inverted pyramid format is a conclusion. But like essays and novels, you need to wrap it up some way. When writing an article your conclusion can be a bit empty. Telling people that the police are still looking into it or even stay tuned to the website for more information, but in a synopsis you need to end strong.

If you use a “tail” or not, you need to end strong. These tend to be the “will they succeed” kind of lines. You put a little doubt into the readers mind which makes them almost need to know what’s going to happen.

Condensing For a Blurb

I could almost writ a whole other post about blurbs (and honestly I should), but after you’ve revised your synopsis (probably a dozen times), you can take all those words and drop them into a blurb.

My take is usually combining the best lines out of “the lead” and “the body” until it’s only a few sentences. I’d say this would make up two thirds of your blurb. I would include a definite hook to get the person reading. Then use the last third for a hefty conclusion.

Even though I said taking from your synopsis is usually easier for me, it’s definitely still difficult. And if you find it’s easier for you to work the other way, go for it. There’s no perfect way to write any of this.

Rework Until It Feels Right

In the end I also recommend taking this news method and over your many revisions make it feel less like news. You’ll even notice your favorite articles or even your favorite news segments make it feel less like news and more like story telling. You’ll want to do the same here.

No matter how you shake it, you want to tell your story as compelling as possible. That might mean you move things around or realize this method isn’t for you, but it’s helped me write synopsis in the past and is my starting point for any story in the future.

Let me know in the comments below if this helped at all or if you have a different method you’d like me to try. I’m open to trying new things and maybe changing my mind. In that case, I might end up writing a post about that in the future!

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