Sunday, April 7, 2013

Writing the Synopsis: Part 4

We've covered what to include in the first few paragraphs of your synopsis. Now we're going to dive into the meat of the synopsis.

The reason many of us have trouble deciding what to put into a synopsis and what to leave out is that we haven't taken the time to really look at our story structure. 

I recently discovered a list of Pixar story rules. Pixar is the company that makes movies like Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, and the story structure in their movies is always impecable. Rule number 4 on the list was this:

Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

So let's get back to your synopsis. In the first two paragraphs you've already set up your main character (Once upon a time there was ___) and that character's backstory (Every day, ___). Now it's time to reveal your inciting incident (One day___). 

Your inciting incident will be the thing that sends your main character on this new journey away from his or her everyday life. Once the inciting incident takes place they're locked into the goal of the story and they either can't turn back or they'd pay terrible consequences for trying to turn back.

After the inciting incident, you start throwing trials at your character. But a book is full of obstacles and roadblocks for your characters. How do you know which ones to include and which ones to leave out? The best part of the formula above is this. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. 

Have you ever read a book that didn't read like Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. But was more like And then ___. And then ___.? There's a huge difference!

Because of that moves your story forward.
Because of that shows your character's motivations and decisions.
Because of that puts your character in the driver's seat.
Because of that is what keeps people reading.

When you break it down, the middle of your story should be a series of obstacles your character encounters and every time your character follows through with a decision to fix it, it should result to another bigger obstacle. When you think in terms of Because of that instead of And then, it will help you know exactly what pieces of your story to include in your synopsis, because they are the pieces that will propel your story forward. 

So, fill in the blanks for your story: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

I'd love for you to share it with us in the comments!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5 
The Ten Step Synopsis


  1. I've been unplugged for a few weeks, but caught up on your synopsis series. Excellent thoughts, tips, and direction on writing the dreaded synopsis, Julie. This post is a real thinkers post. The Pixar story rules are interesting.

  2. I need to go back and read the rest of your synopsis tips. This is really great!

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. I think I'm getting close to wrapping it up. I'm hoping it's not a ten part series. LOL.

  3. Excellent info, Julie! That makes so much sense. :)

    1. Thanks, Jessica! Making sense on a Monday morning is no easy task. :)

  4. This is so great, Julie. Seriously, so good!

  5. I didn't know that about Pixar! Intriguing.

  6. Thank you Julie. I have not mastered this stuff yet. I love the pixar tip! I'm thankful that you share your wisdom :)

  7. Thank KNOW this is helping me! :)