Creating a Selling Synopsis

Guest Post by Author, Sandy Steen

In today’s market, a synopsis is not a luxury – it’s a necessity. And a well constructed, well-written synopsis is the best marketing tool you will ever have.

To begin with, it’s essential to know the difference between a storyline and a plot. A storyline is just that – the TELLING of the story, a sketchy overview.

STORYLINE: One day, our hero, Jack decides to wash his new Porsche, which he claims came to him via the will of Bob, a recently departed wealthy friend. His newly acquired girlfriend, Jill, volunteers to help. Bucket in hand; they trudge up a hill to a private well on the back of Jack’s property. They fill the bucket and start back, but Jack trips and falls down the hill. Jill deliberately tumbles after him. When they get to the bottom, she hits Jack over the head with the empty bucket and forces him to confess he killed Wealthy Bob, her real boyfriend, to get his expensive car.

The plot contains the basics of the story but it also contains the important element of motivation. The plot is the dimensional overview.

PLOT: In the sleepy little town of Anywhere, USA on a sunny, Sunday afternoon in May, our hero, Jack, is so enamored of his new Porsche that he can’t stand to see it dirty and decides to wash it. He’s surprised and thrilled when Jill, the girlfriend of the late Wealthy Bob, stops by and offers to help. Forever bragging about his bedroom conquests, he has always wanted Jill.

Our heroine, Jill, may be a winsome blonde, but she’s no airhead. Nothing is what it seems, and she didn’t just happen by Jack’s place. She’s been shadowing him for the last two weeks hoping to get some evidence to support her theory that he killed Wealthy Bob for the Porsche. Jack certainly appears thrilled about her appearance, and even flirts with her.

The flirting works for what Jill has in mind. Positive she can charm Jack into giving himself away, her plan is complicated when she discovers Jack hasn’t paid his water bill, and they are forced to trudge up a hill at the back of his property to fetch water in a bucket. Frustrated and angry, Jack is in no mood to put up with female wiles. When he trips and falls down the hill the situation goes from bad to worse.

Her plan down the tube, Jill decides to confront Jack and force him to confess. She deliberately tumbles after him. When they reach the bottom, she grabs the empty bucket and hits Jack in the head, knocking him out.

When Jack comes to, he finds himself propped up against the car, his hands bound behind him and his feet bound in front with Duct tape. His eyes pop open to the sound of a gun being cocked. Inches away Jill kneels beside him with a Glock pointed right at his crouch. She wants the truth, or he’ll be singing soprano if he sings at all.

Thinking he will tell her what she wants while working to free his hands then escape, Jack tells her how he befriended Wealthy Bob and won his trust. Then one night he talked Bob into letting him drive the Porsche. They rode out into the country to a spot where Jack had stashed a gun. He killed Wealthy Bob and made it look like a robbery gone bad. But it wasn’t just for the car; he wanted her, too. When Jill says she is taking him to the cops, Jack merely laughs. He won’t repeat what he just said. It’ll be her word against his and she has no evidence. “Wanna bet?” Jill insists and with a big smile holds up the tape recorder that has been inside her shirt pocket and running the whole time. She dials 911 on her cell phone. The end.

The plot, which is the basis of your synopsis, MUST address characterization and most important of all – motivation. Because what motivates the characters influences how they will act, then react, how they will talk and ultimately how they will resolve their conflicts.


Summary (informal) – a brief outline of the story, stressing motivation and characterization. Doesn’t detail every scene.

Block/Outline (formal) – begins with “hook” paragraph or blurb, followed by character analysis, plot description, crisis point, resolution.

Regardless of the format, the “plot”, or main body of the synopsis are similar in that they should have several key ingredients:

1. Setting: Date (not necessarily specific) and location of the story and if fictional or real.

2. Characterization:
Major Characters – descriptions, physical and emotional of hero and heroine, including goals and motivation. Also, may contain “back story”.

Minor Characters – identify the relationship to major characters and the part they play in the plot.

3. Plot Presentation: – Set-up may include information that takes place before the story begins, may include history showing why characters will conflict.
Conflict/Complications – the basic conflict between hero and heroine, both linear or external and emotional or internal. (should parallel) Incidents to complicate conflict as the story progresses to a crisis.

Crisis/Climax – the highest emotion point of the story and the culmination of physical plot.

Resolution – the culmination of the emotional plot and the unraveling of all the ends and outs of the story, tying all loose ends, clarification and character change.

Sound familiar? Sure, these are the ingredients you have been given a thousand times in workshops on how to plot. And just as these are the basics for constructing a good plot, they are the basis for constructing a good synopsis. The main difference is characterization and motivation clearly stated. You may have your story fulling developed in your head but the trick is to make it crystal clear to an editor or agent.

Now that you know your characters and know what motivates them, select the format you favor and begin.

Summary: This informal type of synopsis is a narrative summary of your plot. It should begin with a “hook” paragraph then move right into the plot, inclusive of character analysis within the body of the summary. Detail conflict and complications, then resolution.

Block/Outline: This formal type of synopsis should also begin with a “hook” paragraph, then in order follow with a setting, characters analysis both major and minor, then finally plot.

One of the pluses of constructing a good synopsis is having to completely formulate your story…on paper. Once you’ve accomplished it, you have a more cohesive, overall picture of your story and you can more readily spot the weakness in your plot or characters. And you have a jumping-off point for a chapter by chapter outline if you use one. Think of it as drawing a road map, without which you would probably take a wrong turn or miss your destination altogether.


Sandy Steen has been publishing since 1986, beginning her career writing contemporary romance before switching to mysteries. Her favorite things are film noir movies, cooking and spending time with her family and friends. You can find her online at:

Her latest novel, “Murder, He Howled” is available on And coming soon, the first in a 3 book steamy romance series, “Lone Star Lovers.”

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