I’ve heard far too many authors talk about how much they dread writing a book blurb or synopsis. I get it! I used to as well.
When I made the completely (ir)rational choice to release 11 related short stories individually, I nearly changed my mind when I realized I would then need 11 book blurbs. Um, no.
But instead of giving up, I learned some super writing ninja tricks to make creating the base for a synopsis virtually painless. And fast! Did I mention this should take you all of ten minutes? Five, once you are good at it.
Is it all you need? No.
BUT, it will clarify the main thread of your novel, in case you aren’t sure. And knowing that for your synopsis is over half the battle. Plus, it will deliver it all in under 100 words. So instead of cutting out bits and then rearranging them, and cutting more to get everything under 500 words or so, you actually get to ADD to your blurb. That is so much easier!
The 5 Elements
To start, you only need five elements to create a two sentence synopsis. They are
That’s it! Because once you have those five elements, you need to plug them into these two sentences.
“A (1) hero who finds himself stuck in a (2) situation from which he wants to free himself by achieving a (3) goal. However, there is a (4) villain who wants to stop him from this, and if he’s successful, will cause the hero to experience a (5) disaster.”
It might seem too simple but think of some of your favorite movies or books. Such as this:
- Newt Scamander
- Is targeted by the Magical Congress of USA
- Getting his suitcase and magical creatures back (and returning the Thunderbird to Arizona)
- Percival Graves/ The dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald
- Imprisonment (Magic will be revealed and muggles imprisoned/ Grindelwald gains control of a powerful obscurial)
To write this out, it would look like something like this:
“Newt Scamandar arrives in New York and almost immediately finds himself a target of the Magical Congress of the United States when he loses his suitcase containing magical creatures and several escape. Percival Graves believes Newt and his creatures are responsible for destruction and death occurring across the city and imprisons him.”
This is hardly all of the plots that occur in Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them as you can see from the extra notes I wrote, but it gives a good taste of the beginning of the story, AND that is the part you want to focus on when writing a synopsis.
At only 52 words, this is a great starting point to flesh out with another paragraph outlining that Newt isn’t the cause, but he believes he knows what is and it is a race to find the obscurial wrecking havoc before magic is revealed to the world.
Why This Works
Story’s have an arc, called the plot, and it is the build-up of it and the promise of a final resolution that keep readers turning the pages. If a story wanders, the reader will wander off as well.
A great synopsis mimics this arc to create a riveting mini-story that tempts the reader into finding out how everything occurs and is resolved. That is why these five elements are key and what you need to base your synopsis on.
It provides the main character, whom the reader should be rooting for, a bit of trouble the MC is in and a goal to extricate herself. Against that, we are introduced to the villain and the alternative ending that could happen if the hero fails. This is the story arc wrapped up in a tiny package.
Creating this before you write the novel can help guide you while you write, but even if you use it for the synopsis, it will help tease out the main elements and give you a framework to build a blurb.
The important thing is to focus on the early part of the novel, with just a hint of the big things that might happen. For a blurb, you don’t want to give away the ending, and you might not want to give away the BIG plot. So as you try to narrow down each of the five elements, try to consider the first third to half of the novel.
What problem has the main character gotten into and needs to escape? Who is stopping her and what will happen if she does?
In other words, the situation is most likely part of the Inciting Incident, if you use the Seven Steps of Story Structure. The goal most likely relates to returning things to life prior to the inciting incident, such as Newt simply wanting to get his magical creatures back and be left alone. He knows nothing of the obscurial, that Gellert Grindelwald is also in New York, nor is he planning on falling in love.
Just like I focused on Graves as the villain in the synopsis, the “villain” for your blurb might not be the main antagonist of the novel. Instead, it might be a smaller one, such as a henchman. Or if the villain is known to the main character and revealed early in the book, use her.
As you develop the blurb, you will most likely have to explain a few things such as in the example. Why is revealing magic to the world a bad thing? Should I mention that Newt is also trying to save the boy who is the obscurial while Graves wants to control or kill him?
But don’t go overboard!
This isn’t about revealing the whole plot. Instead, you want to hook the reader to test out the first few pages to see if she can answer the questions the blurb raises. It is the first few pages that should convince the reader to reading the whole story (or at least the next chapter!). Keep things sparse; don’t use too many names and words, they will just confuse the reader.
You want to focus on just the aspects laid out. Draw the reader in. Make her curious! And at least your job is a heck of a lot easier than simply trying to boil down 100,000 into 500.
Now you have 50 words you need to grow!
Good luck! And share your 2 sentence synopsis in the comments. I’d love to hear them!