I found my castoff notes for the lost synopsis post! 🥳 The task is behind me now, so I can be less whiny about the process of reducing a doorstopper of a story to no more than 700 words.
Brief backstory for those who missed the lost post: I needed a 2-page, double-spaced synopsis of a fantasy romance full of politics, economics, history, lore, magic, backstory, fight scenes, environmental danger, helper characters, villains, characters of ambiguous alignment, and a slow-burn romance—all of which are crucial to the plot but not all of which will fit on 2 pages. Focus was required, and fortunately, someone else provided it for me.
The purpose of this particular synopsis was to prove to a reader who has only the first few pages of the story for reference that the whole story is indeed a romance. How do you prove a story is a romance rather than some other type of story with a little romance in it? You use the genre’s characteristic progression, which plays out in a series of relationship beats.
There are whole books and workshops dedicated to the minutiae of romance beats for novel-writing purposes, but here’s a quick-and-dirty primer for synopsis-writing purposes:
- Meet. Even if the stars of the romance have known each other all their lives, they have to have an initial encounter in the story that sets the baseline value by which relationship development will be measured.
- Refusal to get involved. One or more parties are aware of romantic possibility and say “hell no” (because it would be a really short story if everyone agreed to live happily ever after on page 5).
- Consider the possibility of getting involved. They’ve spent enough time together to think maybe they misjudged the other person and should rethink that premature “hell no.”
- Get involved. Oops, they spent too much time together and stumbled into exactly what they wanted to avoid at the start. Nothing serious, though! They haven’t discussed the future or anything, lol, as if.
- Think they might have a future together. Involvement has gone surprisingly well, so maybe making it “serious” and “permanent” wouldn’t be so awful.
- Bad Thing makes it clear they can never have a future together. Something devastating occurs, such as a Big Misunderstanding that’s an apparent dealbreaker or Martyr Complex demanding one character sacrifice their own happiness for someone else’s (or, more likely, what they think will make someone else happy).
- Withdrawal. In the aftermath of the Bad Thing, one or more parties becomes at least emotionally distant and may even leave entirely.
- Misery and woe. If splitting up was the right thing to do, why does every moment of it suck so much? Even the worst moments of the relationship were better than being apart. (PSA: They may be capable of functioning and moving on with their lives, but if anybody’s happier apart than together, forcing them back together is abusive and not a romance.)
- Reconciliation. Self-explanatory. If warranted, insert grovel here.
- Proof HEA is possible. The writer can force anybody to kiss and make up, but unless the problem that drove them apart gets fixed in the process, history will repeat itself. Show what’s changed so the reader knows the Bad Thing won’t happen again next week. (This is easier if the Bad Thing wasn’t something like “jealousy rooted in toxic insecurity” that can’t be hand-waved out of existence with any hint of credibility.)
Obviously, in a novel, most of those things will take many scenes to set up and execute, but I had to fit as many of them as possible on 2 double-spaced pages, in a way that tells a coherent story despite most of the fantasy elements being jettisoned for lack of space. The plot premise is about breaking a curse and the Bad Thing is tied to one element of the worldbuilding, so references to those were unavoidable and influenced which parts of the romance I chose to illustrate the beats when there was more than one option.
I skipped the chunks of the story where “Consider the possibility of getting involved” and “Think they might have a future together” take place because those were much more about the curse while the relationship simmered quietly in the background, so there was no good way to get those beats into the synopsis. Such is the price I pay for wanting my romance plot inextricably embedded in my fantasy plot. If you have to drop two beats, this navel-gazing pair is the most expendable (in a summary—the story needs the contemplation). I know it’s all in the book. Synopsis readers will have to take it on faith the omissions are a function of the medium.
I’m going to include the synopsis this time for educational purposes. For the benefit of anyone who would like to read the whole story one day and prefers to be surprised at that time, I’ve placed it behind a spoiler tag because a synopsis does tell the events from start to finish.
NOTE: I make no claims this is a great synopsis, but (a) I haven’t had to write one in 8 years and (b) they are high on the list of miserable writing chores, so “done” = “good enough.”
I’m dying to elaborate on nearly every sentence. (“They didn’t just get the thing. The villain posed a better counterargument and so there was a theft and a battle and a ghost dragon and IT’S ALL VERY DRAMATIC, I PROMISE!”) Having to leave out the cool stuff you put so much effort into developing is why writing a synopsis is high on the list of miserable writing chores. It’s the tissue-thin fifth-grade book report version of your story.
If I were submitting a synopsis of this story to agents or editors, I would honestly be inclined to lean more heavily on the fantasy elements, simply because I’m more excited about what I’ve done there than about the familiar romance progression and enthusiasm can occasionally sell a project. However, the ability to tailor your pitch to the interest of any given audience is a valuable skill to work on, so I’m glad I was forced to do it this way, even if I wasn’t enthused.