Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Skeleton Of A Novel

After a huge delay, mostly caused by the premature birth of my son, we are back to the synopsis series!

The Simple Synopsis

The simple synopsis is a bullet point list of scenes, largely used for brainstorming and putting things in order before you start your detailed synopsis. If you have written a synopsis before, it probably looked very similar to this.

Re-Read Your Material!

Before you brainstorm, you have to re-read all your material. Your overview, your character profiles and your world building. All of it. And if you brainstorm over several days, you have to re-read it all before every brainstorming session. Why? Because that’s why you wrote the profiles and world-building, to lay the foundation for your plot to be built on. If you don’t use it now, you’ve wasted the last few weeks of work.

Many of your plot elements will already be in place in your character profiles. And your world building will create limits, boundaries and rules for those scenes to play out under. Character profiles and world-building are the parents of your plot.


Next, we brainstorm. The most important think about brainstorming is, that we write down anything that comes to mind, even if it doesn’t ‘fit’ or we think it feels stupid. Just write it down. Keep writing until you think you have way more scenes than you need. You may have to repeat this step a few times, over a few different days, to keep growing this list of scenes to a reasonable level. Don’t worry about them being in order, just get down as many ideas as you can.

Number Of Scenes

Next, we need to go back to our overview and look at our chapter and word count goal. Lets assume we want 30 chapters, and we want to put in at least three scene points per chapter. That equals 90 scenes. Do you have ninety scenes on your list? More? Less? Keep in mind, you have been writing down a lot of things that might not fit in your plot. You may want to go back to the brainstorming stage and give yourself more to work with. Its a good idea to have a quarter or a third more scene ideas than you think you will need.

Putting It In Order

Your scene list is a jumble of bones in a pile. Now you need to lay it out to form an actual skeleton, starting with the head. Your most critical scene of all.

I usually open a new file in scrivener, and start clipping and pasting things over in the order they need to happen, starting at the beginning, and working my way to the end. I do the major, fixed plot points first. And then I add in the smaller, more flexible elements around them.

Whatever didn’t fit, I keep in another folder to go back to if I get stuck later, but mostly these elements are abandoned. That’s okay. Not every idea is a good one, and not every good idea belongs in THIS book.

Ground-Hog Day Cometh

Now you have the rough structure of a plot. You have about 90 scenes for 30 chapters, in roughly the right order, separated into their chapters in ways that will let you end some, if not all, chapters on intense cliffhangers.

Guess what you get to do now? That’s right. You re-read your overview and think about your target audience, you re-read all your character profiles and look for elements and critical scenes that have been left out (like testing your heroes strength), you re-read your world building to look for conflicts or things that need to be added.

You add notes to yourself for later, you expand on things, you jot down where readers need certain information and how to put it into those scenes organically. You keep building and adding until you don’t just have a spine, but you have a full skeleton.

Simple Synopsis Checklist

So now you have a simple synopsis, I want you to read through again and check you have the following:

1. The right number of scenes for your desired word count.
2. Your hero’s strength is tested.
3. Your hero’s weakness is tested and they fail.
4. Your hero’s weakness is tested and they overcome (probably your climax).
5. Your villain’s strength is tested and they excel.
6. Your villain’s weakness is tested and they fail both times.
7. Any major secondary characters have their strength and weakness moments.
8. Your hero’s primary goal is clearly outlined at the beginning. Plus the costs of failure and the barriers.
9. Your villain is clearly introduced early on.
10. You have scenes that highlight your main character’s, villain and any major secondary character’s, growth arcs.
11. Your villains goals are outlined early (even if they are false or fake) and the costs to the hero if they succeed.
12. The stakes continue to rise, the odds get worse and everything gets more urgent as the plot progresses.
13. You have threaded in any elements that relate to twists and ‘ah-ha!’ moments. EG: your red herrings are in place, your clues are in place, any guns used in act three are clearly visible in act one, etc.
14. The overall structure is solid. Exciting opening, middle where the tensions and stakes escalate, building to a tense and fulfilling climax and ending.

If you have all of these elements ready and in order, you are in the perfect position to begin your REAL synopsis next week!

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1. Do You Struggle With What To Write Next?
2. The Five Core Parts Of A Good Synopsis
3. The Command Center of Your Novel
4. Characters Readers Remember Forever
5. Character Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make
6. Building An Empire

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