Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Meat and Flesh of Your Novel

Synopsis Series: Part 8

The Layout Of The Detailed Novel Synopsis:

Okay, we have looked at the character sheet for the Jake Corvus Method and we have a simple synopsis, which has the basic details of the plot, and the right number of scenes, for you to build on.

This week, we are going to look at the way I lay out a detailed synopsis. Over the next two weeks, I am going to talk about how to correctly fill out the detailed synopsis. It may look a bit daunting, but I promise with the work you have already done on the character sheets and the simple synopsis, it won’t be as difficult as it looks!

The following template is the template to use for every SCENE. Every scene will need its own copy of this template. So you may use between 20-100 of these in a full synopsis.


Chapter: (You may have several scenes in one chapter, or you may have scenes that bridge chapters. That’s fine. This is to help you organize things, its not set in stone.)
Day: (If I don’t track the day at this stage, I completely lose track of the time line.)
Scene: (There will be a whole blog post dedicated to what you should and shouldn’t include in your scene description. In general though, it should be as long and detailed as you can make it. I will even include sections of dialog and description when I am planning this stage. If you go up to 500+ words, don’t stress, its less writing for you at the first draft stage.)
Narrative Traction:
What is promised or anticipated?
What questions do readers want answered?
(If you haven’t read my narrative traction series, this part is going to be difficult or impossible. However this is all getting its own blog post too, and I will include the links to the narrative traction series then.)
Purpose: (Every scene has to have at least two purposes for me to keep it in the book. Those purposes might be: furthering the plot, raising the stakes, providing information to the reader, character development, or world building. Most scenes that only do one of these things will be boring scenes, so its a good idea to try and work in AT LEAST two to every scene. When you do this in the planning/synopsis phase, stuff doesn’t get forgotten in the heat of the moment writing phase.)
Characters: (A list of what characters are in each scene. This is 1) so no one is forgotten or ignored in a scene and 2) so when you finish your detailed synopsis, you can go through and check the ‘visual weight’ of each character.)
Beats: (This is where you list the emotional beats of the scene. The emotional beats of the scene are what you want the READER to feel, not the characters. I typically just write ‘romance’, ‘horror/fear’, ‘action/excitement’, ‘drama/angst’. However you may wish to be more explicit. EG: “I want readers to be afraid Bill won’t survive.” Or “I want readers hearts to ache with longing when Christine leaves.” Strong writing makes readers feel strong emotions, so don’t dismiss this section. You can’t make readers feel strong emotions if you don’t even know what you want them to feel.)

Organizing Your Synopsis:

I prefer to do my synopses in scrivener. This allows me to have multiple files that I can access and have open at one time. If you were trying to get the same effect in word, you would need not just multiple files, but multiple folders.

In scrivener, I like to have my overview, my simple synopsis and my detailed synopsis as separate files in one sub folder. I like to have my character profiles in another sub folder and my wold building file in a third sub folder, with any art or maps I have gathered from the setting. All of these sub folders usually end up in the ‘research’ folder scrivener self generates.

When I am writing, I then work with a vertical split screen, so I can have my detailed synopsis to the right of the scene I am working on. When I am writing a novel, each scene is its own file, so they can be easily moved around. I then compile them all in a single word document for editing.

If you are just working in word, you’ll need to flip back and forth between your synopsis and the scene you are writing. Which could be a major pain in the ass. Alternatively, you could print out your synopsis and character sheets and keep them in a binder, but that doesn’t allow for editing on the fly. If you use any sort of text to speech program for writing, it should be quite easy to have the synopsis open while you work.

The point is, you need a system where you can regularly access your detailed synopsis and character profiles while you write, so when you are setting up your folders, do so with that in mind.

Do You Really Need All That?

Yep. My synopsis system allows you to track not only the EVENTS in your story, but the reader’s emotional arc and why they are turning the page. This guarantees you have a page-turning book, one your target audience can’t put down. You might be thinking this is more important in genres like romance, which people tend to associate with ‘emotion’. However romance often has a slow emotional build with a few peaks along the way. The genres that are really high emotion are action, thriller and horror, which require a reader to be very on and emotionally engaged, on the edge of their seat for the entire novel.

Think of emotion levels as excitement levels, or (non sexual) arousal. If your pulse isn’t racing during an action or horror, its not a very good action or horror. And that emotional intensity often has to be sustained AND build for the entirety of the book.

Comparatively, the books you may think of as emotional—the ‘women’s fiction’ books—may have a much lower emotional arc for the reader. Readers might be biting their lip, but they’re not biting their nails, you get me? (That said, there is a lot of high intensity romance novels too, but the sweet/low intensity ones sell just as well.)

Male readers like to think they are more interested in the plot and events than the characters—this is almost universally untrue. Men need to relate to the main character, moreso than women in many cases. The proof is in the pudding. Books targeted at men only sell if they have male protagonists. Never ignore your tension, emotional arcs and narrative traction, just because you are writing for men. Explosions alone won’t keep them reading.

Next week, we look at characters, narrative traction, beats and purpose in the detailed synopsis. The week after, we will be taking a close look at scenes—what to include and what not to include.

And don’t forget to sign up to my hilariously inappropriate newsletter at It contains book news, stories too personal for facebook, movie reviews and when you first sign up, you get the full, unabridged version of the chicken story.

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
7. The Skeleton Of A Novel
8. The Meat & Flesh of Your Novel

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