Ainslie Paton romance author

Snooping on the Synopsis

Synopses, Decoded

by Kate Cuthbert

At this year’s RWAus Conference, Ainslie Paton and I did a workshop on blurb and synopsis writing. We thought we’d share some of the slides and wisdom here, for those who weren’t able to make the session. dark art

The workshop will be split over two blogs. Without further ado: the synopsis!

A good synopsis will include the following:

  • A comprehensive overview of your plot, characters, and development
  • No point-by-point, just the highlights
  • Follows the narrative of your story
  • Not a time for coyness
  • Keep it lean, clean, and powerful – a synopsis is also an example of your writing
  • Provides a snapshot to editors of your story:
    • Genre conventions – does it meet the parameters of the genre?
    • Originality – what is new and fresh?
    • Any major plot conflicts – what is driving the story?

In every synopsis, there are must-haves to add punch to your synopsis:

  • Must HavesCore conflict
  • Characters – who we’ll love, who we’ll hate
  • The stakes (physical, but also emotional)
  • The resolution

There are also things to avoid:


  • All the characters!
  • All the plot!
  • All the details! – keep it to the highlights, and keep it lean
  • Writing blurb instead of synopsis – “all of a sudden!”, “but if she’d only known what would happen next!”, etc. This goes back to being coy – you need to share the whole story.

What makes your story a crowd-pleaser?


  • Original concepts or premise
  • What makes your main character interesting
  • Topical or intriguing subject matter or themes – anything cultural or political that makes your story timely and relevant

A basic example of a synopsis:


(SETTING)2015, a romance writers convention – a stunning and brilliant young editor (PROTAGONIST) gathers a group of writers together in a room, ostensibly to discuss blurbs, but really to recruit them into a super-secret spy agency that aims to bring great books to every woman in Australia. (PROTAGONIST GOAL)

But before she is able to complete the recruitment process, the narcissistic and underhanded Self-Doubt (ANTAGONIST) enters the room, and provides a compelling counter-argument: that the writing isn’t good enough, that the genre is clichéd, that great sex is not only unrealistic, but damaging to female readers. Self-Doubt leaves the room, but her words echo in the minds of all the writers, undermining the editor’s recruitment and slowing the writing process. (CONFLICT)

depth of conflict

 The Editor knows that the only way she can rebuild the writers’ confidence and get her plan for good-book domination back on track is by hunting down the evil Self-Doubt and stopping her forever. (QUEST)

Along the way, she is helped by her companions: writers groups, motivation, self-belief, and good friends. Together they face a number of challenges and go on all sorts of adventures*(SECONDARY CHARACTERS, *CHRONILOGICAL SEQUENCE OF EVENTS PROVIDED IN DETAIL)

Self-Doubt is stronger than any of them expect, and each character will face their own battle with her. The Editor will struggle hardest as all, as Self-Doubt attacks her from all angles, turning her army of writers into cowards, weakening their defences by scattering them, denying them group strength and support. The Editor will face her own loss of self-belief and crisis of confidence when she comes face to face with her own failures.(STRENGTH & DEPTH OF CONFLICT)

 Finally, the Editor is able to use the magic power of the internet to band the writers together, even when they are physically apart. With each writer hooked into their own support network and able to connect with each other whenever they need shared strength, they are finally able to group together and defeat Self-Doubt forever. They move forward together, ready to paper the Australian landscape with great books.(RESOLUTION, PRIZE)

Go forth and conquer the synopsis!

Hello, what are you thinking?

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