Synopsis (or outline!) writing in 9 easy steps…

Date: Thursday October 15, 2009
Posted in: Writer's Toolbox

Ah, the dreaded synopsis. Authors hate to write them but they’re a necessary, albeit evil, step in the querying process.

When querying agents/editors, some require a 1 or 2 page synopsis with your initial query. Others will ask for it when they request pages, especially a partial. A synopsis is a re-telling of your story from beginning to end, hitting all of the major plot points (and yes, in a synopsis, agents/editors want to know the end).

I know, I know…it’s sooo hard to distill a whole novel into one page…*whine*…BUT, I’m here to tell you it’s not impossible. Come on, I KNOW you can do it!  You wrote a whole freakin’ novel, didn’t you? This is one measly page.


Okay. No grumbling. You ready?

This is how I structure my synopses. (Also, very useful for outlining, btw: NaNoWriMo, anyone?) I’ve listed the 9 major points I want to cover when retelling my story. I write a paragraph or so under each point and once done, I’m left with about a one-pager. Of course, before I send it off I take away the headings, but this framework helps keep me on track.

1. Inciting incident (The big problem)

What is the incident/problem which sets your story in motion? What is your MC’s goal, quest, problem s/he needs to overcome?

2. Plot Point 1 (first obstacle)

What is the first obstacle, roadblock, conflict your MC must face en route to his/her goal?

3. Plot Point 2 (second obstacle)

What is the second obstacle, roadblock, conflict your MC must face en route to his/her goal? This shows your MC in increasing difficulty and displays the ramping up of tension.

4. Plot Point 3 (third obstacle-situation is about as bad as it can get)

What is the third obstacle, roadblock, conflict your MC must face en route to his/her goal? This should be your character’s ‘darkest hour’.

5. Climax A (lighting the fuse)

What sets things in motion for the big show-down?

6. Climax B (watching it burn)

What conflict/tension/precariousness happens to make us wait and wonder? This is the point where things could go either way…

7. Climax C (kaboom!)

This is where the excrement hits the ventilation device. The ‘final showdown’.

8. Denouement

Everything becomes clear. The world makes sense again. Story questions are resolved.

9. Resolution

And they all live happily ever after. Or not.

Your synopsis should follow a similar story arc and exhibit the energy of your actual story, like so:

A few additional points:

* Synopses are told in third person (even if your story is in first), present tense.

* Try to inject a similar tone/voice into your synopsis as you use in your manuscript. Let your voice shine through! This will give the reader a sense of your writing style.

* No pouting. That only leads to massive amounts of chocolate consumption. Which is not exactly bad, per se. Just try not to get chocolate stains on the paper. ;-)

See? That wasn’t so bad, was it? Now, you can write a synopsis in 9 easy steps too!

And, psst…,  if this looks a bit like my plotting outline…as I mentioned, it is…

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Happy synopsis-writing, outlining, NaNoWrimoing, everyone!


More good news!

Date: Thursday October 8, 2009
Posted in: Good news!

What a week! I’m shaking my head in total disbelief. First THIS happened and now MORE good news. Far more than I deserve.

From today’s Publisher’s Marketplace:

Children’s/Middle Grade

Helene Boudreau’s REAL MERMAIDS DON’T WEAR TOE RINGS, about an aquaphobic mer-girl trying to balance the drama of two-legged teenage life with her quest to rescue her mermaid mother from really scary mer-dudes, to Rebecca Frazer at Jabberwocky, for publication in Fall 2010, by Lauren MacLeod at The Strothman Agency (World).

Other things I don’t deserve:

1. My fabulous super agent, Lauren MacLeod. Lauren had to talk me off so many ledges over this whole submission process. She has nerves of steel and can leap tall buildings in a single bound, which is why SHE, on the other hand, TOTALLY deserves this good news.

2. My amazing new editor, Rebecca Frazer. Rebecca is just a whole lot of awesomeness. From the second we spoke on Tuesday, I KNEW she totally *got* my manuscript. Like, how often does THAT happen?

3. My phenomenal critique group. Where the heck would I be without their kicks in the pants and knocks upside the head? Nowhere, that’s where. And yes, they’re that violent, but no pain, no gain.

4. My friends and family. You guys put up with so much. Half the time I can’t believe you’re all still listening. The other half, I whine anyway.

And yes, maybe I don’t deserve all these things, but I sure am grateful! Though, I’m pretty sure I’ve used up my quota of good news and sparkly karma for a good long while. 

Hugs, all! :-)

When I was 9…

Date: Thursday October 1, 2009
Posted in: Good news!

When I was 9…my teacher wrote a picture book. She brought it to school to show us and I remember how she went from teacher to goddess that afternoon, with every flip of the page.


A real author! In my little town! I was in absolute awe and went straight home that afternoon and wrote (and illustrated!) my own picture book about a couple of kids with a crazed robot that goes off on a rampage through town, flattening hedges and knocking soup cans off grocery store shelves.  

Um, yeah. Bestseller, fer shur…

But, a spark ignited in my gut that day. I knew from then on that I wanted to write picture books like my teacher, now an author. I wanted to BE that author more than anything in the world.

Many (many) years passed and about five years ago, I decided to get serious about that childhood dream of mine. So, I wrote a picture book. And another one. And started a novel. And by a very lucky twist of fate, had that novel published. And then wrote more picture books.

And this was one of them (announced today on Publishers Marketplace):

Helene Boudreau’s I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN, an anti-bedtime story testing the theory of whether yawns are contagious, to Mary Lee Donovan at Candlewick, by Lauren MacLeod at The Strothman Agency (World).


Yup, that’s me. And yup, that’s my book! Needless to say, I’m BEYOND thrilled!

So, I want to give my shy and awkward 9 year-old self a hug right now and say…guess what?

You did it…

I’d long forgotten that 9 year-old’s book, my first picture book, until last year when I was in my hometown launching my first novel ACADIAN STAR. 

Something you should know about my mom: I have 7 siblings and we joke that our mom passes off the same baby picture for all 7 of us.  READ: She’s not very sentimental.

Who can blame her, she was too BUSY to be taking pictures. But that day last October, she went into her back cupboard and pulled out a manila envelope.

She’d saved it.

Thirty years later, she pulled out that very first story of mine, each page laminated, each pencil-drawn sketch of my crazed robot, unsmudged, and said, “I knew you’d want this someday.”

And there it was; the defining moment of my decision to be a children’s author, perfectly preserved.

I’ll admit, I’m bawling as I write this. Maybe I’m up too late, maybe it’s the sense of relief that I can actually share this wonderful news with you, but thank you for reading.

And thanks to my teacher for showing me what was possible, to my wonderful agent, Lauren MacLeod, for believing it was possible for *me* and to Mary Lee Donovan at Candlewick for opening a whole new world of possibilities for me and this book.