How To Craft A One-Page Synopsis Using Story Beats

The dreaded synopsis. Anyone who’s chosen the traditional path into publishing know that these pesky buggers are enough to drive a writer to drink… literally.

I have good news and bad. The good news is I’ve found a solution to help keep your liver in tact. The bad, no matter how much you might hate writing these little darlings a synopsis is the only way of selling your book to a publisher. You will have to learn.


Over the years I’ve read so many posts on this subject it felt like my eyeballs were bleeding. What surprised me most was that very few ever mentioned story beats, never mind using them for a synopsis. Which is why I’ve decided to share my discovery.

When you use story beats to create your synopsis something amazing happens. All that pressure weighing down your shoulders, crushing your literary spirit, while you try to boil your 400 page novel down to one page, immediately eases. Because now you’re only dealing with the beats.

I know this because I wrote my synopsis this way. It took me no time at all, gained me a full request within an hour of sending it, and I actually enjoyed the process. I can hear the shaking of heads in disbelief on that last comment, but stay with me. It does get better; you’ll see.

First you need to know what story beats are. In simple terms, story beats are the milestones you hit when telling your story. The tent poles that hold your story up and keep it from sagging, the foundation on which your story stands. Those of you who plan your novels in advance know exactly what I’m talking about and can skip over the next part. For pantsers without a firm knowledge of structure, this becomes more difficult. You’ll first need to find your beats. Which you should do anyway to make sure they’re placed properly. Without structure your story could sag in the middle, have an early start, reduce tension, or veer totally off course.

Believe me, I have drawers full of novels like this at various stages, written before I learned to plan my stories. Now, however, since I know where my story is going and how to get there, I am less apt to trash a novel half or three-quarters of the way through.

Let’s get down to it.


HOOK: A scene meant to introduce the hero and hook the reader, keep them from putting your book down, entice them to read on. The reader must either relate to, or empathize with, the hero. Contrary to what some believe a reader does not have to like a main character. There have been plenty of unlikable heroes that have hooked us for an entire novel. Why? Because we empathize with them. Like them or not, the reader must root for them. And that’s key.

Many new writers start their story too late. Thus, not allowing the reader to care what happens to the protagonist. I’ve done this myself — more than once — and had to go back and rewrite the hook.

INCITING INCIDENT (OPTIONAL): Not every story has to have an inciting incident in the way I use the term. Some call the Inciting Incident the First Plot Point. I refer to it as a foreshadowing of the First Plot Point, placed earlier than 20-25% mark, but without affecting the protagonist. And that’s the difference here. Having an inciting incident, however, does not relieve you of properly placing the First Plot Point. It merely sets it up, foreshadows what’s to come. It can even be an entirely different event, one that relates to the main plot, but is actually a false start.

FIRST PLOT POINT: Here’s where your story really begins, perfectly placed at 20%-25% of the way into the story. For instance, in a 400 page novel this would occur around page 80-100. The First Plot Point is the single most important scene of all the beats because it kicks off the action and sends the hero on a quest, which IS your story. Even if it’s been foreshadowed or hinted at, the first plot point shows the reader how it affects or changes the protagonist. Get this one wrong and your story will fail.

FIRST PINCH POINT: A peek into the antagonist force preventing the hero from reaching her goal. If you missed my post on Pinch Points you can find it here. The First Pinch Point comes about 37.5% into the story, or at the 3/8th mark.

MIDPOINT: Placed smack dab in the middle of the story, or at approximately 50%, this scene changes the protagonist from wanderer to warrior, attacking the problem head on.

ALL IS LOST MOMENT: The title says it all with this one. Here’s where your hero is at her lowest point, believing she’s failed. It occurs right before the second plot point, also known as the second plot point lull.

SECOND PLOT POINT: 75% of the way into your story, this scene launches the final push toward the story’s conclusion. This is the last place where you can add new information, characters, or clues. Everything the hero needs to know, to work with, or someone to work alongside, is now in play by the end of the 2nd Plot Point.

SECOND PINCH POINT: You must devote an entire scene to this pinch point, which comes in around the 5/8th mark, whereas with the first pinch point you don’t. It’s another glimpse of the antagonist force in all his glory, now more frightening than before because, like the hero, he too has upped his game.

CLIMAX: The hero conquers the antagonist force or, in some stories, martyrs herself. Personally, I’ve never read a story where the hero dies, but it is an option. And here’s when it will happen. The main thing to remember is that the protagonist must be the one to thwart the antagonist and not merely be present when it takes place. After all, this is her story you’re telling.

RESOLUTION: Completing the quest, stronger for the effort, the resolution shows the hero in her new life.

Okay, now you have your story beats that show the overall plot of your story. Don’t be concerned with subplots in your synopsis unless you’re allowed more than one page. Which rarely happens. Your one-page synopsis should have three or four paragraphs, depending on whether you use a three or four act structure. One paragraph per act.

Briefly tell what happens in each beat. This is not the time for showing. Use as few words as possible. Don’t worry that your story sounds as dry as burnt toast with no butter. If you’ve done it right — brief being the key word — you should have extra room to spice it up.

Once you’ve got your beats in paragraph form go back to the beginning and look for places where you can tighten, where you’ve used two words instead of one, etc. Refer to a thesaurus, or read the notes you took on your favorite novel and look at how the author condensed his/her words. If you’re not a note-taker check out the mini-synopsis on any book cover. You can bet your favorite author has chosen his/her words carefully.

Now, go back and add a short line of dialogue here and there, and/or sprinkle adjectives that paint a better picture. Be direct when describing your protagonist. For instance, for my latest novel, MARRED, instead of just saying my character’s name, “Sage Quintano”. I could say, “Sage Quintano, a grief-stricken writer.” That’s four extra words, but it gives the reader a better understanding of who she is. Unfortunately, “grief-stricken” is cliché, so I want to change that and see if I can whittle it down further. “A despondent novelist”. That’s only three words, more direct, and it raises a story question: Why is she despondent? Keep in mind that you will have to answer any questions you raise. Nothing irks agents and editors more than a writer teasing them in a synopsis. Save that for your query letter.

Write the synopsis in third person, present tense. It doesn’t matter that the book is in first person or deep third, past tense. This is a rule, and it’s clearly stated on agents and publishers website. Break it at your own peril. Above all, relax and have fun. And don’t forget to breathe. LOL

With writing in general as well as crafting the perfect synopsis…


Message Stones

If you’ve written a successful synopsis and have any pointers not mentioned here please share in the comments. As always, I wish you huge success. If the synopsis you write using this method aids you in securing representation or a publishing contract please let me know so I can help you celebrate.

If you haven’t received your FREE copy of 50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters you can read a sampling and sign-up here, or click the title.

Pinch Points In Fiction Writing

A few people have recently asked me what Pinch Points are, which made me wonder if others are struggling with what they are and how to use them. After a quick Google search I realized there isn’t really much written on the subject, oddly enough. And they are crucial milestones in fiction writing because they show the face of evil in its purest form. The Pinch Points demonstrate what your hero is up against, what causes him/her to jolt straight up in bed, the bogey man in the nightmare.

“We need to see that antagonist form in its purest, most dangerous and intimidating form. Or if it isn’t dangerous then at least we need to feel it for ourselves.” — Larry Brooks

“An example, or a reminder, of the nature and implications of the antagonist force, that is not filtered by the hero’s experience.” — Larry Brooks, Story Engineering

evil eye

Two pinch points in every story

The main difference between them is the placement. The First Pinch Point comes midway between the First Plot Point and the Midpoint. Since the First Plot Point comes at 20%-25% into the book and the Midpoint comes at 50%, then the First Pinch Point would come at the 3/8th mark, or approximately 37.5%.

With the First Pinch Point the reader needs to see the antagonist form for herself and not merely hear it referenced or discussed. She needs to experience it, either through the hero’s eyes or through the antagonist himself. In crime fiction this can be a murderer planning his next kill or stalking his next victim. Or a kidnapper beating his captor, and enjoying every minute of it. Or even playing the captor’s recorded screams over the phone for the hero.

The simpler and more direct the pinch point the better. The important thing to remember is that the reader must feel it. Even if you choose to use a cutaway scene of the evil the protagonist is facing then you’ve fulfilled the need of the First Pinch Point.

Anyone who’s ever read a James Patterson thriller has seen these many times in all their glory. They stick right out because he uses short chapters that show what the antagonist is doing — planning, scheming, killing. Make no mistake, he knows exactly where to place them to keep the reader flipping pages.

The Second Pinch Point should appear between the Second Plot Point and the Climax. Regardless of whether you use a three or four act structure the Second Pinch Point should appear around 5/8th mark.

This time you need an entire scene devoted to it whereas with the First Pinch Point you don’t. A pinch point is a demonstration of the nature, power and very essence of the antagonist force. And now, it’s more frightening then ever. Because at the Midpoint shift your character changes from wanderer — where he or she is trying and failing — to a real hero attacking the problem head on, your antagonist force will also up his game. And the Second Pinch Point is the time to show just how evil he really is.

The Second Pinch Point could be a discussion between one character and another reminding the reader of what he or she is up against, even if the antagonist force is within your hero, depending on your story.

I love this analogy in Story Engineering…

“The First Plot Point, Midpoint, and Second Plot Point are your big meals. Don’t skip them if your goal is to add dramatic tension and jack the pace to your story. The Pinch Points are like nutritious snacks between those meals — mid-morning and mid-afternoon. They’re good things. They give you energy, they nurture you. You wouldn’t eat them too soon after a big meal, nor would you eat them right before a major meal. No, they’re right smack in the middle of the gaps between those meals. As for any other snacks (moments in which your bad guy does his thing), well, remember that in this analogy you’re trying to gain weight… so go for it. The more calories you stuff down the reader’s throat the better.”

As writers we often concern ourselves with the hook and the big twist ending, perhaps even the Midpoint. Without well-placed pinch points, though, the story will lose its sense of rising action and tension.

For example, in Silence of the Lambs the First Pinch Point comes when Hannibal Lecter gives Clarice the location of a storage facility where she finds a jarred head of one of Buffalo Bill’s victims. In their twisted relationship this is akin to him giving her a dozen long-stemmed red roses. The Second Pinch Point comes when Hannibal gives her the map of Buffalo Bill’s murders, which ultimately helps her break the case and find the killer.

never lose hope

Let’s have a little fun and tell me what the first pinch point is in your story, or an example in your favorite book. Leave it in the comments below.

In my novel, MARRED, the First Pinch Point comes when a killer, responsible for a string of murders, calls Sage and tells her he has her sister Chloe and if she doesn’t obey he’ll kill her, mar her like he did the others — eyes and mouth X’d out with black wire, erased from her ghostly pale face.

Your turn. Go!