The Seven Paragraph Synopsis

Synopses are evil.  When faced with the prospect of writing one, perfectly competent authors have been known to quake in their boots, hide under the bed, or indulge in M&M binges.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A synopsis has a form and structure to it, just like an essay or a press release or other specialized forms of writing.  And today, I’m going to give you the secret recipe for writing a synopsis for a romance novel.

WARNING:  If you’re a seat-of-the-pants plotter, you may find this secret recipe somewhat daunting to follow.  But anyone who plans a book, or outlines even a little bit, will be able to follow this guide, and be able to write a synopsis even before they have finished the book.  This guide should be easy to follow for anyone who has already finished a novel and just needs to find a way to summarize it in five double spaced pages before sending it off to the Golden Heart contest.

A complete synopsis can be written in as few as seven paragraphs, as follows:

Paragraph 1 — The Heroine.  Introduce your heroine.  Be sure to have a sentence that tells us what the heroine wants and needs at the beginning of the story, why she wants or needs it, and what is standing in the way of her getting what she needs.  You can put in a little backstory here, but keep the paragraph short.

Paragraph 2 — The Hero.  Introduce the hero the same way you did with the heroine.

Paragraph 3 — The Moment of Change.  Your story should start at the “Moment of Change,” when the life of one (or both) of your protagonists begins to change.  In your synopsis, describe what happens to your protagonists and how it changes the course of their lives.  It’s important to focus on the change that occurs in the opening of the book, not backstory or a description of the minor characters or the book’s setting.  The editor or judge will respond if you tell them how your hero’s life has been turned upside down at the beginning of the story.  (Hint:  if you discover that the moment of change occurs on page fifty in your finished manuscript, it’s usually a tip off that you’ve started your book in the wrong place.)  The Moment of Change should occur as close to page one as you can get it.

Paragraph 4 — The First Threshold.  In every romance there comes a moment about one-quarter of the way through where the hero and heroine are forced to either work together toward a common goal, or are thrown together as a result of some circumstance beyond their control.  Your fourth paragraph should describe the situation that throws them together, and how your hero and heroine deal with this circumstance.  Be sure to describe how this external force is starting to change your characters so that the goals they had at the beginning of the story are starting to change.

Paragraph 5 — The Ordeal.  If you want to avoid a sagging middle, you should make sure that something dramatic happens in the middle of the book.  (See my blog on writing middles).  Your fourth paragraph should begin with a sentence that summarizes the action leading up to the big Ordeal in the middle of the book.  Your next couple of sentences should describe The Ordeal and how your characters learn something important as a result of what happens.  End the paragraph with a summary of how The Ordeal has brought your hero and heroine closer together.  The Ordeal usually ends with a first kiss or a love scene.  The Ordeal is also the moment when the hero and heroine fall in love, even if they don’t fully realize it.

Paragraph 6 — The Black Moment.  At some point, near the end of the book, your hero and heroine will be faced with a combination of external and internal forces that will make them revert to the people they were at the beginning of the story.  They will fall back into their old ways of thinking and forget the things they learned in the middle of the book.  They will let old fears rule them, and in so doing they will lose each other.  This is the Black Moment.  (See my blog on Black Moments.)  Your sixth paragraph should describe the actions leading up to the Black Moment, and how the Black Moment forces your hero and heroine to forget the things they have learned.

Paragraph 7 — The Resolution.  Describe how your hero and heroine get out of the Black Moment.  This will require your hero and heroine to grow in some important ways, and they may have help from minor characters.  End your synopsis with a couple of sentences describing what your hero and heroine have learned that make it possible for them to have fallen in love.

If you have already written your novel and it follows the standard three act structure of most romance novels, you should be able to find the scenes and story action that correspond to The Moment of Change, The First Threshold, The Ordeal, The Black Moment, and the Resolution.  If you can’t find those scenes in your finished book, or if they are out of order, you may have plot problems that will make writing a clear synopsis difficult under any circumstances.  In this way, writing a synopsis can be a great way to find plot problems in a finished manuscript.

Now comes the hard part — for many published writers the synopsis has to be written before the book.  All authors, even those who plot by the seat-of-their-pants, are going to have to write a book proposal sooner or later.  So learning how to do it is an important part of becoming a professional writer.

I find that describing the hero and heroine, understanding their goals and motivations, and then figuring out just a handful of turning points in a great way to accomplish this chore.  With five turning points, I can develop a good story line without having to get into so much detail that I feel locked in or lose the joy that comes with discovering the details as I write.  Usually my outlines are quite a bit different than the finished manuscript, but the synopsis gives me a great starting point for getting a new project started.

Got more ideas on how to make synopsis writing easier?  Now’s the time to share them.

41 responses to “The Seven Paragraph Synopsis”

  1. Gillian says:

    Love it, Hope! And you are spot on with that “if you can’t find them, you may have plot problems”. When I first started writing and found out I needed a synopsis for some contest or another, my plot gaps became very apparent. 😉 (that poor middle didn’t just sag, it scraped the floor)

    I think this would be tremendously helpful if you were writing a secondary love-story in your book,too. Make sure the secondary characters had their story arc as well.

    • Hope Ramsay says:

      I am a plotter. And yes, I use this same group of turning points for subplots. I also make sure that the subplot and the main plot intersect in some way in the middle. It’s amazing how stuff happening in a subplot can set off an ordeal in the main plot and visa versa. 🙂

  2. Elisa Beatty says:

    As always, incredibly smart and clear and useful!!! This is one of those things that *should* be obvious, but it didn’t occur to me to synopsize according to plot points until you just now said so.

    I’ll be printing this one out and adding it to my “Hope to the Rescue!” file!

  3. Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

    Thank you, Hope. I just always babble like a brook for 3-5 pages.

  4. What amuses me is that for my current WIP — a 50K novel aimed at Harlequin Presents — these seven points pretty much covers all of the story action. Authors writing longer novels will need to summarize several related scenes into one sentence, but I won’t!

    And I’ll need to be doing this SOON, like next week. Thanks for this guide, Hope. I’ll be bookmarking it for later use.

    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to mention that there are several other plot points that a writer of a longer work might want to add. I write single title, so my initial synopses have 2 additional paragraphs.

      1) The First Pinch — which occurs between the First Threshold and the Ordeal. This is something that happens in your external story that forces your hero and heroine to deal with whatever inner conflict they may be dealing with. They succeed in getting over the barrier and learn something about themselves in the process.

      2) The Second pinch — which occurs between the Ordeal and the Black Moment. This is a somewhat bigger barrier that arrives often from the internal story. But it requires the hero and heroine to grow and face what ever inner conflict they’ve been bearing. They succeed, only to run right up against the Black Moment.

  5. Leslie says:

    Ahhhhh . . . finally a how-to-synopsize that makes sense! You’ve helped me tremendously, Hope.

    **puts away the M&Ms and picks up pen**

  6. WOW! I love this!!! Love it love it love it. Off to tell everyone.
    Great post, Hope! ~D~

    • Hope Ramsay says:


      Have you found it difficult to make the transition to selling books via proposal? I have several newly published friends who say that having to write the synopsis before starting the book is daunting, even with a recipe.

      • Actually, I have found just the opposite. I know and the editor knows that the story could change, and it usually does. So I have found that writing the synopsis beforehand is waaaaay easier than writing it afterward. When you’re finished, you know everything that happens and you feel like you have to put all that in there. This way, it’s kind of a surprise to everyone! hahaha

  7. Definitely something for the writer’s toolbox, Hope! Great summary. I love how simple the formula can be for something that seems so daunting!

  8. Nan Dixon says:

    Great post Hope,
    So timely for me – since I’m slogging through a difficult synopsis on a complicated book. Thanks for reminding me of the critical elements.

  9. Elaine says:

    Great post. This is a very helpful guideline to follow, I’m only a few weeks away from needing this.

  10. Diane kelly says:

    Great advice! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Those will have to be really LONG paragraphs if it’s a 5-page double-spaced sucknopsis, Hope. 🙂 This is a great guide for the plot points that need to be covered.

    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Well, I was using poetic license and trying to be dramatic. You could definitely write a three page synopsis with just 7 paragraphs. And, keep in mind, that in the Golden Heart its up to 50 pages total. Your synopsis can be up to 10 of those pages. (I think). So if you can boil your synopsis down to 7 paragraphs, that gives you a couple more pages for your actual entry. I always needed those pages in order to get to a good hook.

      • Kate says:

        Thanks so much for this! As I gear up for GH entry this week, I’ve been looking for a way to cut the synopsis down and leave me those extra precious pages for the partial. I know what I’m doing this weekend.

  12. Vivi Andrews says:

    Handy way of breaking down the synopsis, Hope. Thanks.

  13. This is an awesome synopsis breakdown, Hope! I’m trying to write a syno for the YA I’m going to be writing next month as a guide, so this will be VERY helpful in pinning down those major turning points. Thanks! 🙂

  14. W.H.Cann says:

    Thank you for such a helpful guide in preparing a synopsis. As an unpublished writer seeking representation, this will be of great benefit in the coming months. Writing a good synopsis has always been a daunting task to me, harder than writing the novel itself!

  15. Ae Grace (Abigail) says:

    Ohh, this is great. 🙂 Thanks for posting it.

    Now, my novel is YA paranormal romance, but I’m still guessing I can use this structure with similar results, right? Or am I completely off base?

    • Hope Ramsay says:

      The turning points are the same regardless of what you’re writing. But things like the first kiss and stuff like that might be only appropriate for romance.

      When I was first learning about turning points, I read Chris Vogler’s excellent book THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, which is based on Joseph Campbell’s work on the nature of story. While I found the hero’s journey to be unbelievably eye-opening, I had a lot of trouble trying to figure out how that set of turning points really fit a romance. And the short answer is that it doesn’t — not entirely.

      So I abbreviated it, and made up a few things for my own use and added in some things I learned in plotting workshops. The main thing that’s different in a romance is the juggling of the external story — the plot. And the internal, emotional love story. Both have to be there in a romance. But in other genres, maybe not so much. If you want to learn more about turning points Vogler and Michael Hague both have approaches that are valid.

  16. Wow! Brilliant and concise! I’m printing this out now and tacking it up next to my computer.
    And writing a synopsis. Just like that!

  17. Rita Henuber says:

    Great post Hope. Very good tips.
    I would say first stop thinking of them as evil and hard. Synopsis’ are you friend. If your best friend asked you to tell them about the book the synopsis is what you would say. I love them. Am I good at them? Heck no. I find the plot problems in the synopsis. Reading the synopsis I know if I have all the GMC in the story. It keeps me on track while writing like a blueprint. It can and does change.
    Repeat after me- A synopsis is my friend

    • Hope Ramsay says:


      Once I realized that there was a huge value to writing a synopsis BEFORE starting a book, I came to understand the truth that you speak. I’ve reached the point where I wouldn’t dream of starting a story without doing the synopsis first. But it also took me a long time to realize what had to be in a synopsis. Once I figured that out, yeah, I discovered that writing it was easy — figuring out the plot points is harder, of course, but once you’ve got those, the writing of it is easy peasy.

  18. Tia Ramirez says:

    THIS has got to be the biggest help. You are wonderful Hope for doing this! Short, sweet and too the point.

  19. Carla says:

    Not that I didn’t know this before–because you taught it to me–but I’m still awed by the perfection in the simplicity. And as it just so happens, that’s the next thing on my To Do list. Your timing, as always, is impeccable. Thanks!!

    Also gotta share this with my crit group. I know too many people who fear the synopsis like they fear public speaking and IRS audits. At least now I’ve almost mastered 2 out of 3.

  20. What a fantastic way to boil this down, Hope. I’m saving this to use on future books. I usually put waaaay too much into my synopses and end up with something that focuses too much on the plot, rather than the on relationship…but not anymore! I especially like the “pinches” you mentioned!

    Thanks so much!

  21. Diana Layne says:

    Hope, I love this! Sorry I missed this yesterday, I would’ve splashed it all over! Ok, I’ll splash it today.

  22. Thanks, Hope, for another wonderful didactic. And perfect timing, too, with GH turn-in right around the corner!

  23. […] some direction for my next chunk of submissions. I also found a delightfully helpful link about writing a synopsis that I thought you ladies might find helpful for your current […]


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