Pantser Special: Using Story Structure Models to Write a Synopsis (& Tighten Your Plot)

Not long ago, while editing my novel, it occurred to me that eventually, I’ll be expected to provide a synopsis of my story whenever I do get around to submitting to agents. (The horror!) As someone who started this ginormous project as a bonafide pantser after failing to produce a likable manuscript going the outlining route, well, the idea of writing a synopsis seemed like a big fat joke…until I realized it really wasn’t.

Without a coherent, logical structure, my story would be DOA.

So…when a YouTuber I follow named Shaelin Bishop posted a video about a 15 Beat Plot Structure this week, I decided to tune in and watch. Perhaps, I reasoned, I could learn something useful.

Boy, did I ever!

Now, I’ve read articles about all sorts of story structures in the past—some more detailed than others—but this “15 Beat” one just seemed to really “click” for me. Maybe because I already had my story pretty much figured out this time around; maybe because it’s actually meant for the visual medium of movies, which I tend to see more than I read, and I’m a very visual person. Anyhow, while listening to Shaelin explain it, I was nodding my head along, mentally listing the ways my story already seemed to align with the plot progressions she was explaining.

Phew! What a relief. I guess, without really thinking about it as “creating a plot structure,” that’s exactly what I’ve been doing all along!

Well, this came as a great relief to the-pantser-that-is-me. Maybe, I thought to myself, I should actually try being organized for once and write down this plot of mine now—y’know, just to make sure I’m telling a coherent story. (It certainly is an easier way to examine plot without the multitude of details of worldbuilding and dialogue and what have you getting in the way.) Within a half an hour of drafting my story structure in Word, I realized that this whole little exercise could actually help me tighten my plot.

It could also, potentially, become the starting point for my synopsis!

Writing a Synopsis

To be perfectly honest, I can’t recall ever reading a single article regarding writing a synopsis before coming across Shaelin’s video. It just never occurred to me to do so. However, after trying out this whole 15 Beat dealio for size, the idea of writing a synopsis now seems a lot less scary because basically, what I’m doing is taking my first attempt at charting out those 15 beats then distilling them into an acceptable synopsis for submissions—and I think this could probably be done using most of the story structure models that are out there.

(One thing I should mention about the 15 Beat Plot Structure is that it also includes subplots called a B-Plot in scriptwriting or C-Plot and so on. These subplots often involve other characters but are still related to the protagonist’s plot somehow, but they won’t be as complex/have as many “beats” as the main plot because, well, that would water down the main plot. So determining what the main plot is versus sub ones can make it easier to make sure the story stays focused even with various subplots going on.)

As of now, my synopsis draft sits at six pages…that is, single-spaced. I’m not sure exactly how long a synopsis should be and if it has to be double-spaced to count, but regardless, I still have my work cut out for me. Still, it’s a starting point. I’m looking at the requirements for my top agent picks that I’d like to submit to eventually, and they all have different requirements. Some say up to two pages long; some say up to 3,000 words (which is where mine is currently at). None of them say the thing needs to be double-spaced, but seeing as to how manuscripts are expected to be this way…I should probably just assume the synopsis needs to be double-spaced, too, right?



I guess what I could do is come up with two versions of my synopsis: one that is two pages (double-spaced?) and one that is under 3,000 words max. That way, I can satisfy different submission requirements, depending on who I am submitting to.

I don’t know how most people usually go about writing a synopsis, so I’d be interested in hearing from other writers on this topic. 🙂

“So…how’s that editing coming along?”

So glad you asked! No, really. How dare you ask!

What with this contemplation about a synopsis and plot and what have you, editing has not been a progression that I’ve been able to chart entirely on my progress bar. The good news is that out of the five parts I’ve divided my novel into—each named to represent my characters’ journies—I’m partially into Part III, where my protagonist gets on with being an actual aviatrix and personally encounters the antagonistic force for the first time (as opposed to initial scenes where another main character is shown dealing with this force firsthand).

Anyway, I should probably explain what my story setup looks like:

  • Part I: The Diplomat is told from the POV of someone other than the protag and is largely setup, making up about 5% of the story;
  • Part II: The Initiate is told entirely from the protag’s POV and includes her story’s setup as well as some of the rising action;
  • Part III: The Aviatrix is told from three different POVs though mostly the protag’s with more of the rising action;
  • Part IV: The Elementalist is the same as last but with an additional POV added, leading to the main climax; and
  • Part V: The Agent is told from the protag’s POV and that of the character added in Part V, making up the last 10% of the story and resolving a secondary climatic event along with the overall plot.

As you can see, I have four main POV characters: an unsuspecting protagonist who becomes the titular “elementalist,” a diplomat who kicks some serious glutes when the occasion calls for it, an intelligence agent who always seems to know more about the protagonist than he should somehow, and an egotistical aeronautical engineer with ties to the military.

Dividing my story this way has made it easier to keep track of my characters’ progressions, seeing that it’s shaped up be a 200K-word doorstopper. Each “part” has a purpose/goal, and I know what role each character plays in it—and actually, I didn’t think to organize the story this way until it was already written, funnily enough.

Anyway, I’m pretty much editing the thick of the story now, and that includes tightening the plot. Parts III and IV are where my plot isn’t as clear as it could be, I realize as I’m writing out my plot structure, so I’m doing my best to figure out ways to crystallize these areas and other scenes they may affect before jumping back into my read-out-loud edits.

*cue second sigh*

I’m really bad at setting attainable goals sometimes, or rather, setting realistic timelines for myself. A lot of my editing progress depends on me having my weekends free, so if something pops up, I get set back. I find it difficult to make much progress with editing during the week. In fact, I find it easier to work on other aspects of my writing during this time period—like writing a synopsis or plotting the next novel.

Which, by the way, I kind of started last week…


Look at me go! Only 100-ish scene cards left to figure out…assuming Book II is anything like Book I. -_-

Ugh, that’s the thing about writing a series: everything flows into one another—which makes plotting the first novel that much more difficult.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with any more of my writing shenanigans. I think that’s enough for one week!

What are you working on, fellow writers?

Are you pulling out your hair just yet? If not, I envy you. Also, have you written a synopsis before? If so, I’d love to learn more about your process! I am seriously learning this topic on the spot, so any insights others have to offer are welcome. 🙂


One thought on “Pantser Special: Using Story Structure Models to Write a Synopsis (& Tighten Your Plot)

  1. You know, I really think that we humans are wired fro stories, because we create them so intuitively.

    When I first started involving myself with story structure, I discovered I had already employed that concept even if I knew nothing about it (yes, just like you 😉 ). I’ll also say that learning about structure made my stories a lot stronger, becasue where I first went instinctively (and I have huge respect for an author’s instinct) I then went with a plan.

    I heard many authors say that they find structure and outlines to be restricting. I acutally find them liberating, because when I’ve pinned down the sturcture, I then can give myself to all the rest, being world or character building, episodes, finding new ideas, expanding ideas that I like.
    I don’t know the 15 story structure (I’m watching the video later), but last summer I discovered the 7-beat story structure and I’m ready to bet they are very similar.
    Made a lot of sense to me too.

    Thanks so much for sharing… and happy revising 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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