Dos before writing a novel: Synopsis and Chapter summary

It might be tempting to sit down and start writing down the first idea you had. Perhaps it was a scene or a certain type of protagonist that you saw in your head and you’re afraid that you will lose the inspiration if you don’t start jotting everything down immediately.

By all means if you have an idea do put it on paper, but I would caution you from starting a novel without having a basic outline of your book.

If you don’t know your synopsis, you might find yourself writing 20,000 or more words only to realize that your story is going nowhere, that you don’t know what your climax and resolution will be, and that you have no idea how to escalate the tension.

Writing a synopsis and chapter summaries may sound like a dreadful task but in the long run it will safe you a lot of time and effort. There is no point in wasting weeks or months, if simply dedicating a few days to the creation of the structure of your book, can prevent it.

But what exactly should you put into a synopsis and chapter summaries?

Let’s start with the synopsis. I would suggest that you aim for no more than one page. Your synopsis is a rough script of your novel with all the major plot points. You do not need to plan or outline every minuscule detail in here. But it is necessary to describe the set-up, the reaction, the attack, the climax and the resolution of your novel.

If you read my previous post on novel structure (more detailed description can be found here Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) then you know that I segment the novel into four equal parts. Each part has crucial beats. Ensure that these beats are covered in your synopsis.

You might be tempted not to dwell on how your novel will end, in order to give yourself maximum of “creative freedom”, but I would caution against that. If you don’t know what will happen during the climax and the resolution, it is very difficult to built-up to them, and know what to foreshadow during the first 75% of your novel.


After you’ve written your synopsis it is time to create a chapter by chapter summary. Decide how long you want your novel to be, how many chapters it will have and then divide the length of the novel by the chapters, in order to get an estimate of how many words you should aim for in each chapter.

Let’s say you’ve decided that the length of your novel will be 70,000 words and you will have 40 Chapters.

70 000: 40 = 1,750

Thus, you’re aiming for 1,750 words per chapter. Think about how many scenes each chapter will have. For the above length I would suggest no more than 3 scenes per chapter.

While you might find it boring to write a chapter summary it is an important step that will help you pace your story, ensure that you don’t forget important events, and will also make it easier for you to write. Sitting down in front of a blank page can be very daunting. Sitting down in front of a page and knowing a rough outline of what you’re going to write, is way easier.

Below is an example of what a chapter summary could look like:

Chapter 8 (Inciting incident)

  • Peter discovers a card showing him a treasure island located not too far away from his hometown
  • He decides that if there really is treasure to be found it would save his family from financial ruin
  • Peter begins putting together all the essentials to start his trip
  • His friend Jack walks in on him and Peter has to tell him about the island
  • Jack wants to come too and has a boat, so Peter agrees

Since everyone has a different style you might find yourself writing a less or more detailed chapter summary. The goal is not to plan out every tiny detail but rather provide a solid foundation to ensure that you don’t go too much off base from the story in your head.

Finally, chapter summaries are a wonderful tool for evaluating whether you have done enough foreshadowing in your novel. All that happens in part 4, the resolution, needs to have been foreshadowed in the previous three parts, since you want to make the reader feel as if they could’ve predicted the outcome of the story, if they had only paid more attention.

The next post will discuss key questions to ask before writing a novel.

One Comment on “Dos before writing a novel: Synopsis and Chapter summary

  1. Pingback: Questions to ask before writing a novel | Margarita

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