If you’ve written a book synopsis, you probably built it with great scenes in mind. Now’s the time to fill them in and focus on the rhythm of your story.
There are three excellent reasons for writing a book synopsis. First, it’s a great way to test the substance of your story. Second, a synopsis can be a great development tool. Third, it makes your story easy to share.
If you are exploring your great idea by writing a synopsis first, congratulations. You have a stellar bird’s eye view of your whole story. Now it’s time to make your scene list — and a scene list synopsis.
Scenes are key units of a story. Just like your larger story, they have a beginning, middle, and end and it is through scenes that readers move around your story-world.
You probably built your book synopsis with great scenes in mind. Now’s the time to pull them all out and fill them in.
Comb through your synopsis from beginning to end, translating the actions and events into discreet scenes.
Write down your sequence of scenes. Are they all well-formed? Do you see missing or extra parts in the synopsis? Can you juice things up further as you expand your ideas?
Give each scene a descriptive title – what is the main point of the scene? You might want to start a spreadsheet to help keep track. How many do you have?
Your scene list
You’ll generally come out with about 60-85 scenes for a book. How is the structure of your story taking shape? Are you starting to see your synopsis in different ways? Do you need some restructuring after finding a hole or having an epiphany?
Extracting a scene list from a synopsis should be an iterative and imaginative process. You may need to go back and forth, balancing and thinking deeply about how you want to go from the abstract to the concrete.
How fast you can get to a full scene list depends on the structure and content of your story synopsis. It all depends on how much “energy” you had in your synopsis. Enough to launch all your scenes? If not, go back and add more scenes in to fill things out.
Also, be on the lookout for chapters. Your scene and chapter list might be one and the same. This works well for fast-paced stories and is common for page-turners. If you want more scenes per chapter, they must be linked to make perfect sense slotted together. In general, a scene is about 1,500 to 3,000 words. The average chapter length is roughly 3,000-6,000 words.
By crafting scenes and chapters, you are also thinking about your story rhythm – the silences and transitions. White space lets readers pause. White space signals that something has concluded and something new is about to begin.
The scene-list synopsis
If you draw up a full scene list that you are dying to write, that’s a great start. You have proven you have a big idea — of book scope — and now you’re ready to fill in the content of each scene. If it feels right to work on your story in this way, you’ll have one huge advantage: you’ll be able to use your knowledge of the whole to develop each scene.
From the plotline and character arc(s), you inherit overarching conflicts and personal wants as design elements. You know where you are heading so you can strategically move in clever ways towards lining up your end goal. You just have to heap on loads of creativity and imagination and find all the right words to express these great ideas.
Can you create a sketch of each scene? What should be there and why? Who is talking and doing? Why? You might want to capture these elements in your spreadsheet.
Is this a great idea?
If you have trouble developing a full list of high-quality scenes, you might think about ditching this book idea. If your idea just doesn’t stretch out to enough great scenes, you might be looking at a novella or a short story.
If, instead, you have great overarching ideas that will help drive stellar scenes, forge on. Sometimes, time is what’s needed, to collect your thoughts, expand your ideas, or do required research to fill in the holes.
Of course, you could also work in reverse, envisioning one or more great scenes and then figuring out how to chain them together – with your book synopsis as the end goal.
Your scene list synopsis is now your working document – time to add another layer of story. Which scene will you work on first?
As you expand, remember, writing is iterative work. Don’t be afraid to scrap things and start fresh — you can always reimagine any idea. Just slip in a new detail or a new mode of expressing a thought that better moves the story along. Your scene list is always under development, right until the end.
Getting all this story substance in place is the way to produce text with real heft. From great substance comes great style.