If you’re planning on participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), you need to have a good plan of attack before the waves of word count start crashing on your computer’s shore come November 1st.

Tackling your novel’s summary and plot synopsis up front during your planning phase helps direct your character’s journey, keeping you focused on building depth and creating scenes that move your story.  

Planning isn’t for everyone, I know, but having a novel synopsis as a road map does help avoid those dips in momentum emanating from not knowing where to go next with your story. This stalling of progress, left unchecked, can become a novel-killer.

You don’t need a fully-fleshed out plan, but knowing where to go does not diminish the magic and discovery of writing – it actually makes those experiences more concentrated and enjoyable.

So I have a compromise for you – an exercise that takes less than a day to complete and can formulate a solid plan for your novel-length idea in fewer than two pages:

Using Netflix movie summaries and Wikipedia Plot summaries to build your novel synopsis in advance of writing.

Netflix Summaries

Netflix has to write its summaries to entice you to watch a movie with two or fewer clicks. The requirement for brevity demands a focus on the underlying forces that build a compelling story. Writers like you and I develop these summary teasers to entice people to watch, well aware that we are making quick decisions amidst a veritable sea of options.

The same goes for books in a bookstore – whether bricks-and-mortar or on Amazon.

A succinct and enticing summary illustrates a story is worth the reader’s time. Something happens, there’s a character who wants something and goes through a trial to attain it. Something stands in their way and there are high stakes if they don’t achieve the objective of their quest – whether it be the loss of their true love or the end of the world.

Ready to win NaNoWriMo this year? Access our novel planning and writing template and we’ll show you how

If you have access to Netflix, spend 10 minutes browsing the summary teasers for movies you’ve loved and maybe a few you haven’t. Notice what they do well – and how they’ve hit on the key elements that make a story outshine others. 

Wikipedia Plot Summaries

Wikipedia offers succinct plot summaries answering the why and how of the Netflix summaries. It’s a research gold mine for writers looking to summarize a story after spending weeks, months or years writing it. But there is no reason you can’t do so in advance – before you set out on the page.

As you’ll see, the average word count of the below entries is 705 words, which is about two pages of single spaced 12-point font page copy.

Think about that for a moment. Two pages. You can write two pages in a single day, and that effort can help guide and focus you for the duration of your novel – whether you’re taking a year to complete your work, or knocking it out in 30 days. Seems like a good investment, doesn’t it? 

Remember, your own advance plot synopsis doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, no one has to ever see this work. Its purpose is to act as a guide for you when you begin writing – so the objective is clarity

Speaking of clarity, let’s be clear on what I’m asking you to do. It’s incredibly easy to oversimplify the process of creating good fiction. But sometimes, a quick oversimplification, via just such an exercise, can help us more easily envision the path of our story. And if you can do this in a single day, in fewer than a thousand words, it won’t be a waste of your time or creative efforts. 

Without further ado, let’s take a gander at those summaries!

No Country for Old Men – “While hunting Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad and makes off with $2 million in cash, but a psychotic hit man is hot on his trail.”

Good Will Hunting – “When a professor discovers that an aimless janitor is also a math genius, a therapist helps the young man confront the demons that are holding him back.”

Adventureland – “Unable to afford the European vacation he’d dreamed of, recent college graduate James Brennan reluctantly takes a summer gig at an amusement park.”

Mad Max – “In a post-apocalyptic future, a malicious gang murders Max’s family as an act of retaliation, forcing Max to hit the open road seeking vengeance.”

Silver Linings Playbook – “After a stint in a mental hospital, Pat moves in with his parents and tries to win back his wife, until he meets a woman who’s as unstable as he is.”

True Grit – “Teenage tomboy Mattie Ross enlists the help of crusty lawman Rooster Cogburn to track down the hired hand who murdered her father.”

Before you hit the page, and while you’re diving feverishly into your novel’s first draft, keep this little exercise in mind to help focus your efforts on drafting your novel’s synopsis. 

And hey, remember…at the very least, you get to watch T.V. while you’re doing it.