5 Tips on Writing Your Memoir Synopsis by Pamela Jane Bell

by Matilda Butler on December 24, 2010

Book Business PaperclipPost #63 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Business – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

memoir-writing-candy-cane, memoir synopsis tips, memoirDecember 24, 2010

December 24 might be Christmas Eve to many people, but in my childhood household it was the occasion for a possible gift. I say possible because whoever said “Christmas Eve gift” first got a gift. I don’t remember getting many gifts. Somehow my mother seemed to remember to say it first. Yet, even now, I find that I silently start practicing a couple of days ahead of time. I don’t actually say the words. I suppose this is a mental fugue that won’t stop playing in my head.

So when Pamela Jane Bell emailed us to say that she had the perfect gift to give the readers of Women’s Memoirs, I thought, “Yea. I’ll just imagine that everyone has said ‘Christmas Eve gift’ and I get to deliver.

Pamela’s gift is special. She’s put together five great tips for writing a synopsis of your memoir. As you’ll see, she has just gone through the process and was quite stumped before… Well, I’ll let Pamela tell you her own story.

Happy Christmas Eve,


5 Tips on Writing Your Memoir Synopsis

A Christmas Eve Gift from www.WomensMemoirs.com

By Pamela Jane Bell

I thought I had everything I needed for my memoir package: a beautifully polished manuscript, a well-written query letter, and a strong proposal. But – surprise! – I discovered I needed a five-page synopsis, too. I swear, a root canal or, better yet, writing another memoir would be a lot more relaxing.

I did some on-line research about writing a memoir synopsis and really it’s quite easy. All you have to do is toss it off, hitting the highlights while simultaneously demonstrating the dramatic arc in vividly evoked scenes that convey the universality of the story in the style and tone of the original piece.

It reminds me of my daughter’s driving lesson. She has her permit now and spent two hours on the road recently with Steve, a certified driving instructor. It was the first time she’d done night-driving on major highways. And then it started to rain.

“Turn on your wind-shield wipers!” cried Steve, as they merged on to Route 95, “check your blind spot, flip on your blinker and for heaven’s sake, speed up!”

What’s so hard about that?

Well, for one thing (driving aside; I didn’t get the merging traffic gene) writing a memoir is very different from summing one up. It involves different sides of the brain – special synapses for synopses. I think I may have missed out on that gene, too.

Weeks passed, and I was in despair about ever getting my synopsis written. My office was littered with reams of printed-out instructions for writing a memoir synopsis, testimonies from writers describing how they tore their hair out attempting it, and the grisly remains of my own failed efforts. Then my friend and fellow writer, Debbie, asked me what I wanted for Christmas. For a moment, I was quiet, thinking. What did I really want? And then it came to me.

“I’d like an hour or two of synopsis help,” I said.

Debbie readily agreed and even before we started, I got to work using a synopsis worksheet I purchased on-line for $5.00. A day later, my synopsis was complete!

My friend’s gift was the best Christmas present anyone could have given me. And so we’d like to pass this gift on to you with 5 tips for writing your memoir synopsis.

Tip #1 Take it to the next level

In the movie You’ve Got Mail, Joe Fox, played by Tom Hanks, is heading to a restaurant to meet his email soulmate (Meg Ryan) for the first time. Joe is a nervous wreck. What if his soulmate turns out to be hideously ugly? What if his dream girl isn’t the girl for him at all? Joe’s assistant, Kevin, offers him some relationship advice.

“You’re taking it to the next level…I always take a relationship to the next level and if it works okay I take it to the next level after that.”

Remember, you’re not trying to write a perfect synopsis on the first try. You’re just taking it to the next level. Even if all you do one day is organize your papers, that’s taking it to the next level. You can worry about the level after that tomorrow.

Tip #2 “Chunk it out”

A synopsis isn’t a detailed list of every event in the story – “this happened and then this happened and then this happened.” But in the early stages of composing, writing down a list of events can be helpful. Later this list can be shaped, trimmed, or expanded. But “chunking it out” as a novelist friend of mine says, is a good place to start.

Tip #3 Highlight what you love

Once you have a list or a chapter-by-chapter outline of events, sit down and highlight every paragraph, sentence, or phrase that captures the essence and personality of your story. These highlighted sections are ones to include in your finished synopsis.

Tip #4 Find a friend

Just knowing there is a friend or colleague holding you to a deadline or waiting to give you feedback is an incentive to finish your synopsis. It’s like throwing out a safety rope and feeling a reassuring tension on the other end.

Tip #5 Have a little faith

Don’t worry about whether or not you have the synopsis gene. Have a little faith and accomplish the impossible. The genes will just have to catch up later.

Happy holidays. May you write many memoirs and excellent synopses for each of them!

You can follow Pamela Jane at:

Monday Morning Memoir Blog

Children’s Book News

Pride and Prejudice and Kitties

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Weidener December 24, 2010 at

Thanks for all the great posts and prompts this year on memoir.
Happy Holidays.
Susan Weidener
Women’s Writing Circle

Pamela Jane December 27, 2010 at


Happy holidays to you, too! And may 2011 be a great writing year for you.


Camy Tang January 2, 2011 at

I’m so glad my Synopsis Worksheet was helpful for you! Thanks for posting about it!

Pamela Jane January 3, 2011 at

You’re welcome, Camy! It was the perfect boost to get me started.

Kay Winters January 17, 2011 at

This piece is so helpful! And you’re right, preparing a synopsis is in many ways trickier than writing the original piece and requires a different kind of thinking. I was the kind of kid in school who wrote my term paper and then did the “required outline”
after I was finished.And with any kind of writing, having a friend who holds you to a deadline, or a writers critique group meeting on a specific day always spurs me on to get my manuscript to another level for sharing. So happy New Year to you Pamela and thanks for all the great ideas.

Ginny January 18, 2011 at

Ahh…just what I needed today as an agent wrote, moments ago, and requested my memoir synopsis. Thanks!

Pamela Jane Bell March 2, 2011 at


I’m glad if that was helpful! Good luck!


Jodie Standard June 22, 2014 at

You have no idea how you have inspired so many people. I pass on to others your books and your wisdom. I am so impressed and so are 25 of my friends. Thank you for sharing.
You are such an intelligent inspiration and a gift to us.
Thank You for such good advice.
Jodie S

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