No, it’s not a new band or dance or even a psychologist for novel writers–it’s what many of us do when we’re faced with writing a synopsis. In articles on the topic, the word “dreaded” and “synopsis” are often connected, but shrinking from the task won’t help. Therefore, in this entry I’ve attempted to shrink the synopsis into manageable bits. Hope you find it helpful.
Purpose of a Synopsis
• Provides the editor/agent with detailed overview of story – many of us write this after the story is written, but some people do so ahead of time and it is a map for their story (a map that changes).
• Editor/agent sees in sample chapter(s) how you expand what is in your synopsis.
• Editor/agent knows you have an ending.
• To sell your manuscript.
• Written in present tense.
• Written in third person.
• May be a one page overview of the story.
• Can be several pages of what happens in the book.
• Can be longer with what happens in each chapter.
• Publishers want different formats – which is why conferences are invaluable.
What It Is
• A narrative summary of your story, written with feeling.
• Written in the same style as your book. i.e. If your story is humorous, the synopsis should be also.
• An introduction to main character(s) and main conflict(s). What the characters want. What is at stake if they don’t get what they want. The obstacles they experience and how it all turns out.
Kathleen Duey, prolific author, recommends a writer pick the thing, the reason, that drove them to write the book. Character? Plot? Theme? Whatever it is, lead with it in the synopsis. Know what the book is about; keep this “kernel” alive through the synopsis. Track the trajectory of the protagonist. Aim everything toward that. Resolve the protagonist’s story at the end.
What It’s Not
• Complete character or scene list
Tools for the Task
• Start with a one sentence summary of your book. This is useful to have for cover letters, or when talking about your book anyway.
• Write the back of the book “blurb.” Read others to see how it’s done.
• Tell someone else about your novel. Can he follow your plotline? What questions does he ask that an editor might want to know as well?
• Write down the major scenes in your book that tell the story. If you’ve created an outline or use a story ladder, those can help at this point.
• Does your main character get what she wants? Does she change? Be prepared to tell those things.
• Use the above to write an active summary of your story. Keep it spare. Present ideas in as short a form as possible. i.e. “Raised by her uncle after her parents were killed, 12-year-old Connie” could become “orphaned 12-year-old Connie.”
• Edit carefully.
• Writing out the basics of your story can help you see holes in your manuscript before you start submitting.
COMMON SYNOPSIS ERRORS from December 1994 Writer’s Digest Tip Sheet
The Synopsis that won’t die
6-10 pages can tell a story of up to 100,000 words, longer might merit 12 pages
half the length or more covers only first few chapters
half the synopsis should cover half the book
Laundry List Synopsis
First this happens, then that happens, now another thing happens
DO use strong verbs, intensify the narrative and make it as expressive as possible
The No-Persons-Land Synopsis
No description is given of the characters
DO a sentence or 2 for major characters and a phrase for secondaries
The To-Be-Continued Synopsis
intriguing the editor by not revealing the end
Resources on Synopses
From Dear Editor
I know its synopsis time, but do I have to?
From Nathan Bransford, Agent
How to write a synopsis
From Chuck Sambuchino
How To Write a Novel Synopsis
From Writer’s Digest
Your guide to an effective novel synopsis