Writing a Synopsis

Writing the Dreaded Synopsis
by Sandy Blair

I hear tell that there are some authors who actually enjoy writing these “stories in brief,” but truth to tell, I’m not one of them. To me a synopsis is simply a necessary evil.

And don’t be dismayed if you discover that a tight synopsis written after the manuscript is finished proves harder to write than the manuscript itself. It’s to be expected, given you’re trying to cram all that emotion and action you’ve created into a few compelling pages. The good news: the editors and agents understand this. They aren’t looking for heart-stopping prose. All they want to know after reading your well-polished partial (and deciding that you can, in fact, write) is, “Can this author carry on in compelling fashion?”

They want to know:

    Is the situation fresh?
    Does the story tension build?
    Does the plot move ahead in logical fashion and without too-convenient contrivances?
    Is it believable?
    Are the characters growing emotionally?
    Is the author’s tone—“voice”—consistent?
    Is there a “black moment” where all appears to be lost?
    Is there an emotionally satisfying ending?

These are the elements you need to showcase in your synopsis. The document should not be a chapter-by-chapter outline.

Keep in mind: your synopsis is not intended to showcase your “voice,” although it will come through. (That’s your partial’s job.) The synopsis is simply a way for the editor/agent to assess the whole story. Is it compelling? Is it salable? Should she request the full manuscript?

Here are some tips:

    Before you turn on the computer, list both the manuscript’s plot and the characters’ emotional turning points.
    Also list your hero's and heroine’s goals and greatest fears (motivation) should they fail to meet their goals.
    Set the document for double spaced, Courier New, 12 pt, with one-inch margins.
    Use present tense. (It gets easier with practice.)
    Bold type the hero's and heroine’s names the first time they appear in the document.
    Avoid flowery, descriptive verbiage (purple prose.)
    Avoid using secondary characters’ names if possible.
    Keep the synopsis as tight as possible. Try limiting the length to no more than 15 pages. If you go over, don’t worry. Some authors submit 24 pages or more, but the shorter your aim, the less likely you’ll be to ramble and include unnecessary information. If you’ve included all your turning points, etc., and end up with only eight pages...good for you! You’re better at this than I am.

When crafting a novel, authors’ plotting styles vary. (i.e., some use the “three acts” style.) I tend toward a roller coaster ride. Subsequently, I start a synopsis with a brief description of my lead characters and state their goals/fears, followed by the inciting incident that brings the characters together. I follow with one or both characters’ emotional reactions to the meeting, follow that with their responding action and follow that with a character's emotional reaction and subsequent action, and so forth and so on. In a nutshell, I have the plot and emotional growth march in sync, building to the dark moment, then end with the emotional resolution.

I hope this assists you in writing your next synopsis. I wanted to include a copy of a synopsis that sold but have limited space here. If you’d like a copy of a synopsis, please contact me at Sandy@sandyblair.net.