Is there anything worse in this world than having to write a synopsis? Because I can’t think of anything and there’s a reason why this task is seen as the absolute bane of an author’s life.
If you’ve never heard of a synopsis, it’s a brief summary or general survey of something. As a writer talking about writing, the type of synopsis I’m referencing here is a synopsis of a book manuscript, which is basically an outline of what happens in your book.
Publishers and agents may ask you to send them a synopsis, often along with the first chapter or first 3 chapters of your manuscript, so that they can get a feel for your work and quickly decide if they’d like to read your whole manuscript. It can also be requested before you’ve actually written the manuscript by an agent or publisher you’re working with so they can tell if your story’s on the right track before you go ahead and write 40,000 words of a book which doesn’t fit what they’re looking for.
Authors, including myself, can spend hours, even days, tearing their hair out about writing a synopsis, but hopefully these tips will make the whole process at least a little bit easier.
1: Your synopsis should not only tell the reader what happens in your book, but also make them want to read it, for this reason it must be well-written and not just a list of bullet points. It must showcase your ‘author voice’ meaning it must read like your writing. It must show the story’s full progression or ‘narrative arc’ and it must include the ending.
2: Keep your synopsis to the correct length. This is usually 1-2 single spaced pages, or 2-5 double-spaced pages. Some authors recommend keeping it to about 500 words. Individual publishers and agents may specify how long they want a synopsis to be, make sure you send them what they want.
3: Your synopsis should be written in third person, present tense, regardless of the tense or point of view of your actual book. This helps the story to be told smoothly.
Right now, it’s time to actually write the stupid thing…
4: Start at the beginning and when you get to the end stop. Start typing what happens in your manuscript from beginning to end. This does not have to be beautiful prose, just spew it out and make sure you keep events in chronological order.
5: Now, go back through what you’ve written and emphasise the important plot points, such as the inciting incident which sparks the conflict in your story, the climax and the resolution. Emphasise any plot twists – readers love a good plot twist.
6: Next, add character motivations at the beginning and end of the synopsis. Why did the character decide to do what they did at the inciting incident? Maybe your heroine has been looking for her long lost brother for years and the reason she gets on a plane to Venice is because she sees a man she believes to be him boarding it. That’s her motivation. The end of your manuscript should resolve this motivation: maybe the man boarding the plane wasn’t her brother but he helps her find him and they fall in love along the way. (That’s not actually a terrible story idea, I should be making notes on this).
7: If your book is told in the first person, say at the beginning of the synopsis who this is, e.g: The book is told from the point of view of a… whoever it is.
8: Make sure your storyline is clear and to the point – now is not the time to be vague and intriguing.
9: Edit out any excess words to get it down to the right length – take out any information and details that aren’t necessary. Check for word repetition! Look and just are my two overused words, I bet you’ve got a few.
10: Read your synopsis out loud to yourself. This is the best way to be able to see if your writing flows. It should read like a good book review – one of a book you’d really want to read.
Ta-da, that’s it! With any luck you now have a fantastic synopsis to send off to interested publishers and agents. I’d love to know of any which result in a contract!