Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Writing a Synopsis

The Dreaded Synopsis
If you write novels, you may have to write one of these beasts for your manuscript one day, so it might be handy to know what one is. I was insanely glad I had one for my YA novel, SHAPERS, because it helped me sign with my awesome agent, Kelly Sonnack; I met her at an SCBWI retreat where she read my first chapter and synopsis.

What a Synopsis is NOT
1. A synopsis is not the same as a query. A query is used to entice agents or editors to read your manuscript. A query is a teaser, a summary that is similar to the text you read on a book jacket flap. The main conflicts are described, but not the final outcome. A query also includes word count, contact information, writing or professional credits, your age category (Young Adult/YA, Middle Grade/MG, Adult, etc.) and your genre (paranormal, memoir, dystopian, fantasy, etc.).
2. A synopsis is not the same as a blurb. And a blurb is not merely a book summary, either, contrary to popular belief. A true "blurb" is something written up by someone--usually a published author or other esteemed/well-known person--to help sell your book. It's a recommendation, those little quotes you see on the covers of debut (or other) novels saying cool things like: "I couldn't put this book down! Well-drawn characters, fascinating plot twists, and heart-pounding thrills on every single page. I read way past my bedtime." 
3. A synopsis doesn't tell every little detail of the book: it's not an outline. A synopsis is different from an outline where every scene or event is listed. Don't list that nameless random character who shows up only once on page 198.

What a Synopsis IS
1. A synopsis is a description of your book, a summary that describes all major plots, major subplots, and character arcs. It includes plot twists and reveals.
2. It includes the ENDING of your book. No surprises or teasers here: say it all! This will show how your character changes throughout, as well as the developing plot arcs.
3. It's a description of the major events that happen in each scene or chapter.
4. It's written in the same voice as your book, whether chatty, stark, comical, lyrical, serious, etc.
5. A synopsis describes the conflict and what is at stake for your characters.

General Synopsis Rules
1. A typical synopsis is usually between 1-3 pages in length.
2. Some agents or editors desire longer and more detailed synopses; check guidelines. I've written up longer synopses to use, then pared them down to a page "just in case" I need a shorter version. Then you're not scrambling to write one in a panic.
3. A synopsis is usually SINGLE SPACED rather than double. However, if it's longer than a couple of pages, it's acceptable to use double spacing for readability.
4. Write it in PRESENT TENSE, no matter what tense the novel itself is written in.
5. Write it in THIRD PERSON, no matter what point of view the novel itself is written in. Be omniscient and tell motivations and goals of everyone.
6. In the upper LEFT corner, include your title, name, genre, and word count. Include your contact information in the upper RIGHT corner.
7. INDENT the first line of each paragraph, but don't add extra spacing between paragraphs. (Note: I've read other articles that suggest an extra space; use your best judgment.)
8. In the first paragraph, introduce the main character, the world, and the conflict.
9. Set your main characters' names in bold type or all in CAPS the first time that character is introduced. They're easier to spot that way.
10. Write it with zest. Don't write dull, dry descriptions that bore even you. You may find it helpful to get all the main points written down first, then work on enlivening it.
11. Make your paragraphs and listed events flow naturally and logically throughout.
12. Don't use fancy fonts or headings; aim for readability and a professional look.

Have you written one of these "dreaded" synopses before? How'd you do?
Do you find it easy to write your synopsis in an engaging voice that matches your novel--or does it tend to sound awfully dull and plodding?
Which do you find more difficult to write: a query or a synopsis?


  1. Carol, what great guidelines! I think synopsis writing is some of the hardest writing out there. You have to focus in on the story's major turning points, emotionally and plot wise, and basically tell ONLY those, but do it with the same voice as the book. I mean, yikes! It's so much easier to write a hook (query).

    Oh, and you've been nominated for a blog award. Yay!

  2. Great tips, Carol. And yes, I do dread them. I've only written them for one book so far.

  3. Wonderful way to break it down, Carol! I much prefer writing a synopsis over a query. Trying to spin a story so it sounds good is not my thing. I always feel like I'm embellishing and it comes off fake. A synopsis is straight-forward. Much better!

  4. This is an awesome breakdown of writing a synopsis. I'm bookmarking it for future reference, because I see quite a few of these suckers in my near future. ;-)

  5. I've written them. Not fun. I'd rather be writing a novel.

  6. Carol synopsis are so challenging, a 80-100K novel compressed to three pages or one as you stated depending on submission guidelines. I am nearing the conclusion of my novel (edited by professional) the next hurdle is the synopsis I have already begun to practice figuring out the main players conflict etc thank you for this refresher I may contact you to utilize this information in the near future =o) Great post!

  7. Well I'm asking you for help the next time! LOL I stink at them and think now i've been writing them all wrong!

  8. Great guidelines.

    I like how you show the difference between a blurb, a query letter and a synopsis.

    I wrote many drafts to get my first synopsis the way I wanted it.

  9. Great tips Carol! I'll definitely reference this when I get mine finalized :) Thanks!

  10. This was actually a lot of help. I have tackled one of these before, but struggled with it. Having self-published two books I still will be sending out new things and will run into this again I'm sure.

  11. I've written them, and like Medeia, I don't find them fun, but they are getting easier. It's like anything. The first one is always the hardest. But you've given a wonderful summing up of the main points of writing one that is a keeper. What a good thing to share with others.

  12. Synopses used to scare me, but not so much anymore. They're still a challenge to keep brief, though ;)

  13. I hate them! And I've had varying feedback on ones I've written ... I still hate them! Lol

  14. I'm pretty good at queries, but I hate synopses! I can't ever get them to be in the voice of my book. Maybe a pinch of flare here and there, but not that much. Plus, I'd heard you didn't need to try to make it voicy. Oh, well. I'm doing most of the other stuff on the list :)


Hi, bloggy buddies! I respond to all comments via email if you have an address linked to your profile. Sorry, I have had to turn OFF comments from Anonymous users due to Spam.