Blogger: Mary Keeley
Creating a synopsis for your novel is one of the hardest writing assignments you’ll have. It is also one of the most important elements of your proposal. Therefore, today I want to give you some tips to make it the best it can be.
Some authors like to write their synopsis before they start writing the book because the exercise gives them the framework for their story. For others it works better to write it when the manuscript is completed because they learn how their characters’ conflicts will be resolved only as the story unfolds. Either approach is fine as long as the end result is a near perfect synopsis.
I’ll quickly state what a synopsis is not. It isn’t a sample chapter; it doesn’t include a list of characters; and there is no dialogue in a synopsis. It is a detailed answer to the question, “What happens in the story?”—without saying, “In the story…”
- Start with a hook. It can be several sentences up to a paragraph. Think like a marketing person writing back cover copy for your book as you write this opening.
- Introduce the agent or editor to your main characters and clearly describe their conflicts and their goals in ways that make us like, sympathize, dislike them, and care about what might happen to them.
- A synopsis for a full-length novel should be about 5–6 pages, double-spaced, .5-inch paragraph indents with no extra space between paragraphs. Write it in present tense, third person, and in the same style as your story.
- Highlight the pivotal events in your plot—in chronological order, of course—that are most important to the main characters. This answers the question of what happens in the story.
- Very important: convey the emotion in your story. It will connect the agent or editor with your main characters.
- Transitions from one event or paragraph to the next must be smooth and easy for the reader to follow. In many proposals I have to read the whole manuscript to track with what’s being said in the synopsis. Avoid this mistake.
- Tell the resolution of the main characters’ conflicts and the conclusion of your story. This will show the agent or editor your ability to bring everything together to a reasonable and satisfying conclusion.
- Make every word count. Polish and tighten sentences and paragraphs until you have removed superfluous words, and only the perfect words, sentences, and paragraphs remain.
- Proofread to correct grammar and punctuation errors. Do not simply trust your computer’s spellcheck.
As the competition increases for fewer and fewer publishing slots, the quality of your proposal becomes ever more important. The business portion—your book’s comparative titles, your personal marketing plan, sales numbers on previous books, future book ideas—demonstrates your knowledge of the industry. But a perfectly written synopsis quickly shows an agent or editor the level of your storytelling ability, and that will make him or her want to read more.
What do you like or not like about writing a synopsis? What is the hardest part for you in writing it?