I did quite a bit of research about writing a synopsis as I am at that point with A Screen Door Slammed and wanted to share the information with you. A lot of the sites I looked at mention how hard it is to write a synopsis. I am trying to not bite off into this idea. Nobody knows your novel better than you do. That is the biggest asset you have in your corner. Don’t be overwhelmed by the task even though it is not creative writing.
First, let’s think about what exactly a synopsis is. It is your novel’s introduction to the agent, providing key information such as plot, setting, and characterization. It should be concise, compelling, and complete.
The synopsis must cover the entire narrative arc of your story. This is not a jacket cover designed to entice buyers. It is your story’s “elevator pitch” to the agent and should include some emotion and color.
Jane Friedman, former publisher at Writer’s Digest, says a synopsis must accomplish three things. First, it must tell the story of what characters we will care about, including the protagonist and what is at stake for her. Secondly, a synopsis must give a clear idea of the core conflict for the protagonist, including what’s driving the conflict and whether or not the protagonist succeeds or fails in his attempts to overcome the conflict. Lastly, the synopsis needs to show how any conflicts are resolved and how the protagonist has changed, both internally and externally.
Next, let’s talk about formatting issues (in order to avoid a bunch of rewrites), then we’ll look at the steps to writing a synopsis. Finally, we’ll cover some DON’Ts followed by references.
The synopsis should be written in third person, present tense. The first mention of any character should be in all CAPS. Wordcount ranges from 500 – 600 words for a one page single-spaced synopsis to 1500 – 2000 words for a longer one. A general rule is one page of double-spaced synopsis for each 35 pages of double-spaced manuscript. You may want to consider the idea of crafting two, one long and one short.
At the top of each page of the synopsis you should include your name, contact details, and word count. The book title should be centered beneath this on the page. Each additional page of the synopsis should include Author/TITLE/Synopsis in the header. The page number should be inserted in the right top corner.
If you are sending an email synopsis, attach it to your email unless otherwise instructed. Include cover letter with details in the body of your email and be sure to note the title in your subject line.
OK, enough formatting. Let’s talk details.
As an accountant in my former life, I learned that the easiest way to accomplish a hard task is to break it down into manageable steps. As you accomplish each one you find you can accomplish the next until the entire daunting task is completed.
Hands down, no holds barred, before you even start on a synopsis you must complete your novel. A synopsis without a novel underneath it is only an outline of a novel waiting to be finished. These are two different things. So before you do anything else, complete and polish your novel.
Here are the steps for developing a thorough synopsis.
First, write a sentence or two for each scene, not chapter, in your novel. A typical novel has 60 – 80 scenes. You will mold these into your synopsis.
Second, condense these sentences into a summary. Be sure to use the opening to give a line setting the scene, noting who the protagonist is, where she is and what she is doing at the beginning of your summary. Then kick off with your novel. Include all major plot points. Use the big moments to show how protagonist and her goals are changed by the story’s conflict. Use the closing paragraph to show how major conflicts are resolved by the end of the story.
Third, pare it down some more. Remember, we’re trying to get your entire novel on one or two pages. Read through the combined version with a focus on plot. Imagine beginning each sentence with a because/then structure and insert further explanation as needed.
Fourth, add back in just a touch of flavor by including some emotional details. Show how the protagonist reacts sometimes. Pare down some more.
Fifth, check to see if your synopsis makes sense when read as a whole. Reread it and pay attention. Maybe you want to have someone read it that hasn’t read your book to see if it makes sense to them.
Lastly, let it sit and reflect on it for a bit. If there are any loose ends in your novel, you may wish to tidy them up before you begin submitting to agents.
Finally, here are some DON’Ts:
DON’T include every plot point.
DON’T just detail the plot. Add some character emotions and feeling.
DON’T use dialogue. If you must, use it sparingly.
DON’T ask rhetorical or unanswered questions. This is not a jacket cover.
DON’T split your synopsis into parts or list your characters up front.
DON’T all cap your title in the email subject line. Agents think you’re yelling.
Okay folks. That’s it. Listed below are some of the resources I used to gather this information. Check them out for further reading on #HowToWriteASynopsis.
Caro Clarke How to Write a Synopsis
Jane Friedman How to Write a Novel Synopsis
Marissa Meyer 6 Steps for Writing a Book Synopsis
Carly Watters How to Write a Book Synopsis