If there’s one word that unites 99.9% of authors in a collective body shudder, it’s synopsis. Dreaded by authors the world over, it’s a necessary part of getting your manuscript traditionally published or bagging yourself an agent. But what do they want to see in the synopsis and how much information should you give them? And more to the point, what is a synopsis?!
In this article, I’m going to talk about what your synopsis should say and how you should go about putting it together.
So, what is a synopsis?
The Oxford English Dictionary says:
- a brief summary or general survey of something.
- an outline of the plot of a play, film, or book.
In essence, your synopsis should detail what your book is about, the reader should be able to determine what type of writer you are and what genre your book is. It isn’t the place to fully outline each and every chapter/sub plot. So basically, you need to tell the reader what happens in your book. Easy, right?
Until you find out you have no more than two pages to do it in – and that’s from a generous publisher! Some want a single sheet – they do typically take it single spaced, but still …
Doesn’t seem so easy now, does it? So, how do you get your eighty thousand word story consolidated into one page?
The late Carole Blake said that the synopsis should answer the following:
- Whose story is it? Make it clear who the central character is
- What do they want and what stops them getting it? What is the central character trying to achieve and what are they up against as they try?
- How do they get it? Is the plot compelling and page-turning?
She recommends describing the action, as the reader experiences it in the book, but without numbering it chapter by chapter. Don’t give the character’s full back-ground, just tell the reader what they need to know about the main plot lines.
Here’s my advice:
Work through each chapter, pick out the most important parts, and condense it down to two sentences.
The first paragraph should detail the world you’ve created – who is the story about, what are they going through, make the genre clear, and show your writing style. Then, put all your chapter sentences together and make sure the plot lines flow and make sense. You need to expose all the twists and turns and whodunnits. Flesh out the MOST important parts.
Now, read back through it and look at the character/plot arcs. How has your protagonist grown? Did they achieve what they set out to do? How was the plot resolved? Is it clear, concise, and consistent? Will someone reading it, who knows nothing about the book, know exactly what happens to who, when it happens, how it happens, and why it happens?
If you can answer yes to these, then you’re there.
Once you’ve got it nailed, you need to format it in a certain way. Most publishers and agents will detail their preferences on their websites but the general rule of thumb is:
- Times New Roman 12pt
- 1.5 spacing
- Max two pages
- Capitalise and bold type the first introduction of a character’s name
What NOT to put in a synopsis:
There are some big, huge, absolutely-no-way-not-ever things you need to bear in mind:
- It is not a chapter by chapter break down of the manuscript
- It is not a blurb that will fit on the back of the book cover
- It is not a marketing tool for you
- It is not your CV
- Do not use bullet points
- Do not use it to compare yourself to other authors
Following these tips will give you the best possible start to making your synopsis practically perfect but it’s not a guarantee you’ll get a response.
Hopefully in a better position to tackle your synopsis than you were before you started reading this. Many agents and publishers suggest practising writing the synopsis for a book you know and love, maybe one of the classics. Practising pulling the information down to its rawest form and making it make sense to someone who knows nothing about the plot isn’t easy, but once you start doing it, it gets easier and easier!
If you’re still struggling, I offer a unique service to edit and critique your Submission Package, just click the link for details.
Next week I’ll be talking about the dreaded query letter so let me know if you have any specific questions before then and I’ll try to answer them for you.
Best of luck with your synopsis!