Tell us what it’s about

I’ve been doing a lot of editing this week, preparing a novella for submission. That also means writing a synopsis, which I think is easily the most difficult part of any submission process. If you’re still preparing for your first ever submission and you’ve never written a synopsis before, you’re going to find out quickly that it’s an art form in itself–and that you’d probably rather write a thousand books than one synopsis.

The facts about a synopsis that will make you laugh with utter insanity:

  • You have to distill an entire story–no matter how long, even a book–into just a few paragraphs to one or two pages. The whole thing! All of it!
  • Remember, you gotta make it sound interesting and exciting!
  • You have to decide what’s important to mention and what can go without being detailed in the synopsis…but wait, isn’t all of it important?!
  • Good luck!

My method of writing a synopsis is to write the first version as long and detailed as I want to, and then go back through it and omit things that aren’t pertinent or don’t directly move the main plot. And then go through it again and remove more. And then again. And then again.

Here’s some other methods you might try:

Pretend you’re telling a friend what the story is about and they have to catch their train in two minutes.

Tell the bare-bones version of the story. Who is the main character, what do they want, what’s working against them, how does it get resolved? Remember, in a synopsis you have to reveal the ending. There are no ‘spoilers’ in publishing, agents and editors want to see that you can write a coherent story that gets resolved in a satisfying way. They’d rather read the two-minute “my train is coming” version of that first before bothering with the manuscript itself because they’re busy people.

Describe what your story is about in one sentence.

This sounds even more insane than a synopsis, but if you can do it, you can then expand on that sentence rather than whittling down a longer description. Work backwards!

Write the synopsis as you write the story.

I have grand plans to one day actually try this, but I haven’t done it yet. Each day after you write, also write a brief description of what you wrote that day, and then at the end shape this into the synopsis. It sounds much easier than working on a synopsis post-story, but I’ve yet to remember to try it.

Writing a synopsis is daunting, and I’d like to tell you it gets easier the more you do it, but I won’t lie. It’s never easy to distill an entire story down to just a few words and you always feel like you’re leaving out something vital. If you’re one of those people who can write an amazing synopsis effortlessly, kudos to you and also send your magic fairy my way.

11 comments

  1. Well, Megan, I’ve tried the “Each day after you write, also write a brief description of what you wrote that day”, though I did it chapter-by-chapter and even section-by-section. While I find it useful for a lot of things, I don’t find that made writing a synopsis easier.

    I normally do what you also do: I write increasingly shorter synopsis… because agents are lovely people and they might ask you for a 3-page synopsis or a 3-sentence synopsis and you better be prepared for anything 😉

    I hate writing synopsis…

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  2. Your method of writing a longer synopsis and then pruning it would probably be closest to what I would do.

    I’ve never doubted that writing is a lot harder then most people assume it is, but then there’s ‘extra’ stuff like this that I’ve never even thought about!

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  3. These are great ideas! I think synopsis are one of those things that we can also use beta readers to help us with. Running a few different versions of the synopsis past a book coach or fellow writer/reader (who has read the work in question) can give you another set of eyes and opinion as to whether you’ve distilled the story or gone off on a tangent.

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