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The Dreaded Synopsis
So, you’ve written an entire book. You’ve polished it until it shines. You dotted every i and crossed every t. The plot makes sense, the characters feel real, your beta readers absolutely love it, you’ve checked for mistakes a million times, and the book is as good as you’re going to make it. Now, it’s time to submit it. But wait–before you can do that, you have to do the really HARD part, the part that’s even harder than writing the book.
You have to write a synopsis.
*groaning from the audience*
If you’re like me, you can make the effort to write a book without batting an eye, but when the time comes to write the synopsis you fall down on the floor and whine and cry like a two-year-old who was just told they can’t have a fourth cup of chocolate pudding. Writing a synopsis is hard. It’s an art form as much as writing a book.
First of all, you have to condense your ENTIRE book down into–how many pages? Well, that depends. There’s no absolute standard “this is how many pages a synopsis is” largely because the editor/agent you’re submitting to makes this decision. Some want a short, one-page synopsis. Some want it to be longer, sometimes 5+ pages. One would think a longer synopsis would be easier to write, but it’s not, necessarily. Because a synopsis is also about telling a story, and yes, it needs to sound just as interesting as your book in order to sell it.
When editors and agents look a synopsis, they’re looking for a couple of things: they want to see if the plot works when it’s all pieced together and if it makes sense, and they want to know what happens in the book from beginning to end to find out if it’s original, engaging, and if it will sell. It sounds unfair, but these professional people don’t have time to read your book if the synopsis makes it sounds weak, disjointed, or just overall boring. The synopsis is a briefing of what’s to come, and it tells them if it’s worth their time to explore further.
So, what needs to go into a synopsis? Here are the key components:
- The major characters. These should be introduced quickly and their role in the story should be sufficiently explained. Depending on the length of the synopsis you might also add in some of your minor characters, at the point where they come into the story.
- The conflict. This should be presented immediately, so the person reading the synopsis will understand right away what this story is about.
- The major plot points. When you have to write a short synopsis, it’s helpful sometimes to list all your major plot points, and then figure out which ones you don’t really need to mention, or can gloss over, because you’re going to have to be very, very succinct.
- The climax. What happens at the pinnacle of the book? How are things resolved? What changes, and how do your characters deal with it?
- The conclusion. Synopses are not spoiler-free zones. The editor/agent needs to see how you end the story, to know if it’s appropriate and satisfying.
Writing a synopsis is not a whole lot of fun–at least, not for me. And guess what I’m doing right now?
How do you go about writing a synopsis? Do you have any advice for other writers?