I’ve worked with lots of writers who can compose the most beautiful prose, bring scenes to vivid life, make me care about their characters, keep me turning the page, but these same writers find one thing almost impossible to do – they can’t write a synopsis.
What is it about a synopsis that has so many writers struggling? It doesn’t seem to matter how great a writer you are, there’s just something about condensing your masterpiece down into one or two sides of A4 that strikes fear into a writer’s heart.
And I think that’s the issue. As authors, we spend so long on our books, every last detail is important to us. A synopsis asks us to get to the heart of the story, to strip away to the bare bones – and that can be really hard when you are so close to the world you’ve created and the characters that live there.
So what should, and what shouldn’t, you include?
- First of all, check what the agent/publisher is looking for. They may well specify a length and may want you to write a chapter by chapter synopsis. If there are no specifications, then I would advise sticking to one page, single-spaced, six hundred words maximum.
- Remember to write in third person (even if your novel is written in first person).
- Use active voice and present tense.
Now to the actual writing of the synopsis itself.
When I was studying literature, we learnt a lot about narrative structure, and although it might not initially seem like it, most novels do fit into this basic structure:
- Set up – main characters introduced. Introduction of the problem.
- Conflict – the main body of the story. There is a catalyst that sets the conflict in motion. Characters go through changes because of this conflict and develop – the character arc.
- Resolution – the problem is confronted and solved – or not – and loose ends are tied up.
To write your synopsis, it is really helpful to look at your novel in these terms and break it down into this structure.
- Start with the set up – who is the protagonist? The other main characters? What is the problem?
- Then move on to the conflict – there may be more than one. Decide what conflicts, plot twists and turns are really important; what do you need to include for the ending, the resolution, to make sense? How does this conflict change the main characters?
- Finish with the resolution. Remember – this isn’t a blurb. The agent/publisher needs to know how your novel ends.
- Don’t get caught up in too much detail. Think about what’s really important.
- Don’t include lots of backstory – you don’t have the space.
- Be short, concise, clear. This isn’t the time for showing off your beautiful prose. That’s what the sample chapters are for.
Agents/publishers are looking for something new, something exciting – if your novel has that (and it should) then make sure your synopsis makes that clear.
And please, please, please remember that this is not a blurb. You MUST include the ending.