Writing a Synopsis #wwwblogs #writinganovel

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jenspenden.com

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.

Remember:

  • 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.

Good luck!

 

 

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80 comments

  1. Even more challenging? Reduce your entire novel to a one sentence pitch. Once you do that, the synopsis is much easier to write. For instance: “An obsessed sea captain pursues a white whale across the ocean, putting his crew at risk.” or “A paranoid bombadier discovers there’s never one last mission to fly before his tour ends.”

    Liked by 6 people

  2. I think we have to remember as well that the synopsis is another opportunity to show off our writing skills, and the agent will be looking for this. If it’s just a dull series of ‘and then this happens, and then that happens’, your manuscript may never get opened. In fact, even the query letter is an example of the writers skill these days.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. This is great advice. I’m currently prepping my first book and the synopsis was an area I had a few questions about. Keeping the length to a page or two is definitely a must but I hadn’t really thought of the structure. Great post! Really informative.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. You make an excellent point. I think part of beginners writing courses should be (at least) a weekly warm up of writing a synopsis. It’s hard when you’re used to telling a longer story, but writing a synopsis is a lot easier to do and then expand then vice versa. It also teaches people to focus in on the core elements of their works, which makes people better writers over all and can lead to you seeing flaws.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you for this. I’m embarking on my first novel, via NaNoWriMo! I was surprised to be asked to write a synopsis for the story,on their site, for which I have only the vaguest of plans. But I realise that making a synopsis as you suggest, and describe so well, will be of great help to keep me focused. Thanks again.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I have to admit to having had pretty serious problems with making a synopsis for my book, every time I tried it came out closer to a book blurb than a synopsis. This is excellent advice, I very much appreciate the effort you put in here.

    Liked by 3 people

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