I’ve worked with lots of writers who can compose the most beautiful prose, bring scenes to life, make me care about their characters, keep me turning the page, but these same writers find it almost impossible to write a synopsis or a blurb.
So first of all – what’s the difference?
A synopsis is a short summary of your book that makes up part of a submission to agents or publishers. A blurb appears on the back cover of a physical copy of your book, or next to the book’s cover in listings on retail sites. It’s a short description of your book and its purpose is to attract the reader’s attention and make them interested.
When writing a synopsis, the first thing to do is to 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’s 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.
Be short, concise, clear. This isn’t the time for showing off your beautiful prose. That’s what the sample chapters are for.
When you’re tackling a blurb, remember that it’s important to keep it short. This is NOT a synopsis. You want a couple of two to three line paragraphs. Too much and you risk giving too much away and turning off your reader. Too little and you might miss the mark.
Mention your main character(s). It’s important for your reader to know who the book is about.
Be precise. There is no place or space for vagueness, long-windedness or clever clever vocabulary in your blurb. Short, sharp, to the point.
Make it interesting. Obviously. What’s intriguing about the story? Why would I want to read it?
Don’t give away the ending. It might sound silly to even point that out – but it does happen.
Don’t compare yourself to other writers or compare the book to other books. Tell your potential reader that you’re the next Hilary Mantel or Stephen King and you’re more likely to come across and arrogant and annoy them more than anything.
Watch out for clichés or overused words and phrases. Try and be refreshing and new. And interesting.
Here are some excellent examples:
‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernardine Evaristo
This is Britain as you’ve never seen it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.
From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl Woman Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .
‘The Book Thief’ by Marcus Zusak
It is 1939. In Nazi Germany, the country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier – and will become busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed forever when she picks up a single object, abandoned in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and this is her first act of book thievery. So begins Liesel’s love affair with books and words, and soon she is stealing from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library . . . wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times, and when Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, nothing will ever be the same again.
‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than…. fine?
‘Queenie’ by Candice Carty-Williams
She just can’t cut a break. Well, apart from one from her long term boyfriend, Tom. That’s just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Stuck between a boss who doesn’t seem to see her, a family who don’t seem to listen (if it’s not Jesus or water rates, they’re not interested), and trying to fit in two worlds that don’t really understand her, it’s no wonder she’s struggling
She was named to be queen of everything. So why is she finding it so hard to rule her own life?
Hopefully these examples will inspire you – happy writing!
There are many things I wish I could be better at, but blurbs are the most important. So much relies on them!
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