The Dreaded Synopsis – Part 1
If there is one thing about the writing process that strikes fear into almost all writers, it’s writing the dreaded synopsis. But is it really that bad?
Writers don’t like this part of submitting their books to agents, because the reality is that it’s hard to condense a complex story of 90,000 words or so into a one page or 500 word summary. And it can be hard – if writers have never done one before.
But it doesn’t have to be.
That’s because authors become fixated by the idea that they have to explain everything that happens in their novel, otherwise the agents won’t understand what the story is about. You don't have to describe settings, character backgrounds, subplots and themes and so on. It’s impossible and the synopsis will end up a mess.
Agents don’t want every single detail. They want an outline of the key events – the major plot points/ twists, major characters, key scenes and they want to know how the story ends. Use the synopsis to show a structured story arc and plot, interspersed with the only the major characters.
Imagine you had to describe your novel to a friend. You would summarise it by picking out the most pertinent points, who the good guy and bad guy is, what they’re fighting over, how the good guys wins the day and what happens at the end. You would do this automatically, without thinking about it. But in essence, you’ve described the synopsis of your novel.
It’s also worth remembering that, just like submission letters, there is no magic formula to writing a synopsis. There is no right or wrong, or one shoe size that fits all. What excites one agent might not excite another, just as there are good synopses and bad ones. You just have to make sure you write a good synopsis that sparks the agent’s interest and excites them.
So rather than fret about how much to fit it, concentrate on how little to leave out. You’re just giving the agent snippets, so take the pressure off yourself. Think back to how you would explain the novel to your friend. Write a couple of versions of this and see how it sounds.
1. Does it introduce the main characters and what the story is?
2. Does it briefly describe a couple of important plot points?
3. Does it touch on the main conflict and rising action?
4. Does it say how the story ends?
A synopsis needs to follow a business-like structure. A lot of authors write their synopsis like they’re writing the story, with lots of explanation and description and background info dumps, all told in third person.
Just keep it neural, direct and concise. In this instance you tell, but don’t show. You might only 500 words to sell your novel, so every word counts. (Other agents might want 800 words or more, or just one side of A4, so check their requirements carefully).
It should follow the order in which the reader will encounter the unfolding story. In other words, it should be chronological. It’s a summary of the novel, after all, so it needs to make sense.
The most important thing a synopsis should do is make your novel sound interesting, exciting and intriguing, so in Part 2 we’ll look at how to write and format a synopsis and get that structure right.