8 Tips for Tackling Your Synopsis

Synopsis cover 4Ah, the dreaded word.


Or worse, synopses. Not just because it’s a frustrating plural, but because it implies you’re going to have to tackle this mess more than once. In fact, (as if things could be worse ;D) there are two types of synopses.

Fitting that such a tricky word would have so many awful implications, eh?

I recently chose a handful of agents for a trial query run. (No word yet, we’ll see what happens.) I chose them all very carefully, making sure they were people I would want to work with and who might show interest in my work. As the date I had settled on to query drew near, I did a little research to see what material each one requested. . .

I would choose an agent who asked for a synopsis.

*cue internal screaming and hyperventilation*

But I had already made up my mind to query that agent, and I knew I had written a synopsis for a contest last fall in which I was a runner up. It must not have been so bad, then, I thought, and decided to dust it off and update it to reflect a few changes in the plot. But it was nowhere to be found.

At this point, I did seriously consider choosing another agent.

But I decided I might need it again down the road, so I sat down to hammer out a couple pages.

As I said, there are two types of synopses. The first is a brief overview touching on all the major plot points, the climax, and the ending. It should be two pages at most, but one is better. The other kind is a chapter by chapter summary and allows for up to a couple paragraphs to tell what happens in each one. Definitely the easier of the two.

I wrote Synopsis #1, basing it off of what I recalled from the last one I wrote. Over all I was pretty pleased with the results, but it only came after a spell of sitting at my laptop with my head in my hands.

Here’s a a couple things I figured out that will hopefully help you pare down on the time you spend despairing. (Really, though, I’m writing them down here for myself to find more easily down the road. ;P )

1. Start in the middle

This sounds weird, I know. But this was the a-ha moment for me. I always get hung up on the beginning. There’s always backstory to include or five different points to mention, especially if your novel starts with action. It’s hard to nail that beginning, so think of the place where your plot is easiest to sum up, and start where the words are coming. Once you’ve gotten the hang of condensing the plot into short sentences, go back to the beginning.

2. Tell, don’t show

Very important. Absolutely no detailed descriptions are necessary.

3. Summarize only incidents that relate to the main plot line

Subplots like the sidekick’s romance can—and really should—be left out, unless they affect the main event.

4. Prepare yourself to write it several times

You’re not going to get it right the first time.

You’re not going to get it right the first time.

You’re not going to get it right the first time.

You may want to start by summarizing each chapter, then picking out the most important parts. Don’t discard the rest, either! Save it to edit later as a longer synopsis.

 5. Read other synopses

Movie synopses are similar to book synopses, but you can find both everywhere. Look for a synopsis of your favorite book and analyze how it was written and what it includes.

6. Have someone proofread your synopsis

Because synopses contain every spoiler in a story, we may be hesitant to ask. We don’t want to spoil the story for a future reader! Take a step back. Think about it. Even if your book is amazing, it may not be every reader’s cup of tea. There’s sure to be a gifted writer out there who would be happy to critique your synopsis yet isn’t worried about the story being spoiled because they wouldn’t be interested in reading it. This is not bad; it doesn’t mean your story is a dud. It is important to accept as writers that our work is not for everyone.

I waited to hear back about the synopsis from a proofreader before sending that particular query, and I’m glad I did! I was made aware of a half dozen grammatical errors and that would have been extremely embarrassing and probably a big no for the agent right off the bat, whether or not she was interested.

7. A word on format

Synopses should be sent in 12-point Times New Romans, single spaced, with new paragraphs indented 0.5.

8. Lastly, have fun!

Look at this a good exercise for flexing your writer muscles. Rise to the occasion and you may discover you actually enjoy the challenge. Get together with a friend (in person or virtually over the internet,) and work on your synopses together, then exchange critiques for each other. (I haven’t done this, but it sounds like fun!)

Hopefully these tips are a help to you all. 🙂

Go forth and synopsize!


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