Thursday, March 28, 2013

Writing the Synopsis: Part 2

On Monday we talked about why writing the synopsis is hard. We also defined the synopsis as simply telling someone about your story in a few pages. Today we're going cover the basics and a few of the rules of writing a synopsis.

For a novel, your synopsis is going to be written in third person, present tense. 

Think about sitting across from an old friend at a coffee shop, and they say, "So, I hear you're writing a novel. What's it about?" 

You're probably going to say something like, "It's about this really cool character who wants to do this really cool thing but this really bad thing gets in her way." Third person, present tense.

And guess what - telling is okay. Hooray! All those rules about not naming the emotion and about showing and not telling, you don't have to worry about any of those. It's okay to write that your character is heartbroken or frustrated or elated...but you must tell us why, which we'll talk about more in future posts. 

One of the biggest problems writers have with writing the synopsis is knowing what to include and what to leave out. Here are some basics:

What to Include
Main Characters
Character Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts
Spiritual Journey
Major Plot Points / Turning Points

What to Leave Out
Minor Characters
Most scenes that aren't major turning points in your story.

We often think that stripping our novel down to this level will make it look too simplistic to editors or agents. We're afraid that if they don't see all those layers that we've slaved over that they won't read our sample pages. But here's the simple truth when it comes to writing a synopsis:

Clarity rules.

If your synopsis isn't clear, none of those other things matter. Agents and editors want to clearly see the story structure and the character journey in the synopsis. Most of them don't want a list of scenes.

One trick to help you from being overwhelmed with everything you could include in your synopsis is to make this a closed book test. If you open up your manuscript and start scrolling through chapters, it will be difficult not to get confused and overwhelmed by the amount of information you could include. In Part 4, we'll cover some ways to identify those turning points in your novel that your entire synopsis should revolve around.

How have you written synopses in the past? Have you made it a closed book or an open book test? How did it help or hurt the process?


  1. I've written synopses for my story submissions, but each time, it's taken me days to get it together, lol. Closed book, for sure. Often, I refer to my outline in order to get the main points down.

  2. Synopsis' are of the devil. NOt really. But you know what I mean. :) My synopsis' are usually closed book. I just write the first draft without worrying about length or content. I just word-barf the story in short form on paper. Then I cut out everything that doesn't need to be there. That usually gets me down to 10 pages ... LOLLOLOLOL