Tuesday, January 21, 2014


The most dreaded word in a writer’s vocabulary. Except maybe for pitch. But it’s definitely above query.

The thing about a synopsis is, it can’t just be a play-by-play of the book, because that would be boring. It has to be as interesting as your writing so any potential readers will know why the book is slap-across-the-face awesome. I’m…I’m not sure where I was going with that.

Type “writing a synopsis for a novel” in your search engine, and you’ll get twenty five million results (give or take a million). Most of the ones I’ve read give guidelines along the lines of “Who is the main character?” or “Describe what forces your main character to change.” Yes, they expect us to come up with something interesting with dull prompts like that. I wonder how they’d react if I said “I force the main character to change by writing the novel.”

Probably like this.
And then we have the ones that advise going through the novel, writing down everything important that happens, and turning that into a synopsis. It sounds like good advice, but in practice, not so useful because then you have a bunch of sentences and no idea how to connect them into a coherent, engaging piece of writing.

Okay, so the guidelines are as useful as someone slamming you upside the head with a wooden board. No fear. There actually are some good ones out there. Susan Dennard did an amazing article on synopses at Publishing Crawl. First she gives some basic info, then some reminders about what is especially needed for a synopsis (only three named characters, tell the ending), then she gives an actual example of how to write one. She uses Star Wars as her basis, making it easy to follow since pretty much everyone has seen that movie. Instead of frustrating, impossible to define questions, she asks for fill in the blanks for things like “Protagonist Intro” and “Winning seems imminent, but…”. In short, it’s not what people want. It’s how to do it.

Anyway, if you want to know how to do a synopsis, go here. The other important piece of advice I remember (though I don’t remember where I got it from): get beta readers for your synopsis, too. From people who haven’t read your book, so you know if it’s enticing and informative.

That’s all the wisdom* I have. What are your thoughts on synopses? Any advice?

*And by wisdom, I mean stuff I learned from other people’s blogs.


  1. Synopses are definitely not my forte so at this point in time I can't offer any nuggets of wisdom, but I will check out that link.

  2. I can't remember where I learned how to write them, but I remember being told three short paragraphs - intro, situation, and crisis/twist.
    I always run mine by a critique partner. I must rewrite it twenty times before it goes to my publisher. And then they have me rewrite it again...

  3. Hard not to put the word "dreaded" in front synopsis. One of those necessary evils that I've never been very good at.

    Moody Writing

  4. You are absolutely right that voice is important in a synopsis. It's the one thing that can save a synopsis from killing the reader with boredom! I think a sentence that captures your MC's voice is often more important than a plot detail. I also discovered that writing things slightly out of sequence sometimes helped me to simplify and be concise. Never mind that you wrote the MC's revelation in paragraph 4 but it didn't occur until the events you describe in paragraph 6. Who cares? The agent/editor wants a feel for your overall story arc ... not a precise list of every piddling event in order.

  5. Synopses? Not looking forward to that.

  6. Definitely the most dreaded part for me. After the length of time I've been at it, queries aren't so bad anymore and I sort of enjoy writing pitches. But the synopses... ugh.

  7. I absolutely loathe writing synopses. It has to be the worst part of the writing process by about a million. I always try to avoid writing one for as long as is humanly possible, but there are always agents and publishers who seem to want the damn things. They say they don't care how they're written - they just want an idea of the story - but I know it counts more than you'd like to think.

  8. Ah, the synopsis. I suspect it was devised as a tool to torture authors to no end.


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