Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What's in a Good Synopsis?

Finally finish that last revision of your story? Now you just have to summarize the entire plot and essence of your novel in just a paragraph or two? How the heck are you supposed to boil down tens of thousands of words into a handful of sentences?

Ah, they joys of creating a synopsis. It has to grab the reader's attention, hook them into the book, and yet still explain not only the storyline itself, but the “vibe” of the novel as well. I'm currently working on writing (and frequently rewriting) a short synopsis for my current work-in-progress, but have found it a surprisingly grueling chore. Deciding what parts of the story to mention and what parts to leave out of the synopsis has proved no easy task either.

So how do you tackle the challenge of generating a well-rounded, short synopsis for your book? If you had to sell your story to an agent/editor in only a few sentences how would you go about it? What do you do that makes your synopsis eye-catching and unique? 


  1. I am having serious struggles with this one as well. Perhaps I should read your book and you can read mine, then we'll write them for each other, of course I still have re-writing and editing to go :(

  2. I think I'm one of the few writers who enjoy writing these. It's the hardest thing to get started, but I think the 'fun' is in whittling away the words to get at the essence of the story. Each time I've written one, I came away proud that I was able to condense my story to 2-3 pages.

    My strategy is to get a mini-history of my two main characters in there, plus the most important high points of the novel.

    All the background details are just that. When I finish, I should also find it interesting to read. If I don't then I still have too much stuff in there.

  3. I have no idea what I've done right! Yeah, I'm a big help, aren't I? I probably rewrite the synopsis more times than anything else. It's about getting to the who-what-where as fast as possible.

  4. I hate synopsis, really. I know you're supposed to include your main characters and the action, but condensing...ugh. I rewrite constantly. It's about as bad as a query letter. Sometimes I think it'd be better told by word of mouth. Have you seen any of those videos of authors going to conferences and pitching? I'd freeze. :)

  5. Oh man, I wish someone could write my synopsis for me!

    Good to meet you Mark

  6. This is such a good question. (I'm sure glad that some people are already working that out -- Joy, I'm keeping your formula in mind.) I'm still working on query letters, which are challenging in their own way. I guess the synopsis comes next. Sigh.

  7. I haven't needed one yet. I'm looking forward to trying. Honest :)

  8. I think I'm less intimidated over the synopsis than I am the query, which is so much shorter.

  9. To keep my synopsis short I had to cut out all my sub-plots. I will admit that queries and synposis are not my forte.

  10. I just finished I'm working on polishing my query and synopsis.

    You've got to have that hook. Hit the important high points and revise...and revise again.

    Best wishes!

  11. I haven't done this yet for my WIP and I have to say, I'm not looking forward to it. Good luck!

  12. I struggle with a synopsis. It drives me nuts that it takes me longer to write on than the entire novel. Ugh. :)

  13. You mean there are joys of generating a synopsis? I need to find my Zen. ;)

  14. Oh I hate writing those things. I try to hit all the highlights of my book. First paragraph = some background/set up (if needed to set the stage). 2nd paragraph = the inciting incident. 3rd = the first major turning point. 4th = 2nd major turning point. 5th = climax. 6th = resolution.

    Focusing on those things generally gets the main points of my story across without going into too much detail :)

  15. J.A. – I feel ya, it’s always a struggle to summarize an entire story concisely.

    J.L. – Well, that’s great that you enjoy them, good for you! I wish I could be more like you:)

    Alex - The what-who- where, good point. I will make sure to have all of those as well;)

    Laila – Yea, I’m not crazy about them either. It’s almost as though you need someone who didn’t write the story itself to try and condense it down, because the author themselves still has the entire tale alive in their head. It just seems to big sometimes for a synopsis.

    Mel – Good to meet you too. Perhaps if you write mine, I’ll write yours, deal?

    Elizabeth – I feel that queries and synopsises are related. In many ways you have the same elements to tackle, just at slightly different scales.

    Sarah – Good for you! And good luck as well (truly) :)

    Donna – I agree, but I feel like they are two sides of the same coin. In order to write a good query, you need that synopsis down pat.

    Lynda – Cutting out the subplots is painful, but essential. You are right.

    Loree – Yup, hook is pretty important. Good luck with your efforts:)

    Jeff – Yup:)

    Ghenet – Best of luck with it, the sooner you start the soon you’ll have accomplished your goal:)

    Ciara – Seriously, I swear it does take longer than writing a chapter or two. Drives me crazy too:)

    Jayne – Lol. When you find it, let me know…I’m always on the lookout for my Zen as well.

    Michelle – Highlights definitely, but there are so many it seems sometimes. I like your formula though and I think I’ll try it out myself. Thanks!

  16. I hated synopses until I read Let the Words Flow "how to write a 1 page synopsis." When I was getting my agent, I had to write 3 of these in one week and this saved my life.

  17. I've just finished the synopsis process for my first novel, Mark, and I ate the elephant one chapter at a time. :) After I condensed each chapter's highlights into one or two sentences (which, by the way, was a great way of ensuring each chapter had the right amount of nail-biting tension), I started flowing the sentences together and shortening them.

    I thought I was doing great getting it down to two pages until I just received a request for a 250-word(!) synopsis. This same agent also asked for a 30-word, one-sentence pitch. I don't know if anything will phase me after this baptism by fire. :) Good luck!

    BTW, I've left a response to your comment at

  18. I've only had to write one synopsis, so far, and it was unusual in the length that was allowed. However, in a panic I attended two different workshops on writing a synopsis at a local writer's conference and it took away some of the mystery of it. An agent ran it and she used Harry Potter as an example. She had only the most important bits in there, which excluded Snape, Hermione, Ron, Draco Malfoy and the vast majority of other characters. Only the main storyline mattered. It's hard to cut out all the rest of the meat, though, because it's your story and you want to share all of it. Really, it's cruel to make authors chop up their babies so much. :-p

  19. Hi Mark! (Thanks for your comment on my blog Wed. Love.)

    Um, so I broke my head over my synopsis. Was really proud I got it to a thousand words. Sent it to my all-star, super-patient CP. She tore it to shreds, slashed 300 words, and made the whole thing sparkle and shine. I seriously think she is an angel.

    She'll never admit to writing my synopsis, but she did. My query too, in the same way.

  20. After agonizing for ages I finally managed to write the synopsis of my Manuscript. After several rewrites, I arrived at what I consider a decent effort.

    My CP sent me the links to sites that help in synopsis writing. If you want I can send it to you, Mark.

  21. Christa – Yup, synopsises are a lot of work, but I’m totally going to follow up on your link, thanks!

    Michelle – Good point about getting tidbit from each chapter and using it as a sounding board for your overall storyline. I’ll check out your blog, thanks for the response.

    Shannon – Harry Potter is a good one as an example, anything with which you have familiarity will help. And yes, it does hurt to chop up babies, but we’ve got to try I suppose.

    Leigh Ann – Break your head over a synopsis….I like that, both accurate and poetic:) You think your CP will rewrite my synopsis as well….just kidding;)

    Rachna – Yes, please! Anything you forward me I will totally review. Every bit counts:)