I’ve always hated the idea of the synopsis, and I know I'm not alone. To most authors it is the equivalent of a four-letter word. However, I have to admit that while investing quite a lot of time recently studying up on it that I’ve learned to like it. Shh! Don’t tell. Part of the reason is because when you take the time to write the synopsis it gives you the opportunity to really evaluate your novel or story and make sure it has value and that it is indeed ready for submission.
So let’s get to it. Let me share with you the research I’ve put together on writing the synopsis.*
A synopsis is a summary of your book in it’s entirety. It’s an overview of plot, characters, and conflict. Its style is a preview of coming attractions—characters, dramatic moments, and plot.
I. Content—the Seven parts to a synopsis:
The theme pulls the entire book together. Sometimes you don’t even know what the theme is until you’re ready to write the synopsis. But identifying that theme really is a selling factor for your novel.
2. Setting the Period
When you start off the synopsis set the scene and let the reader know the place and time period if that is revelant.
3. Plot summary
This is the heart of the synopsis. It includes the beginning, middle and end. Don’t forget the END! Introduce the problem, the conflict and the resolution. Provide the inciting incident (beginning), effort to reach the goal (middle), and climax—success or failure (the end). The plot must spring from your characters not events.
4. Character Sketches
Show that your story is character driven (Although it would be near impossible to write a romance that wasn’t character driven—wouldn’t it?) Take a paragraph to describe your character—his past, his motivations, what drives him and makes him unique, his flaws. Include major players in the story—protagonists and antagonists. Omit subplot characters. Name only 4-5 characters—tops. The rest give role names within the summary. Things like friend, mother-in-law, policeman, clerk, etc. In a long novel with many characters it may be necessary to include a character list with basic roles to be referred to through the plot synopsis.
Use dialogue sparingly in the synopsis. It slows down pace and takes up space. In a synopsis, every word must be efficient. However, well chosen bits of dialogue lend flavor to the bland voice of summary.
6. Emotional Turning Points
Every novelist knows that it’s the small scenes that move the plot forward. You can’t include all those scenes in the synopsis. The big scenes, on the other hand, those emotional turning points, should be included. The climax is the final turning point along with a statement regarding how your protagonist ultimately changes by books end.
You won’t be able to include every subplot in the synopsis. But if there is an important subplot (especially if it connects to the main plot) make sure to include it.
Notes: Open with a problem and what’s at stake—set the stage. Introduce your protagonist with a hint at inner problems and conflict before going into the plot summary.
Have fun! No really, try to have fun with it. Make yours stand out from the crowd and a sense of humor just might do the trick.
Next time the style of the synopsis.
*Most of the information I’ve put together on writing the synopsis comes from The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit by Elizabeth Lyon. It’s a great resource and I recommended it highly.