The Dreaded, Evil Synopsis

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:

1. Theme

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.

5. Dialogue

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.

7. Subplots

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.


Celia Yeary said...

Cindy--I, too, join the masses who hate to write a synopsis. Editors place such emphasis on them, but I fail to see the significance. One publisher I check now and then says--"no synopsis. We hate them as much as you hate to write them. Just write two paragraphs you envision as a blurb on a book cover." Well, I haven't submitted there, yet, but I like that honesty. I have a three-step plan from Harlequin on how to write a short, concise synopsis. I rely on that--otherwise, I'd get lost with too many steps. Yours sounds good, thoough, I have to admit. Celia

Kathy Otten said...

I've been working on the synopsis for my WIP and I'm having a difficult time condensing the key points into 2 short pages. I took the one I wrote to my critique group the other day and they pretty much all said it needed work. I now have a list similar to yours and I'm rewriting the whole thing. The only thing I will say is don't forget to include the dark moment and how it's resolved. Thanks for sharing. Your list is much shorter than the one given to me the other day.

Judy said...

Let me just say that I am delighted to know that I'm in such good synopsis-despising company! And also thanks for some excellent tips which may make it a bit easier when the time comes to write the next one for my WIP. Where I get bogged down is trying to figure out how to approach the resolution without just throwing it out there--and then have a problem tying up the loose ends! It's not difficult to write the blurb, because it's easy to leave the reader hanging and wanting to find out the whole story. But the synopsis . . . (clutching head, pulling hair)

Thanks for a great post, Cindy!

Beth Caudill said...

Great info Cindy. Still hate the idea of Synopsis. Most of that is because they usually want them before I've written the book and being a pantster....that's too much thinking ahead of time for me. :)

Maggie Toussaint said...

Synopses banopses. Hate 'em. Gotta have 'em. Argh. My new agent wants me to have all this stuff and condense it to 2 singles spaced pages. Many brain cells have been killed trying to squeeze an 8 to 10page double spaced effort into those two pages. It can be done, but it is excrutiating.

Phyllis Campbell said...

Oh, this is great, Cindy. I'll keep this information handy when I write my next one. Oh, and I called it a SUCKnopsis. Yeah, that's how much I hate writing the blasted thing! lol


Autumn Jordon said...

Great post, Cindy. Very helpful. Thank you,

2009 Golden Heart Finalist

Kara Lynn Russell said...

You say you've learned to like writing the synopsis? Isn't that like enjoying a root canal?

Good information though. It could make the process a little less painful. The writing process that is, not the root canal.

A question - what the plural of synopsis? Synopsi? Synopsises?

Skhye said...

LOL. I also grew to love writing synopses because I can analyze my stories. I've posted about writing synopses too. Here's the link for the curious or stressed. ;)

Rebecca J. Clark said...

Liking to write synopses isn't just like enjoying a root canal, it's enjoying it with no anesthesia. In my opinion. Ick, ick, ick.

Thanks for some good points to think about. Something that helps me is using the late, great Blake Snyder's 15 Beat Sheet
Once I have those filled in, writing the synopsis isn't QUITE so hideous.