The Dreaded Synopsis



Like, what even is a synopsis, you guys?

This month, I’m focusing on final preparations for the transition from writing the thing to (hopefully!) publishing the thing. If you missed my first post on getting published, you can find it here. Last week, I discussed the ever-important query letter. This week, it’s time to tackle the novel synopsis, yet another key piece to the agent acquisition process.


Synopsis Defined

What is a synopsis, you ask? A synopsis is a general overview of what happens in your book, from beginning to end. Let’s break it down further. The many and varied principles of a successful synopsis are as follows:

  • Aim for 2 pages, double-spaced. Agents have different synopsis length requirements (usually a range, like 1-3 pages), so writing a strong 2 pager should allow you to use the same synopsis for the greatest number of query packets.
  • Begin at the beginning, end at the ending. Follow the order of events in your book.
  • Use first person, active voice.
  • Use ALL CAPS for character names the first time you mention them
  • Don’t mention a billion characters by name. Stick to like, 4 or 5. Max.
  • Stick to the main plot. Subplots are awesome, but there’s not room for them in a synopsis. Plus, your main plot needs to be able to stand tall and proud on its own, right?
  • Try to find a balance between super dry play-by-play and flowery narrative. Keep it clean, clear, and easy to read.


Method to the Madness

I don’t think there’s a single perfect way to approach the first draft of a synopsis. I did a good bit of research and what I found suggests that different methods work for different people. Here’s what I found works for me:

Use the existing structure of your novel as a guide. If you followed your outline well in drafting or didn’t deviate far from it in revision (that’s a huge NOPE from me on both counts, I’m afraid), then you can use that! Lucky you! If not, then look for other structural elements. I personally always have the three-act structure in the back of my head while I’m writing, so that’s what I used.

Pare down the events to the bare bones. While going over my novel’s scenes list in Scrivener (God BLESS Scrivener for basically outlining for me at this point), I looked for the major pieces for each act of my book. What are the big deal scenes in part one? What does my MC face, how does she react, what are the repercussions?

Keep it lean. Quick, single sentence answers to those questions meant my first draft stayed pretty tight. I repeated this step for each act. It definitely got easier as I went along. I mostly ignored my delightful side characters and focused on my MC and an antagonist or two. It hurt, but it also clarified my own novel for me. Kinda cool, honestly. More on that in a minute.

Check for omissions. The main risk in isolating the main plot line is that leaving out something crucial is, like, super easy to do. So once I’d worked out a solid first draft, I went back through and followed the thread from beginning to end. If my MC’s actions didn’t make sense in the vacuum of the synopsis, I looked for ways to add information to clarify her position. The synopsis should be simplified, but not NEKKID.


Revise…again and more

Okay, so here’s the big unexpected outcome of writing the synopsis: I learned so much about what my novel is ACTUALLY DOING. Not just what I intended for it to do, but what is actually there. I realize that might sound nonsensical, but after several drafts and hundreds of pages, well…feeling disconnected just kind of happened. But writing the synopsis–and the query letter, too–really brought things back into focus. And once I felt like the synopsis was sturdy and stable, I was able to use it as a guide to make sure the novel itself stays firmly on track during this final sweep. I didn’t expect it, but it’s been a pretty cool bonus.

SO! Write the synopsis. Write the query letter. Revise. Revise. Revise. It’s almost agent time!


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