Conquering the Dreaded Synopsis




With apologies to Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that there are only two things harder than writing a novel: coming up with a title, and writing the synopsis. Of the two, the synopsis instills more panic.


Anxiety does not have to be part of the synopsis equation. There are a few tricks to make distilling your 100,000 word novel into two double-spaced pages easy-ish and, dare I say, fun. It becomes a puzzle.


Author Curtis C. Chen has a fantastic handout that will help you identify the main working parts of a synopsis, and he's graciously allowed us the use of it. You can download it from my Resources page or his own site. While you are there, check out what else Curtis has going. Damn fine stories and sweet writing advice.


With handout at the ready, let's get started!


Step one: Set your doc to the proper format: one inch margins, double spaced, indented paragraphs, numbered pages, 12 pt Times New Roman (preferred) or another standard font. Manuscript title and byline centered at the top. Having these preset means you know exactly how much space you have to play with.


Step two: Fill out your outline as per the work sheet. These are your plot's essential points.


Step three: Relate the elements above through your main character's point-of-view. This will help convey your narrative voice and get some emotion on the page. If you have more than one POV character, use the one that has the most present story arc.


Step four: Revise. Use active language wherever possible. Show a sense of movement through the outlined events. Clarify. Vary your sentence structure. If you have room on the page, add more description.


Step five: Set it aside for a day or two, then proof the hell out of it.


Voila! You're done (for now)!


You will tweak your synopsis based on who you query and their focus. Nothing in querying is one-and-done.


Get feedback from your beta readers and your writing community, if possible. If you work with an editor, hire them for a query review if you're feeling uncertain. I offer a query/synopsis package for this very thing.


Before you send your query package, always, always, always check the agent's or editor's submission guidelines for what they want and how they want it. Nothing will tank your query faster than not following the clearly defined rules of engagement. Don't be that author.


Drop me a line if you have questions, or post them below. Now, go forth and spin one shiny synopsis!


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All books referenced here or on my blog can be found at bookshop.org, an independent book service