Monday, March 7, 2011

Writing Your Synopsis

Today's Monday, which means you have until 11:59 pm Kansas City time to get your 100-word entries into me. Click here if you don't know what I'm talking about. I'll be at my computer a lot of the morning, so if you've sent me an entry but haven't received a confirmation, please let me know.

I have really struggled with today's post. I know you all are in different places with your writing. Some of you know this is what you want to do for a living. You're working on novels or even querying agents. Others are still feeling this thing out, and might not be quite ready to talk about writing a synopsis.

But I told you guys I'd be detailing my process for writing a book, and this is the part of the process where I pause to write my synopsis. A synopsis is a one to three page summary of your novel, and it's part of a book proposal.

Many writers, especially of the pre-published variety, write their synopsis after they've written and edited their manuscript. They put it off until an agent or editor requests it because it's boring and they don't wanna do it.

I feel their pain. I used to share their pain. I hated writing synopses. I hated editing synopses. And I borderline hated anybody who made me write them.

Fast-forward a couple years, and I love them.

What changed for me is that I started writing them after the first three chapters rather than when I'd finished editing my manuscript. Like the character chart, this meant I was getting to create while I worked, that I wasn't just listing everything that happened in my story.

So. If you're at more of a striving-for-publication kind of place, I encourage you to use to use this step to write a professional synopsis, one that can be used for your proposal.

If you're not interested in finding an agent or editor yet, then don't get too hung up about all the rules. Just write your synopsis for you and move on.

First, some basic rules about formatting a synopsis. It should be 1-3 pages. I try to keep mine at 2, even for an 80k book. Those pages should be in 12-point font, single spaced, with one inch margins. In the header, on the left, you put your book title and name (Me, Just Different/Stephanie Morrill). And my first line is always centered and bold, saying that this is the synopsis. (Me, Just Different Synopsis) And while I've heard of writers doing this differently and it "working," the industry standard is for a synopsis to be written in third-person present-tense regardless of how your book is done.

I have a variety of ways I like to start mine. Sometimes I do it with my character's "lie." The thing your character believes about him/herself that isn't true. Brighton Keller has never needed her father. I've also had success using something that reflects my theme. Marin Young has always believed sex should be saved for marriage. Or the outward conflict. At five-foot-three and 265 pounds, 16-year-old Violet Harrington knows she isn't just overweight.

My first couple paragraphs are often back story. Like, using the first example, I might take the first paragraph to talk about Brighton's relationship with her father ... when in my manuscript, these are details that might not get discussed until chapter two. Or five. Or ten. But in a synopsis, it's important for me to set up my story.

Unless it's a chapter-by-chapter synopsis (which some publishing houses ask for), your synopsis won't list the events of your story the exact way they unfold. For example, in one of my books, the best friend has a new boyfriend. Their relationship progresses throughout the story, but doesn't affect my main character until 2/3 of the way through. So even though in the manuscript, I pepper Ella/Max stuff, I'm not going to do that in my synopsis. What I do instead is say, "Meanwhile, Marin's best friend Ella, has her first boyfriend." Then I give Ella/Max stuff its own paragraph.

Something funny about writing a synopsis is you're "telling" your story, rather than "showing," which is the opposite of what you do in manuscripts. So you're going to use a lot of sentences like, "Brighton is happy to be moving on to something new," or, "Brighton is upset by this turn of events."

I always struggle to know which character's need to be named. You want to keep names as limited as possible. This just takes trial and error. Here's an example from one of my synopses:

Brighton is surprised by how much her 8-year-old sister loves having her there, and by how much her 13-year-old brother, Rowyn, does not.

The sister - Sage - only comes up that once in the synopsis, so she doesn’t need to be named. A conflict with Rowyn, however, takes up the whole next paragraph and is involved in the resolution. So it's less confusing in the long run if I mention his name. Again, this just takes trial and error.

When I conclude my synopsis, I often take the opportunity to hit my theme. Like “She can’t control a lot of things, but she can control what she puts in her body and who she spends her time with. That will have to be enough.” Or, “She received everything from it that she needed—reassurance of her Father’s love.” Or “…Marin sees how her sadness over losing Vince is nothing compared to how she’d regret abandoning what she believes.” This shows an agent/editor that your character has been on a journey, and they've learned something.

If you're wanting to get your synopsis in shape for pitching to agents and editors, I recommend having someone read it who hasn't read your manuscript. They'll be able to give you good feedback on what was confusing, what seemed unnecessary, and so on.

But if you're just using this step to give yourself a basic outline of what's going to happen in your story, then I wouldn't yet worry about making your synopsis sparkle.

Check back here tomorrow because the lovely Liz Johnson is going to share her writing process with us, and she's giving away a copy of her latest release. You won't want to miss it!


  1. This is a great post for those of us that struggle with the pesky synopsis. Thanks.

  2. I inevitably refer to these as "The Dreaded Synopsis." I'm not that great at writing short stuff in general--but I'm with you, it's way more fun writing them after the first 3 chapters than at the end. Totally the way to go! =)

  3. Now, Roseanna, where's that positive thinking? Repeat after me: I love writing synopses...

  4. Okay, the positive-thinker doesn't mind WRITING them. It's just trying the make them suitable for editors to read that gets me, LOL.

  5. I'm on the edge of my seat waiting ;)
    Sierra ♥

  6. I tried writing a synopsis... I think its 5 pages long for one of my books (And I haven't even started writing the book yet) and I'm not even half way through the story yet lol
    Synopsis' are tough.

  7. Jazmine, nothing wrong with writing those kinds of synopses for your own benefit!

  8. I love this advice! I'm going to work on my synopsis soon! I've never tried it before, so we'll see if I'm the kind who loves or hates the process. :)

  9. Done! That was a little hard because, well, how does one condense 70K+ into 1K? Anyway, one question: synopsis' are supposed to be written in present tense, right?

  10. Rachelle, yes, condensing it is quite a struggle! And 3rd person, present tense is standard. For whatever reason, it just sounds right.

  11. Do you recommend giving away plot twists in a synopsis?

  12. YES. This is your chance to show an agent/editor that you have created a satisfying, knock out ending. Reveal all!

  13. I'm working on one of these right now, so these steps really help. Thanks a ton!

  14. ah, thanks for the fab advice! i'm off to work on a synopsis right now. I've started a new book (oh, i sound about five years old! :L) and i am really enjoying writing it - i love my character so much! I think i'll do a synopsis so i know where the book is going. Thanks ever so much! (:

  15. I haven't found one single post on this blog that didn't make me think "omg I love you guys, WHAT WOULD I DO WITHOUT THIS?!?!" I have to say I quite like the synopsis, and im not just trying to be positive - I genuinely like it! But the condensing is tricky. For practise/anyone new to writing these I'd recommend writing synopsis of a book you read that you really loved, just for your eyes only and to get a feel for it. This worked for me!! :)

    1. Yay,a fellow synopsis lover! And thanks for sharing that great tip!


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