We’ve already talked about the query package and writing an effective cover letter, let’s get to the really hard part… the synopsis. First I want to say that I’ve found it’s impossible to write just one synopsis. To get a great synopsis, it’s better to do a few, because let’s face it your publisher is going to want more than the one to three page synopsis you submitted if they do accept your novel. They’ll most likely want a shorter blurb for the back cover. Also some publishers want more than a one to page synopsis when submitting to them, so why not just get them all done at once and be done with it.
For me it was easier to do the really long synopsis first. The chapter by chapter sum up of the entire novel, which reached a huge twenty pages. I doubt any publisher will want all of that, but it was good for me because I did not previously have what others might call an outline. Many of you may already have this chapter by chapter summary or outline completed. But I don’t do written outlines as I’m writing because I’m a pantser. I feel outlines distract from letting the story flow where it needs to go. So if you like to be organized and have a nice neat outline down before you even write the first word of your novel, then you can totally skip this step.
Next I did a six page summary (which isn’t quite the ten page summary that some publishers ask for, but I’m sure they won’t mind the shortage).
After that I did a one and a half page summary (which I will be using to do most of my submissions).
And finally, I completed a 350 word synopsis, which I shortened again to make a 100 word blurb (which can be used for quick online description purposes and an elevator pitch).
In total, I now have five synopses of different lengths ready to go at a moments notice. And it only took me about two and a half days of total work to get them all done. Not too bad if you ask me.
Here are some observations I had as I went through writing each synopsis…
- It’s easier to start with more information and cut down, so start with the longer and go to the shorter.
- It’s easier to write the short synopsis if you focus only on the main arc of the story instead of all the subplots and secondary characters (which is a big deal for me because I have five different povs and like twenty different story arcs).
- Don’t be afraid to play with different ideas and angles until you find one that gives the right perspective of the novel.
- Keep each synopsis in it’s own separate file which is clearly named so it can easily be found when needed.
Now for some advice from Gary A. Braunbeck…
- Don’t every say your novel is complex! It’s what every publisher hears and it’s not specific enough. It just means your not really sure what the novel is about.
- A synopsis should be written in present tense narrative and in third person.
- Don’t leave any mysteries. Be upfront about information.
- Publishers want to know what’s happening in your novel from beginning, middle, and end.
An outline of what a synopsis should contain…
- The hook (first paragraph)
- Add detail (the second paragraph)
- Expand (another one to two paragraphs — or more for a longer synopsis)
- Sum it up (the last paragraph)
Here is the short hundred word synopsis I came up combined with two more paragraphs, which I then used on my cover letter as the “Interest” section (see Novel Submission: Writing an Effective Cover Letter).
Adar Zahn is whisked back to the Ethian Empire after being held captive by a lesser human race for twenty-two years. All his memories destroyed during his extraction, leaving Adar uncertain of himself and his future as he steps into the role of the Emperor’s sixth son. Once back on his birth world of Dyniss, Adar finds that things are not what he expected and everyone he meets has a hidden agenda. And the most frustrating part is no one’s willing to answer a question that seems directly linked to his fate… What is the Blood Feud?
As Adar seeks the truth, a father attempts to desperately reach a wayward son, a wife wields her sexual prowess and special Domini of Sensory to gain power over her husband, a son risks it all for the legacy of his family, and a once trusted friend of the Zahn family pursues a dangerous path to finally get his revenge.
A story of betrayal, murder, sex, and dark secrets unfolds with a family warring against itself, and as Adar begins to understand what it truly means to be a member of the Empire’s most illustrious family, he wonders if he can survive their duplicitous scheming. And if he does, what extremes will he have to go to do so.
Want to practice at writing a synopsis? Try writing some for your favorite movies. This is one I did real quick during my workshop with Mr. Braunbeck for the movie The Fifth Element.
Korben Dallas is a taxi driver who lost his job, but finds a beautiful woman as his last fare and who happens to be a great power called the Fifth Element. He quickly discovers that there are four other elements that must be found to help save the Earth from the Great Evil. But along the way Leeloo, the great power, becomes disenchanted by the corruption of Earth. Some how Korben must convince her to use the elements to save Earth as he also fights the incredible attraction he has for the most perfect woman has ever met.
Go to Writer’s Digest to get more examples of other movies and see how to write a one to two page synopsis. It’s a really cool page, so check it out!
And Robert J. Sawyer’s site has multiple examples of how to write a synopsis (but for a longer synopsis between six to ten pages). He also has samples of outlines too.
Also, consider buying I Have This Nifty Idea compiled by Mike Resnick. It shows some fabulous examples of outlines and synopses that authors used to get their books published.
Here are some other useful links…
And that’s about all I have. Feel free to post comments below on any information you might have on writing a synopsis.