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Beyond the First Draft–The Dreaded Synopsis

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I hate writing synopses. And I don’t think I’m unique amongst writers (just Google “dreaded synopsis”). And writing about writing the dreaded synopsis may turn out to be just as difficult. But I’m going to give it a shot.

First and foremost—familiarize yourself with the kind of synopsis your targeted publishing house requests. Most will want a “normal” synopsis (about one double-spaced synopsis page per 10,000 words of your novel). Some may have a page limit (no more than five to seven pages). A few want a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, and even fewer may request an outline instead of a synopsis.

What are some of the most important things to know about writing a synopsis?

Double-spaced (a one-page synopsis should be single-spaced)
1-inch to 1.25-inch margins (same as your manuscript)
Same font as your manuscript
Header on every page: Last Name/Book Title in upper left corner — page number in upper right corner)

Present tense. The synopsis is always written in present tense. (He goes, she realizes, he understands, she screams.)

Third person. The synopsis is also always written in third-person POV—even if the novel itself is written in first person.

Start with a bang. Just like you want to hook readers with the opening line/paragraph of your story, you want to do the same with your synopsis. This can be done by using your one-sentence pitch line.

Introduce the characters. Make sure you establish your POV characters at the very beginning of the synopsis. You can set the names in ALL CAPS or in Small Caps to make them stand out. Then, establish motives.

Cover all important plot points. You need to make sure you cover all of the important events that drive the forward progress of your plot from the inciting incident to the building conflicts to the climax to the resolution.

Emotions and change. Think about how you tell someone about a movie you’ve just seen or an exciting event you just went through. It’s more than just a blow-by-blow of the plot-points—it’s about the emotion behind the actions, the change that takes place in the characters.

Try to eliminate all backstory. Just like you want to limit the amount of backstory in your actual novel, you want to eliminate it as much as possible in your synopsis. Include only what’s important to the actual forward progress of the story. For example, in the synopsis for Stand-In Groom, I do include the fact that Anne survived a plane crash when she was eight years old—because it’s why she’s terrified of flying, which becomes vitally important at the end of the novel when she has to face this fear.

No questions. The synopsis is not the place for lines such as, “Can Jim ever overcome his past and learn to love again?” The synopsis is the place to explain everything in straightforward, SHOWING language.

Explain the full resolution/ending. Do not leave anything hanging at the end of the synopsis. You must give the complete ending.

Incorporate your writing style. Even though the synopsis isn’t going to be the best writing you’ll ever do, try to make sure your unique writing voice shines through. If you aren’t sure yours does, this is where your crit partners can really come in handy.

Stand-In Groom (nee Happy Endings, Inc.) short-synopsis.pdf
Stand-In Groom long-synopsis.pdf

  1. Tuesday, August 21, 2007 8:29 am

    Argh! I know my ‘voice’ doesn’t come through on my synopses. They read like laundry lists. But you’ve given me some good tips for going back and reworking them. 🙂 Happy Writing!


  2. Tuesday, August 21, 2007 3:12 pm

    Oops, I haven’t been double spacing. LOL, I’m sure that’s the least of my synopsis problems. Great tips.


  3. Thursday, February 25, 2010 5:38 pm

    Clear as mud. 🙂 Well, better than that but it sure is an ugly business. Writing synopses, that is.



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