How to write a synopsis is one of the skills we find ourselves teaching our authors about most frequently. To simplify the process we have put together five tips for you to refer to on how to write a synopsis minus the stress.
Writing a synopsis should be easier than writing a novel – it is after all much shorter than your book and it’s based on the one thing you have real in-depth knowledge of – your story. How many times have you told your story to yourself, mapped it out, written it, edited it, written and edited it some more? How many times have you imagined your book on the shelves or imagined telling other people about it? It is likely that the answer to all of these questions is many, so why is it one of the hardest things to write?
A small consolation is that you are not alone in finding writing a synopsis for your novel hard. It is a complex skill to master, but it can be the difference between finding a literary agent or being rejected by one.
Why Do I Need a Synopsis For My Novel?
A fair question – surely if the literary agent likes the writing they should request more to find out what happens next? Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that easy. Literary agents will look at several things when they are assessing a manuscript, including the writing style, the author’s voice and the structure of the plot. On first receipt of your manuscript the agent will only be looking at the first three chapters so the synopsis must do the rest of your work justice. When you write a synopsis, you need to outline the plot and give the agent enough of an overview of the ins and outs and sub-plots to be able to make a decision as to whether to see more or not.
What Should a Synopsis Include?
The synopsis is a crucial tool that the agent uses to help assess the strength of your manuscript. It should sell your novel without being too salesy but most importantly it should present the story in an appealing but informative way. Avoid writing a synopsis that sounds like a book blurb – the two documents are entirely different things and serve entirely different purposes. The book blurb is designed to sell with intrigue and without giving away the key twists and turns of the plot. The synopsis, on the other hand, should give away the key moments in the plot including the conclusion.
How to Write a Synopsis in Five Simple Steps
1.Keep it Simple
Before you pull your hair out whilst you face what seems to be a mammoth task, just remember this – keep it simple. When you are writing your synopsis, don’t get bogged down with too many names, places and intricate details that don’t illustrate the emotional or physical advancement of the plot. Plot out the bare bones of the story and only deviate from that when it is essential to illustrate a key twist or turn.
2.Tell the Story
Your second step in writing your synopsis is simply to tell the story. Don’t justify it – just tell it. It sometimes helps to imagine you are telling a friend about your story but you don’t have much time with them and you want to get across everything they need to know. Write with this in mind and don’t worry too much about length at the moment. If you are imagining telling it as though you are limited for time, then you shouldn’t end up writing a large chunk.
Look at what you have written and really nail down what is essential and what isn’t. What doesn’t contribute to the final outcome? Whatever it is – lose it from the synopsis.If you find yourself with many sub-plots that actually don’t seem to contribute to the conclusion or the development of the plot then this is a great exercise to take another look at your structure – it might be worth reconsidering them as a part of the story – are they essential to plot development? Do they add anything to the overall story?
If you find yourself asking these types of questions then you might not be ready yet to submit your work and this synopsis writing exercise has been of an even bigger benefit!
3.Focus on the Important Characters
Generally characters follow a hierarchy in terms of importance of the role they play. Focus on those that play the most significant roles or contribute most to moving the action forward.
Novels usually follow a formula – the protagonist has a goal, whether it is physical or emotional, he will face obstacles along the way that he must overcome to reach this goal and he must have a result at the end whether good or bad, success or failure, development or regression.If you have successfully followed this formula you should be able to sum up the very basics of your plot in one sentence and build out from there.
[Protagonist] wants ______________ but to get there he must overcome ___________.
To build this concept out, fill in the details about the protagonist, what their goal is and what they will face on their journey towards this goal. Elaborate on what happens once they reach this goal. Revisit your short synopsis as “told to a friend” and pick out the essentials. Add these in along the goal/obstacle framework. If it helps, sketch this out as a timeline and detail both emotional and physical development as you draw towards the conclusion.
4.Don’t Give Away Backstory
Backstory is something that the reader needs drip-fed to them throughout the story – in most cases, it is something that the writer needs to know but that the reader doesn’t always need to know. Don’t include this in the synopsis. If there are essential pieces of information that are needed from backstory then summarise it within a sentence that also serves another purpose:
[Protagonist], whose murky past as an underworld crime boss finally catches up with him, finds himself on a journey of redemption…
5.Every Word Counts
More than ever, every word counts in the synopsis. Keep it as succinct as possible, but avoid it reading as a list of events with no emotion or feeling. That means choose your words carefully. A well-placed strong verb or a short but evocative description is always better than weak sentences that lack emotion. If your synopsis is verging on a list style you will find yourself writing things such as “And then he does this…” “Next he goes to…” “Then he finds…”.
Our final piece of advice is to relish writing the synopsis. Don’t leave it until the very last minute. Writing a synopsis is actually a very good exercise in ensuring your plot and each of its sub-plots are contributing to moving your story forward in some way or other. Of course, the earlier you make a start on your synopsis, the more you will find yourself changing it and tweaking it – that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One thing is for sure – a tight synopsis will keep you focused and on course for a tight, well-put-together plot.
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