Fellow Prairie Chick Karyn mentioned she had never written a synopsis and was gearing up to create her first one. I thought this might be a good time to review the process of synopsis writing for veterans, or to talk about them for the first time with synopsis virgins.
Here are some synopsis basics:
1. The synopsis is formatted much like your manuscript. Use a font like Courier or Times New Roman that is easy to read. Double space all text with a least 1” to 1 ¼” margins. Justify the left margin only. Even though the temptation may be to cram as much of your story into the small space available, resist the urge to use single spacing and tiny margins. Your editor’s tired eyes will thank you.
2. On every page except the first, create a header in the top left hand corner consisting of your last name, a slash, your novel’s title in capital letters, another slash and the word Synopsis. For example: Richards/TILL SEPTEMBER/Synopsis. Number the pages beginning with the second page in the upper right-hand corner.
3. On the first page, against the top and left margins, type single-spaced your name, address/email and telephone number. Against the top and right margins, type single-spaced your novel’s genre, its word count and the word Synopsis. Double-space twice, center your novel’s title in capital letters, double-space twice and begin the text of your synopsis.
4. In the text, type a character’s name in capital letters the first time you use it. Also, to avoid confusion, always refer to a character the same way throughout the synopsis (not Dr. Martin in one place, the doctor in another, and Martin some place else).
5. The synopsis is always written in present tense.
6. The synopsis tells your novel’s entire story, even those chapters you may be enclosing in your proposal, and always the ending. The synopsis is a miniature version of your novel. To leave anything out defeats its purpose as a selling tool.
7. Follow the publisher’s/agent’s guidelines as to the length of the synopsis they would like to see. If no specific length is advised a general rule of thumb is one synopsis page for every 25 pages of manuscript, but even that can be too long. Remember that editors and agents read many, many synopses. If yours goes on and on they may not bother with it.
8. One method of boiling down your novel is to do a read-through, jotting down main points of each chapter. Then you further condense these points into the most essential elements of the story.
9. To condense your manuscript into these few pages, you must write as clean and tight as you can. Cut extra adverbs and adjectives. Focus on the story’s essential details and plot points. Actual dialogue is rarely used in a synopsis.
10. It is usually best to write a unified account of the whole story rather than breaking it up into chapters.
11. Since you have to grab your editor’s attention in the same way with the synopsis as you do with the manuscript, begin with your hook. Show the problem the hero and heroine are facing, and how they are going to solve it.
12. Don’t forget to show in your synopsis the emotion and motivation that happen in your story. They are just as important as any physical action a character might perform. In a romance it’s also important to show the characters falling in love. Without these things, synopses are dry and uninteresting. Editors and agents are looking to see if you can deliver this emotion and human drama to readers.
13. Give a sense of the tone of your novel. If it is a romantic comedy, show some humor; a gothic novel would have a sense of foreboding, and a romantic suspense would be filled with mystery and danger.
14. Stay invisible in your synopsis. Don’t use devices that emphasize the mechanics of storytelling, such as using headings like “Background”, “Setting”, “Time”. These elements should be woven smoothly into the narrative. Also, don’t use character sketches at the beginning or end of the synopsis. Again, background and important facts about the characters should be smoothly woven in.
15. Never review your own story, as in “In a heart-wrenching confession…”, or “This is an exciting, fast-paced story of love.” Let your story’s attributes speak for themselves.
16. Once your synopsis is finished, polish, polish, polish. Editors and agents will judge your writing by the quality of your synopsis. If it has grammatical and spelling errors, or sloppy presentation, they will assume that the rest of the writing is the same and will not ask to see more.
So that’s my two cents on synopsis writing. If you don’t believe me, here are other sources on the subject:
good basic info
deals with writing various synopsis lengths
One thing to always remember: check the guidelines of the agent or editor you are submitting to see what length of synopsis they prefer and how they like to receive it (snail mail or email). Be prepared to write more than one synopsis in various lengths. The synopsis is part of your selling tool kit so treat it as carefully as you do your manuscript.
Have you written a synopsis? Does condensing 350 manuscript pages down to 10 pages of synopsis make you want to rip your hair out? What is your most burning synopsis question? Do you have any tips to make writing a synopsis easier?