Writing a synopsis is variously described as ‘synopsis hell’ and ‘the most difficult 500 words you’ll ever write’ – in my case, the most difficult 800.
I’ve just written a new synopsis for my first novel, so thought I’d share my pain, ahem, I mean pointers.
Is a synopsis going to land you an literary agent?
Most submissions require a covering letter, the first three chapters of your book and a synopsis. An agent will read your covering letter, take a look at the first few pages of your novel and if they like what they see, they’ll want to know where the story is going; does it have enough meat on it; will it sell? Move over chapters; make way for the synopsis.
What is a synopsis?
It’s not the blurb on the back of the book; it’s the nuts and bolts of your story. What happens; what’s at stake and how does the jeopardy rise? Is the ending a satisfying one?
Here are some other essential ingredients:
- Hit the highlights – the bones of the story – beginning, middle and end.
- Make sure the plot has a true arc – are the conflicts of the main characters clear, and the resolutions to those conflicts?
- Mention the genre of your book – commercial, YA, book group fiction etc.
- Include setting – what country, what year?
- Highlight the main characters. Put their names in capital letters or embolden them when you first introduce them.
- Include the unique selling point of your book.
- Make the synopsis 500 to 800 words, and when you get an agent who wants a synopsis of 300 words instead, put your head into your hands and blub loudly. Then dab yourself down. You can do this! Chop, chop – take out another subplot or two and get rid of superfluous spiel.
- Spoilers – Do include the final plot twist.
What shouldn’t you include?
- A detailed account of the characters’ personalities. A quick character sketch is enough. Disillusioned science teacher Walter White. The unmarried Frances with an interesting past etc.
- A blow-by-blow account of every single subplot. Be lean; you don’t have the space for this.