Happy Friday, Writers! Welcome to another Free Topic Friday where we cover everything writing related. If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook you know that this week our Writing Word of the Week is Synopsis, which means today our topic today is: Synopsis. (Ta-Da! I know, you’re surprised, right?)
The dictionary definition of ‘synopsis’ (derived from the Ancient Greek meaning) is ‘a brief description of the contents of something’. For the purpose of this blog, a synopsis is a ‘summary of the plot of your novel’ (here we will solely be speaking about fiction novels). A synopsis is usually 1-3 pages long and it essentially tells your story from beginning to end, while ridding the story of any intrigue, humor, purple prose, or emotional tone. A synopsis provides the readers with a generalized overview of the plot events and the specific appeal of the story. The challenge of writing the synopsis of your novel is cutting the story down to its essence, giving just enough information to draw the agent or editor into the story, but without giving away so much that the manuscript loses all sense of mystery. The synopsis should tell the plot of the story while still leaving the reader wanting to know more, wanting to continue on to the full manuscript. They should want to dive further into the world you have created and long to get to know your characters more intimately.
Why do you need to write a book synopsis? A synopsis is often required because an agent or publisher wants to see, from beginning to end, what happens in your story. Thus, the synopsis must convey a book’s entire narrative arc. It shows what happens and who changes, and it must reveal the ending. The purpose of a synopsis is to inform a literary agent or publisher of the type of book you are have written in a concise, appealing fashion, conveying that you are in command of your subject matter. Synopses help the publisher/literary agent decide whether they think it is worth their time to look further into your book, your writing, and your future as an author.
Agents, publishers, and editors ask to see your synopsis because the synopsis lays bare your story, plot, and characters. Seeing your story laid out in this bare format ensures character actions and motivations are realistic and make sense. A synopsis will reveal any big problems in your story. A synopsis will reveal plot flaws, serious gaps in character motivation, or a lack of structure. A synopsis also can reveal how fresh your story is; if there’s nothing surprising or unique, your manuscript may not get read.
So, if you are wanting to go the traditional publishing route, it is imperative that you write an intriguing synopsis.
Unfortunately, there is no single “right” way to write a synopsis. You’ll find conflicting advice about the appropriate length, which makes it rather confusing territory for new writers especially. Lucky for us, agents usually aren’t expecting a work of art. You can impress them with lean, clean, powerful language. And there are a few basics that will work no matter which company you are submitting to.
Here are some tips, some Dos and Don’ts of writing a synopsis:
What should your synopsis accomplish?
- Introduces the characters we will care about. (Namely the protagonist.)
- Provides a clear idea of the core conflict for the protagonist and demonstrates how the protagonist succeeds or fails in dealing with that conflict. (This is the narrative arc.)
- Illustrates how that conflict is resolved and how the protagonist’s situation, both internally and externally, has changed by the end of the novel.
Tips on How to Write a Synopsis
- Use Active Voice. Let your writing skills shine in your synopsis by using active voice and third person. Make each action described in the summary of your story’s events drive the plot forward.
- A Unique Point of View. Agents look for fresh ideas and unique story elements. Is your plot cliché or predictable? Make sure to include elements that set your story apart from other’s they have seen one hundred times before.
- Story Advancement. A synopsis should include the characters’ feelings and emotions as they grow and change through the conflict. Use these elements to advance your plot and story – illustrating the narrative arc.
- Write Clearly and Use Your Words Judiciously. Keep your writing clear and concise, and make sure that the words you do use carry emotive and imaginative weight. Each word should create a vivid emotional or descriptive pull. The reader should be curious to know more and desire expanding their knowledge of how your story unfolds.
- Keep to the Essentials. Leave out everything that doesn’t give the reader an idea of character development, key plot twists and turns, and any conflicts and resolutions. A good rule of thumb in determining what needs to be included in the synopsis is: If the ending wouldn’t make sense without the character or plot point being mentioned, then it belongs in the synopsis. If the character or plot point comes up repeatedly throughout the story, and increases the tension or complication each time, then it definitely belongs. This will communicate that your book has a strong underlying creative purpose.
- Don’t Give Only a Dry Account of the Plot. As we stated above, your synopsis should include the character’s feelings and emotions. That means it should not read like a manual to your novel’s plot. You must include both story advancement and color.
- Read Your Book Synopsis Aloud. It’s common advice for writing better narrative prose. It’s also equally good advice for writing a compelling book synopsis. Hearing your synopsis aloud will help with the editing process.
- Use the Synopsis Format that Your Intended Reader Prefers. Because the aim of a novel’s synopsis is a concise explanation of the key plot points and feelings evoked by a story, formatting a book synopsis in a simple way is important. Some publishers will give their own advice as to how they like manuscript synopses to be submitted. See if you can find this information on publishers’ websites before you submit.
- Make the opening good. Just as a first chapter should make the reader want to know more, a good synopsis opening makes the reader want to know more about the characters, events, and potential conflict of your novel. The first paragraph of the synopsis should give the same basic information you convey through the book’s first chapter. The Who, What, When, Where, and Why.
What to Avoid When Writing a Synopsis
- Mentioning too many characters or events.
- Including too much detail about plot twists and turns.
- Unnecessary detail, description, or explanation.
- Editorializing your novel or book.
- Writing back cover copy instead of a synopsis.
I hope you have found this information helpful! Writing a synopsis is one of the most dreaded tasks for many writers who are looking to get published. Armed with this information you should be well informed and equipped for the task of dazzling future publishers and agents who get their hands on your submissions.
Have more advice, tips, or tricks you would add to this list? Tell us in the comments.
Have a great weekend, writers! Write All the Words. We will see you Monday for Motivation Monday!
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