Working on a  long, complex post about building three dimensional characters got me thinking about other impossibly difficult writer tasks. Namely, the synopsis.

I hate synopses. I’ve always hated them because they demand the kind of prioritizing skills that I just don’t have. Everyone is important! Every plot point is major! How am supposed to just leave out that whole section?!?! Alas, the ability to write a synopsis is a worthy skill. My client Karen Akins wrote her own synopsis because she’s so good at it and then she got a two book deal (granted, the book is awesome so that might have had more to do with it… but the synopsis didn’t hurt).

Karen should really be the one giving you advice on this, but she’s busy writing her next novel so I’m here as a proxy.

Question number one is always “How long should my synopsis be?” The Answer is “as long as it needs to be.” I know it’s frustrating. Some people say 1 page, 3 pages, 5 pages and so on. But for anyone reading your synopsis length isn’t nearly as important as content.

Does that mean you can write a novella? No.   The goal of a synopsis is to summarize the overall trajectory of the novel and to not be boring while doing it.

First, imagine you have to write the jacket copy for your own book (but with a synopsis you include the ending). Copy is always brief, succinct, and engaging. It will cover major plot points, characters and that all important “hook.”

Beyond that, your synopsis needs to include major climaxes, conflicts and relationships between characters.  As you’re writing, try to demonstrate the emotional and physical obstacles between your characters and their goals.

The synopsis needs to be equal parts plot and character, and where I most run into trouble is transitions. How do you move from one point to the next without going all and then this happened and then she goes here and this happens (DO NOT DO THIS EVER).

The key is to recognize whether the transition is important (remember when you were writing that novel and you realized that you don’t have to document every literal step your protagonist makes?) and smooth over gaps with your own paraphrasing.

Try to engage with the storytelling  the same way you did when you wrote your query letter. Not only must a synopsis provide us with an account of your novel, but we also need to get a sense of the energy and spirit as well.

I know, I know, I still haven’t told you how you’re supposed to do all that. Sadly, I don’t quite now. It’s a matter of organization, priority, and time.

And a lot of research!

– V


4 responses to “Synopses

  1. Thanks for recognizing it’s an impossibly difficult writer task!

  2. I used to write my outlines in the form of a synopsis before I started writing a book, but then I realized I was actually writing a synopsis, and I haven’t been able to do it since. It’s not an easy skill to pick up or to keep.

  3. Great post. Scary, but great! Thanks!

  4. Great post. I feel better about mine having been 4 pages. It was a tough task, though, for all the reasons you say, and because you do want to retain that sense of voice and such that makes it a good book.

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