How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis Part 1

So, you’re ready to write that dreaded synopsis. What’s that? You have no clue where to start? No problem. I can help.

Let me break it down for you.

Purpose: Before you start writing your synopsis, it helps to understand what purpose it serves, because some writers confuse query letter blurbs with synopses. A query letter blurb is short, usually two to three paragraphs. It functions as a back cover blurb and is meant to tease the reader into wanting to read more. A synopsis is usually longer (see next point) and is a lot more specific. While a query letter blurb doesn’t give everything away, especially the ending, a synopsis does. The agent or editor reading your synopsis wants to ensure all the loose ends have been tied, the protagonist has grown, there’s enough substance in the middle, and that this story is different from others she’s read. Because of this, she needs to see the beginning, middle, and end of your story, only in a very condensed version.

Length: Synopses come in all lengths from one line to ten pages, so you should be ready to create one of any length. A typical synopsis is usually three to five pages—although, more and more agents are requesting one page, single-spaced synopses. It’s a good idea to have both ready. Just in case. You don’t want to have to scramble to write a synopsis. Take the time to do it right before you’re asked for one.

Style: There are two very different ideas on how you should write the synopsis. Should it be along the same tone and feel as your story, or should it be a flat, get-to-the point type of summary? That depends on your audience. A contest judge will usually be more impressed by a story synopsis. While an editor who’s familiar with your work might want to cut to the chase and read a summary. Why? Story synopses can be wordier, because you need those extra words to show voice and tone. And, for an overworked editor, time is money. What about agents? That’s where it gets tricky. Check their guidelines. Some will tell you what they prefer. If they don’t, go with whatever you’re comfortable writing. An agent isn’t going to reject your book just because your synopsis isn’t written in the style she prefers.

We’ll look at differences between the two styles on Tuesday. Have you started your synopsis? Having fun yet?

Lynnette Labelle

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