Last week, I started a series on how to write the dreaded synopsis. Today, we’re going to look at both acceptable styles of synopses.
Story Synopsis: Use this style to entertain and hook the reader into wanting to read the whole book. Think of this as another sample of your writing. Include the story arc as well as major character arcs. Watch your pacing. Include highs and lows, as well as build up, just like in your novel. Make this a mini-version of your story, using the same voice. Make sure to keep your genre in mind. If your story is humorous, your synopsis should be. If your story is suspenseful, you need to translate that into your synopsis for this style.
Summary Synopsis: Use this style to report what happens rather than entertain. Only show the facts. What happens? How? Why? How is the conflict resolved? The focus isn’t on how you write and isn’t to showcase yourself as a writer. You’re selling the story. Period. Some people compare this style to a book report or—gasp—a police report. Yeah, that dry.
What Do These Styles Have in Common?
Neither style is looking for a play-by-play. Keep the unimportant details to yourself. Not easy, I know. Think of it this way, if you watched a really great movie on TV and wanted to tell your friend about it, would you tell her every little thing? No. Why not? Because she’d either fall asleep or walk away from you. Nobody wants to hear anyone go into too much detail. Always ask yourself if there’s a more precise way of saying something.
For example: Jake is at the jewelry store, buying something for Kia, when two thugs come in to rob the place. He looks at the thieves to see if they’re watching him. Both are too busy grabbing the loot. Jake slowly reaches into his pocket, grabs his gun, and turns on the robbers. A gun fight ensues. One robber is shot in the shoulder. The store owner and another customer pin him down. The other thief takes off, but Jake is in pursuit. He catches up with the guy. They fight, and the thief ends up with his hands behind his back as Jake arrests him. Then, Jake goes back into the store to handcuff the other robber.
Okay, not the best example, but you get the point. This is the kind of thing some writers believe should be in the summary. Not so. While we obviously need to see all that and more in the story, this can easily be summed up by removing the extra details.
For example: The jewelry store is robbed while Jake is present. In no time, he has both thieves in handcuffs, and… (then you’d go into the next plot point). The exception is if this particular scene is the black moment and resolution for the whole story. Then, you’ll want to show more.
Both styles should cover: main characters, major events, goals, motivations, conflicts, the black moment, and the resolution. You MUST reveal the ending. This isn’t the time to tease the agent or editor by telling her she’ll have to read the book to find out how it ends. She needs to see that you can end a story well, not all writers can.
For character-driven stories, you’ll want to focus more on character growth, and for plot-driven stories, it’s all about the plot. Both styles require simple setting details. This means, we need to know the time (era) and place. Don’t go into details. Don’t describe the setting. If the story takes place in this day and age, there’s no need to mention it. However, if the story is a historical romance, you’ll need to ground us. If the story occurs in Orlando, Florida, that’s all you need to say. No description. I mean it.
For either style, it’s important to stick to the MAJOR events and characters. Don’t tell us how Danny got from his house to Linda’s, or that he had to stop at the liquor store to pick up wine first. CUT. TO. THE. CHASE. Got it?
Next week, we’ll look at the dos and don’ts of synopsis writing.
Which synopsis style do you prefer writing? Which do you like to read?