Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Novel Synopsis

What is a Synopsis?
It is essentially a longer version of a summary, but unlike the sales blurb on the back of a book, the synopsis doesn't leave the reader in suspense. The synopsis tells all. A good synopsis is a running narrative of the book's major events, told in the third person, present tense. A synopsis should capture the flavor of the book, including its tone and language.

Before you Start things you'll need to know:

1. Characters – identities, goals, motivations and conflicts of the characters central to the plot.
2. Setting – a brief description
3. Plot – the main and subplots of your story
4. Sequence of events – how the story progresses
5. Theme – what's the point of this novel?

A good synopsis should answer the following:

What's the setting?
What's the hook?
What's the tone of the story?
Who are the main characters?
What are their motivations?
What are the key scenes?
What is the prime conflict?
What are the main characters' blackest moments?
What is the main character's big crisis?
What is the story's climax?

Start: a one/two-sentence summary encapsulating what the story is about.
Setting, Main Characters: establish the setting and identify the main characters.
Conflict: Identify the motivations of, and conflicts between, the main characters.
Plot: Move the story forward along its main thrust, showing the protagonist as active while also noting other driving forces
Resolution: show the resolution of all conflicts and sub-plots--no loose ends, no cliff-hangers
Ending: give it away. Never leave the editor guessing.

Synopsis tips:

  • Focus on the major plot points, or turning points of your novel. Omit secondary characters, sub-plots, minor events and individual scenes.
  • DON'T ask empty questions in your synopsis.
  • Always write your synopsis in present tense
  • Read TV Guide and movie listings
  • Read Book Covers
  • Most editors want a short synopsis, 3 - 5 pages, double spaced
Literary Agent Nathan Bransford says:
"A synopsis needs to do two things: 1) it needs to cover all of the major characters and major plot points (including the ending) and 2) it needs to make the work come alive. If your synopsis reads like "and then this happened and then this happened" and it's confusing and dull, well, you might want to revise that baby."

Why do editors/agents need a synopsis?

Literary Agent Miss Snark answers:
"Synopsis tell you if the plot fails. It gives you an idea if the requirements of a genre are met, or played with in an interesting way. Synopsis, when they are well written, give you a sense of character development and where the plot turns. Badly written, they tell you "what it's about" but not why you'd want to read it."


NathanKP said...

Very good breakdown of the synopsis. These are very good suggestions.

NathanKP - The Ink Weaver Collection - Writing Showcase Blog

Sean McLachlan said...

One really good website about query letters and synopses is
They have a discussion board where you can submit your cover letter and synopsis for critique.

BellaVida said...

Hi Sean, thanks for the link. I did sign up to check it out but havent had much time to participate. I would like it to connect me with people that have more experience. So far it hasn't been the case.